The long wait for for offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and his new offense was finally over Saturday night in Lexington.
The first drive was a thing of beauty thanks to great balance and getting different players involved. We saw Brenden Bates catch a touchdown, just as the OC promised the tight ends would be heavily involved. We also saw catches from freshman wideout Dane Key and a big yardage reception from Tayvion Robinson.
However, that instant success didn’t exactly continue for the rest of the half. The next drive saw the Cats march down the field again before Will Levis threw a pick interception on the 4-yard line.
The following drive saw Kentucky start at the Miami 32-yard line after J.J. Weaver partially block a punt, but the offense gained just 16 yards before settling for a field goal.
Kentucky went 3-and-out the following drive, then got the ball back with two minutes left in the first half with the game tied at 10-all.
That’s when disaster nearly struck, as Levis threw a pass that was nearly picked off but deflected off a Miami defender’s hands and right into the arms of Demarcus Harris for a big play. The drive would end in a field goal to put Kentucky up 13-10 at halftime, but it could have easily been Miami up 17-10 had the defender made the INT.
In addition, Kentucky’s offense line struggled mightily, allowing three first-half sacks and not getting any push in the ground game, which continued in the second half.
Thankfully, the Cats offense received some help from the special teams and defense. Kentucky started the half with a kickoff return for a touchdown, followed by the defense recovering a fumble and taking it down to the 7-yard line, and the offense punched it in to take a 27-10 lead.
The following three offensive drives saw Kentucky gain 15 yards before punting, get a field goal, and reach the end zone after driving 84 yards before Levis hit Dane Key for a one-yard score, leading to a final of 37-13.
Overall, Kentucky finished with just 50 rushing yards and 1.9 yards per carry compared to 303 passing yards and 9.5 yards per attempt. Levis completed 21/32 passes with three scores vs. that one pick, which was Kentucky’s only turnover of the day, and there were no fumbles.
Because Kentucky had no ground game, the RedHawks won the time of possession battle 31:53 to 28:07.
Junior wideout Tayvion Robinson finished with 136 yards through the air, a school record for the most receiving yards by a player in his debut game as a Wildcat. True freshmen Dane Key and Barion Brown combined to catch seven passes for 98 yards and one score.
Outside of the recap, I think it's fair to say this new scheme looks like it catches teams off guard and has a lot of room for potential. It's fair to say that this offense misses Chris Rodriquez, especially on first downs, short-yardage plays, and in the red zone. But this also could be in part due to the struggle of the offensive line, who returned no starters at their position.
Another observation is that this scheme features throwing the ball a lot more, as evidenced by Levis throwing 32 passes, a mark he hit just three times in 2021, which were against Chattanooga, Tennessee and Georgia, games in which Kentucky trailed in the fourth quarter and needed more throws from Levis.
Also, it looks like Levis may have already found his favorite receiver, and he didn’t even switch the last name from last year, as Tayvion Robinson started the season with a huge game.
There were kinks in the road in the season opener, but that is to be expected. This offense is clearly capable of a huge year after they get Chris back and the offensive line gets a little more experience.
All in all, Cats win, and they’ll now likely face a top-25 Florida Gators team in The Swamp.