The Kentucky Wildcats took the field for their third game of the season with an unblemished record but have left much to be desired to this point.
Saturday night under the lights at Kroger Field, the Cats had an opportunity to not only get another win but also show some encouraging improved continuity on both sides of the ball.
In each of their first two games, Kentucky has failed to fire on all cylinders, despite displaying flashes of terrific play.
Against an opponent like Akron, you’d expect to see some tangible, sustained improvement. The Zips (1-1) somehow managed to overcome five turnovers a week ago for their lone victory of the young season.
Kentucky was listed right around a 25.5-point favorite on most betting sites, with ESPN’s matchup predictor favoring UK with an overwhelming 95% chance of coming out with the win.
This one was more about how the Cats looked top-to-bottom than it was the final score.
The primetime game slot in front of a home crowd sure didn’t do Mark Stoops’ team any favors.
After jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead Devin Leary and the Kentucky offense fell stagnant, struggling to manufacture points for most of the first half. A late 22-yard touchdown toss from Leary to Tayvion Robinson stabilized what was a bumpy performance and gave UK a 14-0 lead heading into the break.
Akron snatched momentum in the third quarter before Ray Davis had an unbelievable 58-yard touchdown scamper instead of what looked to be a certain sack of Devin Leary.
They’d replicate it with a 55-yard hook-up later in the half to put the game away.
Leary would take a shot in the fourth quarter and leave the game, though it appeared he just had the wind knocked out of him.
Ultimately, Kentucky would come away with the 35-3 victory. The Wildcats are now 3-0 overall and 2-1 vs. the spread.
You could tell the story many different ways depending on if you’re currently optimistic or pessimistic about where the Cats currently stand, but no matter how you feel, they’re 3-0 heading into next week's conference opener against Vanderbilt.
Kentucky has now won 17 straight non-conference games at Kroger Field.
Here are four things to know from win No. 3 for the football Cats!
Ray Davis carrying the running back torch at Kentucky
Filling the shoes of a player like Chris Rodriguez is an impossible task, but through three games, Ray Davis looks more than able to put his mark on this program.
Thanks to two miraculous touchdowns of 50+ yards, Davis poured in a monster stat line of 72 rushing yards on seven carries and 97 receiving yards on three catches with two total touchdowns.
The Cats have had some unreal running backs over the last decade, but most have featured a more bruising rushing style while
Davis has shown his elite ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. He’s easily been Kentucky’s offensive MVP of the first three games and looks well on his way to another standout season in the SEC after going for over 1,000 yards last year at Vanderbilt.
Devin Leary shines but goes down late
Coming into this one, all eyes remained on the NC State transfer and his quest to find his groove playing in blue and white.
Game 3 told a similar tale as his first two games in Lexington.
Leary was throttled by some sloppy offensive play that included poor snaps, dropped passes, and blown coverages.
However, some huge plays mixed in allowed for a solid stat line for the Wildcat quarterback
Leary benefited tremendously from multiple 50+ yard touchdown tosses to Ray Davis and finished with 315 passing yards and three scores vs. one interception that looked like a bad route and a lack of awareness by Dane Key.
There was an injury scare late, but it appeared to be nothing more than Leary having the wind knocked out of him, and with Kentucky up 28-3, Kaiya Sheron finished the game. This will be something to monitor, but hopefully is nothing.
Liam Coen’s offense is still a work in progress, but there’s no denying the weapons he has at his disposal and the overall potential of this offense.
Kentucky won’t be able to commit three turnovers in many games and still find themselves in the win column so cleaning things up is a must.
Sloppy play translates to sloppy results
Bad snaps, fumbles, untimely penalties and occasional confusion are continuing to plague this team through 12 quarters of football.
Jager Burton’s struggles particularly stood out on Saturday after he had several mishaps connecting with Devin Leary under center and also an extremely untimely penalty that brought back a long touchdown pass in the second half.
Kentucky also had five penalties for 45 yards, which was still an improvement over last week’s 10-penalty outing vs. an FCS team, but still needs to get better with SEC play nearing.
It feels as if every time the Cats get the ball rolling down hill they have a self-inflicted error that curbs any momentum.
There’s sure to be a lot that Mark Stoops and his coaching staff want to clean up before conference play begins next week.
Brad White’s defense is settling in
If there’s one thing that Kentucky football fans have been able to count on it’s having faith in Brad White and his defense.
The 2023 season is shaping up to be much of the same.
On Saturday, the Kentucky defense swarmed the Zips of Akron all night holding them to under 200 yards until their final drive in the closing minutes with the Cats up 35-3.
The defense had moments where they would bend but never really broke holding their opponent to just three points that came off of a turnover.
This unit looks well on its way to having another standout year under White, who continues to look like a legitimate head-coaching candidate come the offseason.