The Kentucky Wildcats are currently 4-0 thanks to a 45-28 over Vanderbilt. After jumping out to an early 24-0 lead, the Cats were able to hold on to remain undefeated as the first quarter of the season came to an end.
With the first third of the season closing after victory in Nashville for Mark Stoops and his team, it’s a good opportunity ahead to look back and evaluate who has shined, what has found success, and what could be improved on for the Wildcats moving deeper into the SEC schedule.
Trevin Wallace: Kentucky fans saw flashes of Wallace’s potential last year after he notched 54 tackles, 2.5 sacks, and 2 interceptions as a sophomore.
In 2023, Wallace looks to better those numbers by some margin. The 6-2, 241-pound linebacker has 3.5 sacks with 25 total tackles in four games.
On a defensive front with names such as JJ Weaver, Octavious Oxendine, Deone Walker, and D’Eryk Jackson, it has been Wallace who has taken hold of the leadership position for Brad White’s defense. Wallace leads the Wildcats in total tackles, sacks, and even has a forced fumble. Heading into the Florida game and further into SEC play, having Wallace continue to improve is crucial for success.
Maxwell Hairston: To begin this season, Hairston has emerged as one of the SEC’s premier defenders as the Kentucky corner had a massive game against Vanderbilt where he took two interceptions to the house.
For his efforts against Vanderbilt, Hairston was awarded the SEC Defensive Player of the Week and earned national honors taking home the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week award as well as being named the Jim Thorpe National Defensive Back of the Week.
Hairston is only behind Wallace in total tackles on the year, with 23 to his name.
Run game: Ray Davis has been the talk of the town in Lexington so far this season, and for good reason. The former Vanderbilt Commodore and Temple Owl currently leads all Wildcats scoring five touchdowns and stacking up 314 rushing yards.
Davis, however, isn’t the only Kentucky runner finding success as JuTahn McClain has made his role clear as the No. 2 running back after he scored against Vanderbilt on a 36-yard touchdown run. McClain has 114 yards in four games averaging 6.3 yards per carry thus far into 2023, but Kentucky fans will no doubt be on the lookout for him to be more of an influence heading into the rest of the season and SEC play.
Consistency: Before the Vanderbilt game, where Kentucky would come out of the gates firing with an early 24-0 lead, Wildcat fans were frustrated with the team’s slow starts. Against Ball State and Eastern Kentucky, the Cats were outscored 14-3 in the first quarter. To begin the Akron game, everything seemed solved after Kentucky led 7-0 five minutes into play,
The Cats, however, would go scoreless before a Tayvion Robinson touchdown with 8 seconds left before halftime. Luckily, the Wildcat defense would hold firm while the offense would go on to punt, punt again, and then fumble in that timeframe.
Inconsistencies continued against Vanderbilt after allowing the Commodores to feel as if the comeback might be back on, but the Cats wouldn’t allow Clark Lea’s squad to come within 11 points for the rest of the contest,
This will not cut it as the Cats head into the brunt of its SEC schedule and take on teams that are much more talented than Vanderbilt, beginning with No. 22 Florida on Saturday at Kroger Field.