UK Football: This season so far


The Wildcats run onto the field before the No. 16 University of Kentucky vs. LSU game on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 42-21. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Hunter Shelton

Kentucky football enters its bye week with a 6-1 record, accompanied by the No. 15 ranking in the latest AP Top 25 Poll. 

The Wildcats are off to their best start since 1950, thanks to some timely defense, stat-leading playmakers and a charismatic quarterback.

But how did the Cats get here?

Kentucky is averaging 28.43 points per game this season while allowing just 19.29 a game. The Wildcat offense is just 74th in total yards-per-game, while the defense checks in at 32nd in fewest yards allowed-per-game.

Through seven games, quarterback Will Levis has racked up 1,326 passing yards, hurling 13 touchdowns and six interceptions.

The banana-eating, mayonnaise-coffee drinking Penn State transfer is on pace for a top-10 season in program history for passing yards. 

In the backfield, Chris Rodriguez Jr. leads the SEC in rushing yards, piling up 775 yards and five touchdowns. Rodriguez, a junior, currently sits at ninth all-time in rushing yards at Kentucky. 

Wan’Dale Robinson sits in third for SEC receiving yards, accumulating 566 yards on 49 receptions.

Robinson, who hails from Frankfort, Kentucky, returned to the Bluegrass after transferring from Nebraska. The junior is on pace for the seventh highest single-season in reception yards. 

On the defensive side of the ball, senior linebacker DeAndre Square leads all players with 49 tackles. Ole Miss transfer Jacquez Jones sits just behind Square with 46 tackles.

Josh Paschal has recorded a team high 8.5 tackles-for-loss totaling 33 yards, while J.J. Weaver’s 3.5 sacks for 27 yards are a team best.

Game 100 of the Mark Stoops era saw the Wildcats take on an unmatched Louisiana-Monroe team, led by coaching royalty in Terry Bowden.

The Warhawks took a surprising 7-0 lead in Lexington after Levis’ first pass of the season was intercepted. ULM took the ensuing drive to the endzone, giving Big Blue Nation flashbacks to some of UK’s lowlights of the past couple of decades. 

UK would settle in, scoring touchdowns on the next three drives. The defense wouldn’t allow another touchdown en route to a 45-10 victory for Kentucky. 

Levis completed 18 passes for 367 yards and four touchdowns. Josh Ali and Robinson each hauled in five receptions, totaling 136 and 125 yards respectively. 

Rodriguez tallied 125 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. As a whole, the offense outgained ULM 564-87, despite having three turnovers. 

Turnovers would be an issue for the Cats again in week two, as Missouri traveled to Lexington for an early SEC matchup.  

With a chance to lead by three scores going into halftime, Rodriguez fumbled in the Missouri endzone, ending a 12-play drive. The Tigers would score a touchdown before the half, cutting UK’s lead to 21-14 in a crucial 14-point swing. 

The teams would trade touchdowns twice, maintaining the seven-point advantage for UK. Late in the fourth quarter, Kentucky kicker Matt Ruffolo would have a 37-yard field goal blocked, giving the Tigers a chance to tie the game.

A sack by J.J. Weaver would force Mizzou into fourth and long, where QB Connor Bazelak was unable to complete a pass to extend the drive, sealing the win for the Cats.

Rodriguez led the way for UK, totaling three touchdowns, two rushing and one receiving. Robinson led all receivers with 101 yards on five receptions. Levis rushed and threw for one touchdown as well as an interception.

Game three for Kentucky was set to be another tune-up for conference play, but the Chattanooga Mocs, an FCS program, had other ideas. 

Fast forward to the fourth quarter, and UK was behind 16-14. Two interceptions by Levis set the pace for an offense that sputtered from the get-go. 

A 31-yard strike from Levis to Izayah Cummings regained the lead for the Cats with just over ten minutes remaining. The Mocs drove down the field into UK territory, before Tyrell Aijan intercepted Cole Copeland at the UK five-yard line, returning it 95 yards to the UTC endzone and icing the upset bid. 

Chattanooga scored another touchdown in garbage time, but the Cats survived and won 28-23. Despite the two picks, Levis passed for two touchdowns and 254 yards, 111 of which were received by Robinson. 

The first road-trip of the season was up next for Kentucky, as game two of the SEC slate took place in Columbia, South Carolina, against the Gamecocks. 

Three more turnovers overshadowed an away win as UK improved to 4-0. 

Kavosiey Smoke rushed for his first touchdown of the season on Kentucky’s opening drive before the next four for the Cats ended in a punt or turnover. 

Ruffolo was the star of the show, connecting on three field goals that led to UK’s 16-10 win. 

Through four games, Kentucky was -8 in the turnover margin, yet undefeated with two SEC victories. 

Game five was set to be the first big challenge for the Cats, as long-time rival Florida, who was ranked No. 10, came to Lexington. 

Kentucky would prove to be up for the challenge, as they defeated the Gators in Lexington for the first time in 35 years. 

Levis was less than excellent, completing just seven passes for 87 yards, a touchdown and an interception. Rodriguez carried the load on offense, rushing for 99 yards on 19 carries.

The electric atmosphere of Kroger Field played a part in the win for the Cats, as the Gators finished with 15 penalties, losing 115 yards, including eight false starts. 

UF would have a chance to tie the game at the end of the fourth quarter, but on fourth and goal at the UK eight-yard-line, Jacquez Jones broke up a pass that would send Lexington into a frenzy. The 20-13 final score put the SEC and college football world on notice as couches burned on State Street. 

Kentucky would enter the AP Top 25 Poll after the upset win, checking in at No. 16. Their first game as a ranked opponent would welcome a struggling LSU team to Kroger Field. 

The Cats would roll past the Tigers 42-21, improving to 6-0 for the first time since 1950.

For the first time this season, Kentucky did not commit a turnover. Levis torched the LSU defense, totaling five touchdowns, three through the air and two on the ground. 

Rodriguez was once again terrific, rushing for 147 yards and a touchdown as well as catching a touchdown.

The dominant win put UK, now No. 11, in the spotlight, as next up was a date with the also undefeated No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs in Athens. 

Georgia would prove to be too much for the Cats. UGA would pull away to a 30-13 win, handing UK their first loss of the season.

Levis completed 32 passes for 192 yards and two touchdowns. The Bulldog defense stifled Rodriguez, holding the running back to just seven yards on seven attempts. UK again did not turnover the football, despite the 17-point loss.

Now, Kentucky welcomes a bye-week. Sitting at 6-1 and No. 15 in the latest AP Poll, the five remaining regular season games for the Cats provide an opportunity for UK to finish with 11 victories, as just one team left on the Cats schedule currently has a record above .500. 

Kentucky will head south to Starkville, Mississippi, next to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. From there, UK will return home to renew their rivalry with Tennessee, then a short trip to Nashville to face Vanderbilt.

UK’s home finale welcomes New Mexico State, then the regular season concludes with an in-state trip to Louisville for another installment of the Governor’s Cup against the Cardinals. 

The Cats’ matchup against Mississippi State will take place at 7 p.m. E.T on Saturday, Oct. 30, and will air on SEC Network.