Wildcats rout RedHawks 37-13 in season opener


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) throws a pass during the Kentucky vs. Miami Ohio football game on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 37-13. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

Kentucky football defeated the Miami (OH) RedHawks 37-13 in its season opener at home on Saturday.

UK’s starting quarterback Will Levis went 21-32 on the night, amassing 303 yards for three touchdowns and one interception, though the senior passer was less than thrilled with his showing.

“I’ve never felt more disappointed in 300 yards and three touchdowns,” he said. “I feel like from a decision making standpoint I think it was really good, but I think there were some accuracy issues here and there. The interception was clearly on me, [Keaton Upshaw] was wide open and I just missed them, and the two other touchdowns I threw to [Brenden] Bates and Chauncey [Magwood] were not very good balls either.”

Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who previously served as a quarterbacks coach for the San Francisco 49ers, also spoke on Levis’ performance, expressing similar feelings as the star himself, but acknowledging that one or two plays being different could mean an entirely new outlook on the game for both of them.

“I think there were some good plays and some easy layups that I think he would’ve been able to make in his sleep, and for whatever reason [he didn’t], and we’ve got to get to the bottom of that,” Scangarello said. “But I feel like he’ll only get better and better. Part of it is we gotta figure out how we work together, it was the first time with us making adjustments on the sidelines together. I literally feel like there’s two or three throws that if he had back we’d all feel complete, and that’s a good thing.”

While much of the focus falls on Levis after the win, Kentucky’s wide receivers showed out in the win, most notably transfer Tayvion Robinson who certainly wasn’t unhappy with his stat-line.

“It felt good just to let everybody see what I could do with the ball,” Robinson said. “I came here to be a playmaker and this is a very explosive offense with a great quarterback and we delivered tonight. I just came in to make plays and help this team win.”

Robinson caught six passes for 136 yards, receiving the first pass of the game for the Wildcats for 45 yards.

Though the 45-yard reception plays into it, Robinson averaged 22 yards per reception, with 103 yards coming after the receiver had the ball in his hands, living up to his nickname “Sweet Feet.”

Robinson wasn’t the only receiver to show out in his Lexington debut, however, as freshman Dane Key also recorded four catches for 53 yards, including one of his own on the first scoring drive similar to Robinson before him.

Key averaged 13 yards per reception with a 100-percent reception rate on targets, numbers usually not put up by freshman receivers.

Fellow freshman receiver Barrion Brown also had a big night in his collegiate debut, receiving three passes for 45 yards, an average of 15 yards per reception.

While impressive, Brown’s stat-line will not be what is remembered from the win as the rookie also recorded a 100-yard kick-return touchdown on the second half kickoff, the first kickoff return for a touchdown Kentucky has seen since 2009 before current head coach Mark Stoops took the reins.

The ever sturdy Matt Ruffolo was also a key contributor in the win, going a perfect 3-3 on field goal attempts, including one from 50-yards out, and 4-4 on extra point attempts.

On the defensive side of the ball, linebacker Deandre Square led Kentucky with seven total tackles and three solo tackles, while there was a three way tie between linebacker J.J. Weaver, defensive back Alex Afari Jr. and inside linebacker Jacquez Jones for UK sack leader, with all three recording one each.

The Wildcat defense allowed just one touchdown all night, on the opening drive of the game, forcing the RedHawks to either settle for a field goal, punt or turnover the ball in the remainder of the game.

Miami (OH) quarterback Brett Gabbert threw for 166 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions, with running back Tyre Shelton scoring the RedHawks’ only touchdown.
As a team, Miami’s 179 total receiving yards couldn’t compare to Kentucky’s 303, but its 111 rushing yards forced Kentucky to reckon with the absence of Chris Rodriguez Jr., with the Cats amassing just 50 total rushing yards.

While Rodriguez’s absence was noteworthy, offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello expressed that the difference in rushing yardage had more to do with Miami (OH) than it did Kentucky.

“Quite honestly I tried to say it in the media without saying too much but [Miami (OH)] was good against the run last year and they always will be,” Scangarello said. “They play nine guys on the line and dare you to throw it over the top. I was probably a little hard headed at times with the run game but I was trying to find the rhythm for the whole offense.”

While the RedHawk defense may have been pivotal in suppressing UK’s run offense, it also led to even more question marks heading into a tough road matchup as both JuTahn McClain and Ramon Jefferson left the game with apparent injuries, though the extent is not yet known.

While there’s reason to be concerned, Levis expressed that the Wildcats are fully committed to beating Florida in one weeks time now that game one is over and that the rest will sort itself out.

“I’m excited for next week,” Levis said. “I already told [the receivers] that we’re going to be getting a game plan together tomorrow. Our focus is already on the Gators and we’re ready to get out there. I think now that [the freshmen] got their legs and their heads in there they’re more ready for the [big] stage.”

Kentucky travels to Gainesville, Florida, for week two, taking on the Florida Gators next Saturday, Sept. 10, in ‘The Swamp.” Kickoff against Florida is currently slated for 7 p.m. EST and will air on ESPN.