Kentucky offense thrives against Northern Illinois


Abby Szydlik

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Barion Brown (2) runs the ball for a touchdown during the No. 8 Kentucky vs. Northern Illinois football game on Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Kentucky won 31-23. Photo by Abby Szydlik | Kentucky Kernel

Luke Fetzer, Reporter

It was apparent from Kentucky’s first drive that starting quarterback Will Levis was dialed in with his receivers in Saturday’s football matchup against Northern Illinois.

Posting 303 yards and four touchdowns off of 18 completions, Levis hit his targets and let them do the rest.

Senior wide receiver Tayvion Robinson made the most of his opportunities, catching seven passes for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

Perhaps the more impressive stat line for Robinson was his 107 yards after catch, using his speed and route running ability to work his way down field.

Levis himself was even impressed by the playmaking ability of Robinson.

“You gotta have electric playmakers,” he said. “Tayvion, he’s got that ability to make moves and decide on moves before he even catches the ball.”

Robinson’s longest reception was a 69-yard touchdown with five minutes left in the second quarter in which he took advantage of a poor read by the cornerback.

“You play football for so long at this level the game starts to slow down for you,” Robinson said. “You got a better understanding of it.”

Robinson wasn’t the only wide receiver to show out either, with true freshman Barion Brown also having an impressive showing against NIU.

Barion Brown hauled in four receptions for 102 yards, recording 76 of those yards after catch also with two touchdowns.

Brown’s explosiveness was on full display during his 70-yard touchdown in the opening minutes of the 3rd quarter.

Finding open space in the middle, where a majority of Robinson’s and Brown’s catches came from, Levis gunned the ball straight into the path of Brown, and he was home free from there.

“As soon as he got past the safety there’s no one catching him,” Levis said. “That was really cool to see.”
Levis looked in sync with Brown all game despite the freshman playing his fourth career game for the Cats, something that Brown said they’d worked on in practice.

“I’m just building chemistry because I’m the new guy,” he said. “You know, building trust, making sure (Levis) trusts me. He’s just been a great quarterback throughout the game so far.”

The big play potential in the Cats’ offense can easily dictate the momentum of any game, and this was no different against the Huskies.

“We’re all striving for perfection, and maybe we’re not there yet, but we want to be explosive and we’re certainly getting that,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “Right now we have a very talented quarterback and we have some explosive wide receivers, and so we’re creating some big plays.”

One reason for the successes of both Robinson and Brown was the Huskies playing double coverage on true freshman Dane Key, who recorded 13 receptions for 226 yards in three games and was seen as one of the biggest threats on offense.

While Key looked quiet on paper against NIU having only caught two passes for 15 yards, seemingly a success by the defensive scheme of the Huskies, he proved vital in freeing up crucial space for both Robinson and Brown to operate in.

Now, with the addition of Chris Rodriguez Jr. returning from his suspension, the Cats will hope to balance out their playbook from the air raid it has been, using the imposing running style of Rodriguez Jr. to ease the coverage on the receivers.

“He’s a difference maker,” offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said. “I think that provides you with something different and I’m excited to get him back. I think it’d be a shock to everyone and you know, he’s arguably as good as any back in the SEC.”

While the receivers room looked strong in the opening games, the SEC defenses are a different animal entirely, something UK will have to prepare for as it moves into the bulk of its conference schedule.

The Wildcats will look to maintain their offensive successes heading to Oxford on Saturday against No. 14 Ole Miss.

Kickoff between the Rebels and Wildcats is slated for noon EST and will air live on ESPN.