Young Cats gain experience late against New Mexico State


Kentucky running back La’Vell Wright (29) pushes off a defensive player during the Kentucky vs. New Mexico State football game on Saturday, Nov. 20, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 56-16. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Barkley Truax

“It’s always a confidence builder. It’s just good for young men to get reps. You know, as they get plays, as they get game reps, they get better,” Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said. “Experience matters.”

The most important aspect of playing a team like New Mexico State isn’t the fact that Kentucky gained over 700 yards of total offense, or the fact that quarterback Will Levis posted a career-high 419 passing yards, it was to get those young guys—the future of the program live game reps.

One of the most impressive performances came in the form of freshman running back La’Vell Wright, who compiled six carries for 75 yards in his Kentucky debut, including a 52-yard rush which was good for the second longest rush for Kentucky all season. 

The reason Wright had spent the season on the sideline came due to nagging injuries, according to Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen. A pulled hamstring in pregame warmups before SEC play began and another setback a few weeks ago hindered his ability to see field throughout his freshman season. 

“We need those explosives in the run game, we can’t just count on the pass game to create explosives for us,” Coen said. “It was great to see La’Vell [Wright]—he’s a straight A student, does everything right, works his tail off in practice, the weight room … to have those kind of kids have success, you love to see it.”

It was also backup quarterback Beau Allen’s turn to shine Saturday as well, scoring the first touchdown of his collegiate career on a three-yard rush in the fourth quarter. The Lexington Catholic product finished 3-4 passing for 40 yards.

“It’s just important to get him out there,” Stoops said. “He’s one play away from playing a bunch of snaps … When Beau got in there, I had to get a few throws in there, just for what I was just talking about, just getting game reps and seeing him throw.”

It wasn’t just Stoops who loved what he saw from the sophomore; Kentucky’s starting quarterback was excited to see his teammate take the field as well. 

“I love it,” Levis said. “Beau [Allen] should have had a lot more opportunities throughout the year that weren’t able to kind of finish off the end of that game and let the guys that worked so hard and deserve to get a lot more snaps than they have throughout the season. And he’s one of those guys. I’m so happy for him to get in there and get those couple drives.”

Saturday was also a coming out party for sophomore inside linebacker D’Eryk Jackson, who was poised to fill the void left by NFL first round draft pick Jamin Davis in the preseason, had quite the performance in the short time he was the field. He finished the game with three tackles and one quarterback hurry. 

Those stats might not pop off the page, but it’s the fact that Jackson was even healthy enough to suit up and makes those plays is impressive in of itself. Jackson suffered a torn Achilles back in spring practice this season and has since made a full recovery.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen him smile in about seven to nine months,” Stoops said about Jackson. “So, the young man needed some reps and that’s why we have to take care of business so guys like that could get back in there, get the rust off and have some joy for what he’s doing and how hard he’s worked to get back on the field.”

While Kentucky was going against one of the worst teams in the NCAA statistically, it’s still a plus to know they can plug in young guys to their system and have them make plays when their number is called.