Levis shines in UK debut

Published 7:34 am Tuesday, September 7, 2021

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The assumption was that new Kentucky offensive coordinator Liam Coen would not have recruited quarterback Will Levis when he decided to leave Penn State if he was not going to start him at UK.

Kentucky already had two quarterbacks — Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen — on the roster that coach Mark Stoops came out of spring practice confident could lead his team to a successful season.

Levis understood and accepted his situation. He won the starting job and showed why in last Saturday’s 45-10 win over Louisiana Monroe when he threw for 367 yards and four touchdowns. Yet as impressive as his numbers were, Levis seemed almost more proud of what had happened earlier in the week when he was named one of UK’s eight game captains this season.

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“I knew coming in here I had to work really, really hard to get these guys to respect me,” Levis said after Saturday’s game. “Every single guy needs to be led differently. Coming to a program of 100 plus kids I had to learn how they tick mentally to get through to them.”

Obviously he did that and more since his teammates voted him team captain, the same honor that gave team leader Josh Paschal and others who have been at Kentucky much longer than Levis.

“I think it shows how much effort I put in this summer and it paid off,” Levis said. “Being captain was not in my mind at all.

When coach Stoops announced the captains, it was a huge moment for me.”

Levis said he had strived to be a team captain since he got to Penn State where he played in 15 games in two seasons.

“Definitely a status I have looked up to,” Levis said.

Now Kentucky fans are looking to him to take UK to a special season. He threw touchdown passes of 58 yards to Josh Ali and 33 yards to Wan’Dale Robinson. He also hooked up with Isaiah Epps for 57 yards.

“I knew we could do it,” Levis said. “I knew we had the looks. Coach Coen made some great calls and we were able to find some openings in the defense and make some big plays.”

However, Levis quickly pointed out his mistakes. He threw an interception on his first pass to set up ULM’s only score when he threw behind and too hard for Josh Ali. He was not ready for a snap from center Luke Fortner that almost cost UK a lost fumble.

“We had some drives that we didn’t push the ball and went three-and-out,” Levis said. “But it was great to see what guys were able to do when we had live situations.”

He admitted both before and after the game that he felt nervous but said that basically shows how much he cared about helping this team win.

“This is a big opportunity and something I have been waiting for a long time,” Levis said.

He understands fans would like to see him throw for 400 yards per game and says it would be “awesome” to do that but not to count on it even though he likely would have if he had played the fourth quarter against ULM.

“Kentucky been very successful in recent years and frankly despite not having an efficient passing offense,” Levis said before the game. “Once we show that it is part of the program, the sky’s the limit. I trust coach Coen and there will be good offensive games both running and passing the ball.”

Now captain Levis and the Cats have shown that a potent passing game is part of Kentucky football and that has to give Missouri a lot more to think about than it did last year when it beat UK 20-10 and held the Cats to 145 total yards, including only 50 passing.

Considering how well Levis played last week, I asked Stoops Monday what he thought Levis did not do well against ULM.

“I think the obvious things of ball placement on certain throws. That’s always the case. No one is going to play perfect. You’re going to strive for perfection but that’s pretty hard to do,” Stoops said.

“Will missed a couple throws. It was just a couple slightly in front, maybe a couple slightly behind. The operation was good, a few things he can do better reading it. There’s always things to improve on but he did many good things but accuracy and maybe a little bit of a touch on things that he’s going to continue to work on and he’ll get better.

“I am not at all concerned. I have a lot of confidence in him and game reps are going to help him improve in a lot of areas.”