Kentucky outlasts pesky Northern Illinois
Published 3:49 pm Monday, September 26, 2022
The candidates for the prestigious Heisman Trophy award have yet to be determined, but based on the first four games, Kentucky quarterback Will Levis should be included in the mix this season.
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The senior signal caller continued to show why he’s one of the best signal callers in the nation, throwing for 303 yards and four touchdowns to lead the eighth-ranked Wildcats to a 31-23 win over Northern Illinois Saturday night at Kroger Field.
On a night when things were sluggish and in what coach Mark Stoops described as a “ho-hum” performance, it was Levis who provided consistency and accuracy in the pocket to lead Kentucky to a perfect 4-0 start for the third time in Stoops’ tenure as coach of the Wildcats.
“Levis played an extremely good game,” Stoops said. “They were bringing a lot of a lot of pressures and we made them pay for it with the pressures. We got to protect it and we hit the ball down the field and created some explosive plays.”
Those explosive plays came in the form of quick strikes by the senior quarterback, the first of which — a 69-yard touchdown pass to Tayvion Robinson – broke a 7-7 deadlock in the first quarter and put the hosts in the lead for good.
It was the longest career catch for the Virginia Tech transfer, who, much like Levis, gives the Kentucky offense stability as it awaits the return of standout receiver Chris Rodriguez.
“I’m having a lot fun,” he said. “(The passing game) is clicking, but I still have room to improve, but you can’t complain when you’re winning football games. It’s been awesome and I feel like every week we’re getting better.”
Robinson and Barion Brown were on the receiving end of all of Levis’ touchdown passes, with the receivers hauling in two each. Robinson caught seven passes for 147 yards and Brown caught four for 102, including a 70-yard touchdown reception in the third.
A marked improvement from last week following a 31-0 rout of Youngstown State, Kentucky’s offensive line made strides, but surrendered five sacks for a loss of 21 yards, including back-to-back sacks in the first half. Levis shrugged off the proverbial punches and remained calm and poised in the pocket.
“When they were bringing all that pressure, he did a great job of hanging in there, trusting his protection,” Stoops said. “He did a really nice job to the point of hanging in there and delivering the ball downfield.”
Levis, said “protection, first and foremost” was the key to his success while under duress.
“I had time and I had time to move (in the pocket),” Levis said. “It was cool to see everything come together.”
Kentucky offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello liked the way Levis withstood the heat from the defending Mid-American Conference champions.
“That’s what really good quarterbacks do,” he said. “I will never draft our recruit a quarterback that doesn’t have grit, toughness and a mind-set to stamina. … that’s why I love coaching him.”
Because of Levis, the Wildcats have a legitimate quarterback and a receiving corps with big-play ability.
“We’re all striving for perfection, you know, and maybe we’re not there yet, but we wanted to be explosive and we’re certainly getting that,” Stoops said. “That’s that’s a plus. You kind of it’s you got to be who you are, and right now, we have a very talented quarterback and we have some explosive wide receivers, so we’re creating some big plays.”
The big plays certainly came in handy against the Huskies.
Gametracker: Kentucky at Mississippi, noon, Saturday, TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network.