Unbeaten UK hardly perfect in win over Zips

Published 4:27 pm Monday, September 18, 2023

By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

For the third straight time, Kentucky opened the season undefeated at 3-0, but is still lacking offensive perfection three weeks into the season.

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The Wildcats defeated Akron 35-3 Saturday night at Kroger Field in their final tuneup before opening the Southeastern Conference at Vanderbilt next Saturday in Nashville.

Kentucky’s first-half struggles, especially on offense, were reminiscent to performances in the first two quarters against Ball State and Eastern Kentucky during the first two weeks of the season.

“We’re not playing to our standards with the up front on the offensive line. Whether we’re getting beat, whether it’s snaps, whether it’s holds, you know, just things of that nature,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “But there’s enough blame to go around to all groups in all areas. … I really believe in our team. There’s no question that we’re going to work, we’re going to fight, we’re going to grind. But we do have some expectations that we’re not making right now in certain positions. So there’s no excuse for that.”

Kentucky scored on its first and last possession of the first half and overcame three fumbles (one lost), a missed field goal attempt (53 yards) and two bad snaps in the first  half to easily defeat Akron.

Kentucky’s two portal transfers played a major role in the win. Quarterback Devin Leary threw for 208 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half as the Wildcats gained 208 of their 213 total yards through the air.

Leary finished with 315 yards passing and three touchdowns before leaving the game in the fourth quarter after taking a hit to the chest. Stoops said his starting quarterback “could have went back in” after getting the wind knocked out of him.

Vanderbilt transfer Ray Davis geared up for Saturday’s showdown against his former team with an impressive showing against the Zips.

Davis, who opened the game with a 39-yard reception from Leary, led the Wildcats in rushing and receiving yards. Davis hauled in three passes for 97 years, while rushing for 72 yards on seven carries. He scored two touchdowns.

Davis caught a 58-yard pass from Leary to end the third quarter and opened the team’s scoring in the fourth frame with a 55-yard touchdown run. Davis finished with 113 all-purpose yards.

Kentucky had a season-high 450 total yards. The Wildcats threw for 315 yards, while rushing for 135.

The team’s defense. however, was impressive and just missed posting the team’s first shutout of the year. The Wildcats limited Akron to just 239 yards, including just 49 yards rushing. UK recorded five sacks for a loss of 25 yards, led by Trevin Wallace with two and two tackles for a loss. Maxwell Hairston led the hosts with 12 tackles, followed by Wallace with nine.

“I really appreciate the way the defense played the entire night,” Stoops said. “… we gave up some yardage there at the end, but prior to that really played one of the more complete games we’ve played all year in a long time defensively.”

The Wildcats aren’t perfect, but Stoops is glad his team is undefeated.

“We’re going in the SEC play next week,” he said. “The nice thing is we’re 3-0.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Vanderbilt, noon, Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.