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Opponent Preview: Kentucky

A Scientific Method for Success

Kentucky Wildcats mascots lead the football team onto the field
Running headfirst into the rematch

The Opponent: University of Kentucky (Summer Preview | Roster | UK Athletics)

When: September 23, 2023, 11:00 AM CT on SEC Network

Where: FirstBank Stadium - Nashville, Tennessee

Last year: 7-6 (3-5 SEC)

The last time we saw these guys: 24-21, Vanderbilt (2022)

Series record: 48-43-4, Kentucky

Head Coach: Mark Stoops (69-58 at Kentucky)

Mark Stoops, behind only Nick Saban, holds the longest tenure of any SEC coach at their current school. He’s been called the “best program builder” in college football. He has been coaching in some form or another for over 30 years, and he’s very clearly doing something right more often than not. Scariest of all? We beat him last year, and I have a feeling this one has been circled on the calendar ever since that tough loss. No one wants to lose to Vanderbilt, and I highly doubt Mark Stoops wants to lose to Vanderbilt twice.

Offense: The Hypothesis

Yep. Ray Davis. 236 yards and 3 touchdowns through 3 games. And when he’s not rushing, he’s receiving for 143 yards and another 2 touchdowns. He is, by my count, responsible for about 30% of all of Kentucky’s offensive yardage. He is the real deal, there’s nothing hypothetical about it. Tayvion Robinson is the other lead receiver, with 260 yards through these first three games, in part thanks to a 136-yard effort against Eastern Kentucky.

At quarterback, Devin Leary transferred to Kentucky following four years at NC State ending with a season cut short by shoulder injury. So far, that injury has not seemed to hold him back. His completion percentage has hovered around the low 60’s his entire career, and he is in that same range so far this season. He is on pace to double or triple his number of interceptions despite having only played mostly the weakest teams on Kentucky’s schedule, which could be a sign he’s lost some of his touch. He still seems to be a good choice at quarterback, and our defense is going to have a tough time slowing Kentucky down.

This is a potent offense with quite a few other good options at receiver I haven’t mentioned, and I am really struggling to see how we keep up.

Defense: The Test

Skimming the highlights of this year’s games (now linked in the scheduled portion) as well as the box scores, and comparing them to last year’s team, which ranked thirteenth in both least points allowed per game and least yards allowed per game, I can only report back bad news: the defense is good.

Leading that charge seems to be Trevin Wallace, who is averaging over a sack a game and has one forced fumble to his name on the year. He is going to be good for at least one sack against us, I’m almost sure of it. Just in general, I will be praying for whoever is under center. This Kentucky defense powered through these o-lines the past few weeks.

The only good news, I guess, is that some of the guys in the backfield looked a little small in the tape I watched. If you can get up some steam, you could maybe power through or around a couple of these guys. I had to reach for this, though, since there was not much in the way of poor defense in general with this Kentucky team.

Special Teams: The Footnotes

Get it? Footnotes? Because they kick the ball? You’re welcome. Alex Raynor is the placekicker. He is not historically super accurate past about 40 yards, but he seems to have improved every year. His longest kick is from 47 yards out. He consistently converts extra points and overall seems like a fine kicker. Wilson Berry is the punter. He is a third-year player from Australia (these young buck coaches and their Aussie P’s these days, am I right?). His longest punt went for 55 yards earlier this year, and looks to have improved in other areas as well since last season. Expect big yardage out of this guy.

Barrion Brown and Tayvion Robinson are in charge of the returns, preferring kickoffs and punts, respectively. Brown has been huge trouble in the past, housing a kickoff each of the past two years. Watch out for him when we score.


Outlook: The Result

Mark Stoops has a good Kentucky team ready to take on a weaker-than-normal SEC. Aside from maybe Georgia, I feel like every game on this schedule should be rather winnable (yes, since you asked, even Alabama). I am sure the wheels will fall off at some point, it’s not like Kentucky is actually going to go undefeated or anything, but I definitely expect Stoops to continue his streak of 7+ wins and probably hit 9 or 10 or so.