The Kentucky Wildcats do not have to fear the prospect of losing to the Youngstown State Penguins – not realistically.
By Matt Zemek
Kentucky has stamped itself as a legitimate top-15 team and an SEC East contender by going into The Swamp in Gainesville and beating the Florida Gators. Mark Stoops did it again: not only beating Florida, but forging a defensive masterpiece which overcame the Kentucky offense’s limitations. That has been a very familiar theme in recent years. Stoops has managed to take advantage of Florida’s erosion as a program. The Gators seem to be a decent team this year, not a bad team. Yet, Florida is not what it once was under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, and that is what has fundamentally changed in the Kentucky-Florida series.
Kentucky now knows that if it beats Tennessee later in the season, it will very likely finish second in the SEC East. More than that, Kentucky could grab a New Year’s Six bowl bid, which would be a phenomenal achievement and would be the crown jewel of the Stoops era in Lexington. Youngstown State is not going to test the Wildcats too sternly. Yet, it’s a game, and there is always something to learn from a game. Let’s consider some of the things Kentucky needs to get from this contest against an FCS opponent:
1 – Will Levis
Levis’s numbers against Florida were ordinary. They weren’t bad – and that played a part in helping Kentucky win – but at some point later this year, Levis will need to have a special game against a good opponent in order to bring the Wildcats to their intended destination. He needs to use this game to establish a rhythm, to hit long passes, to make big plays, and to generally feel a larger sense of capability which can carry him into the SEC slate.
2 – Rotate backups on defense
The starting defense for Kentucky did so much heavy lifting in its tremendous performance against Anthony Richardson and Florida. Getting a decisive pick-six was only part of the story. Kentucky held Richardson to 14 of 35 passing and did not allow him to break loose for big runs. That was a physically taxing game. In order to keep players fresh – physically and mentally – before the SEC gauntlet arrives, this is a time to more widely distribute snaps to defensive players. Giving backups more work will play a role in player development and program building. Stoops and his staff need to take advantage of the opportunity to play more players against Youngstown State.
3 – Offensive line
Kentucky’s offense scored fewer than 20 points against Florida when one realizes that a pick-six was part of the equation for the Wildcats. The offensive line needs to find a higher level of performance so that the team’s margin for error – in future games this season – will not be so small.