Kentucky Beats Northern Illinois 31-23

Cats Sweat It Out At The End

Saturday’s game under the lights at Kroger Field was Kentucky’s last chance to fix some issues during this early season before seven straight conference games. It was a mixed bag forย Mark Stoops’ club however as they did some things well and others not so much. Let’s break it all down as Kentucky beats Northern Illinois 31-23.

A Shaky First Half

Behind backup quarterback Ethan Hampton the Huskies took the opening kick 75 yards for a score. The final two went from Hampton to Tristen Tewes. Kentucky answered right back with a 16-play 75-yard scoring drive that took eight minutes off the clock. Will Levis hit Barion Brown with a 15-yard strike knotting the game at seven.

After a battle of punts, the Wildcats took over on their own two-yard line. It took only four plays for the Cats to take the lead as Levis hit Tayvion Robinson on a 69-yard strike. It was the longest play of the former Virginia Tech player’s career and his first score at Kentucky.

With the Wildcat defense holding the Huskies in check UK looked to add more points right before the half. However, a Kavosiey Smoke fumble set Northern Illinois at the Kentucky 34. Six plays later a reverse wide receiver Sherman Thornton hit Tewes for a score. So instead of the Wildcats possibly going in up by either 10 or 14, the game was tied.

Closer Than It Needed To Be

The Wildcats only needed three plays to take the lead in the second half. Levis hit Brown and he did the rest going 70 yards for a score showing off his incredible speed.

A 49-yard field goal by Matt Ruffolo gave the Cats a ten-point lead. Levis’ second touchdown pass to Robinson, this one 40 yards gave Kentucky a 31-14 lead with 8:46 to go. At this point, the Big Blue Nation was breathing a sigh of relief. However as fast as Lee Corso could say “not so fast my friends” Northern Illinois made things very interesting.

John Richardson’s 38-yard field goal made it a two-score game with 5:26 to go. Still, you have to like Kentucky chances. However they did the one thing you can’t do on their next possession, go three and out with a sack on third down.

On the ensuing possession, Hampton hit Kacper Rutkiewicz for 63 yards putting the Huskies in business at the five-yard line. After being bailed out by a UK penalty on fourth down Justin Lynch ran it in making it a 31-23 game. The try for two failed setting up an onside kick. Richardson hit a perfect ball which Trevin Wallace was lucky to recover. Everyone exhaled as Kentucky beats Northern Illinois 31-23.

Looking Ahead

With the win, Kentucky goes to 4-0 on the season. It’s the second straight year and third time overall they’ve won four straight to start the year under Stoops. In addition, they ran their non-conference winning streak to 19, which is the longest in the nation. Next week business will really pick up as they travel to Oxford for a battle against Ole Miss. Lane Kiffin‘s squad is also 4-0 after having a surprisingly difficult time with Tulsa before winning 35-27. Maybe it was something in the water this week as even top-ranked Georgia struggled with Kent State before pulling away for a 39-22 win.

On the other side of the ball, the Huskies drop to 1-3 on the season with two of the losses coming to SEC teams. They open Mid-American conference play next week when they travel to Ball State.

Final Thoughts

Give Thomas Hammock’s club all the credit in the world as the defending MAC champions gave Kentucky all they could handle. The Wildcats certainly didn’t look like the eighth-ranked team in the country.

Levis had another huge game with 303 yards passing and tied a career-best with four touchdowns. The Wildcats have arguably the best receiving group that’s ever come through Lexington. Robinson had seven catches for 147 yards and two scores while Brown had four for 102 yards.

On the negative side while Levis had another huge game he spent a lot of it being harassed by the Huskies’ defense. He was sacked five times and had to roll out of the pocket to get enough time to make the big plays. UK only ran for 103 yards but they get Chris Rodriguez back next week after serving a four-game suspension.

Again Kentucky beats Northern Illinois 31-23 to go 4-0 on the season. We’ll see if this struggle has any effect on their bowl projection. While you’re here check out all the great content here at Last Word On College Football.