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Lexington, KY 9-16-23
The Kentucky Wildcats defeated the Akron Zips in a Saturday night matchup in Lexington by a score of 35-3 as they look towards the start of SEC play. While the ‘Cats were never in danger of falling to the Zips, it never felt as though the ‘Cats offense or defense were clicking on all cylinders during the game. The first half was much of the same for Kentucky, another slow start offensively with miscues sprinkled throughout the half with bad snaps, penalties, and dropped passes. The defense held strong throughout the first half, holding Akron to just 77 total yards. The lack of discipline continued into the third quarter for the ‘Cats, as they saw a 64-yard touchdown called back due to a holding penalty. The ‘Cats eventually took full control of the game early in the fourth quarter with a long touchdown run by Ray Davis. Overall, the ‘Cats struggled with similar mistakes from the first two games throughout the night, but the offense turned in its best performance of the young season on its way to tallying 450 total yards and scoring a season best offensive output of 35 points. The ‘Cats will look to continue their undefeated start to the season next week as they begin SEC play on the road at Vanderbilt (Lost 40-37 to UNLV Saturday night).
Prior to Saturday night’s win over Akron, Kentucky entered Saturday’s matchup with a 2-0 record for the young season. Their wins came over Ball State (44-14) and Eastern Kentucky (28-17) in underwhelming fashion. The ‘Cats offense after the first two weeks was still looking to find their rhythm, with transfer QB Devin Leary finally starting to find his footing in the second half against Eastern Kentucky last week (198 yds, 3 TDs in the second half). The ‘Cats have still yet to firmly establish the running game early into games, with RB Ray Davis collecting just 52 yards on 12 carries a week ago. OC Liam Coen mixed in some misdirection end-arounds last week, however, leading to chunk gains by WR Robinson and Brown. Tayvion Robinson had one of his best games as a Wildcat against the Colonels, tallying 136 yards and 2 TDs on 6 receptions.
Akron arrived in Lexington with a 1-1 record on the year with a season-opening loss to Temple (24-21) and a win over Morgan State (24-21). The Zips are led by QB DJ Irons who has accumulated 258 yds, 2 TD, 1 INT through the first 2 games on the young season. The Zips rushing attack is led by RB Lorenzo Lingard (48 rush yds, 98 rec yds, 1 TD) and RB Drake Anderson (67 rush yds). The top Akron receivers include WR Daniel George (6 rec, 100 yds), Alex Adams (9 rec, 86 yds, 1 TD) and Jasaiah Gathings (7 rec, 83 yds). The Zips finished last season with a 2-10 record, checking in for 6th in the MAC East a season ago.
Coen and Leary will look to continue their offensive success from the second half against Eastern Kentucky into the Akron game, with a focus on getting top playmakers in Key, Robinson, and Brown the ball early and often. Other keys to the game were to establish the run game early and to convert third down opportunities on offense. On the defensive side of the ball, the keys to success include getting off the field on third downs, continuing to apply pressure to the QB, and lock down the outside in the passing game.
The spread for Saturday’s matchup was -25.5 (UK), with an Over/Under set at 48.5.
Kentucky won the coin toss and elected to receive the opening kickoff. The first play of the game was a screen pass from Leary to Ray Davis for a gain of 39 yards. Devin Leary scrambled for a first down on a third down attempt as the pocket collapsed. Brown took a motion touch pass for a gain of 12 yards on the next play, bringing the ‘Cats to the Akron 12-yard line. After a 6-yard Ray Davis run to the 6-yard line, Leary found TE Josh Kattus for his first catch and TD of the season that gave the ‘Cats an early 7-0 lead after their first offensive drive. It was the most balanced and engaged offensive drive of the season for the ‘Cats. The ‘Cats defense forced a punt on the first Akron possession, with a key third down tackle coming from DB Maxwell Hairston. The ‘Cats began their second offensive possession on their own 30-yard line. The ‘Cats possession was immediately put behind the chains due to a botched snap by Leary, forcing a ‘Cats punt that the Zips muffed and the ‘Cats Zion Childress recovered. The ‘Cats possession continued on the Akron 37-yard line. The ‘Cats had a 3rd-and-9 that they failed to convert. After a delay-of-game penalty, the ‘Cats were again forced to punt for the second time on the possession. The punt bounced into the end zone for a touchback. The Zips drive stalled after a 12-yard first down run by QB DJ Irons. The ‘Cats stopped a scrambling Irons short on a 3rd-and-4 attempt, forcing another Akron punt. The ‘Cats next offensive possession began on their own 19-yard line. The first play of the possession saw RB JuTahn McClain rush for another first down after a 13-yard carry. McClain took back-to-back carries for gains of 7 and 3 yards to get the ‘Cats a new set of downs to end the first quarter. The ‘Cats led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter.
The ‘Cats continued their offensive drive to begin the second quarter with the first carry of the game from Ramon Jefferson for a loss of 1 yard. Leary found TE Jordan Dingle for a big gain of 59-yards after a one-handed catch, but the Zips stripped the ball and Akron recovered the fumble in the endzone after a scramble for the loose ball, giving the Zips the ball on their own 20-yard line after the Kentucky turnover. Darrion Henry-Young recorded the first sack of the game for the ‘Cats on the next Akron possession, but the Zips quickly gained back the lost yardage with a 19-yard catch by Daniel George for a first down. The Zips continued to slowly move the ball down the field with another first down run by Lingard, moving the ball to the Kentucky 25-yard line with 8:30 minutes to play in the half. A false start by Akron on a 3rd-and-7 attempt pushed the Zips to a 3rd-and-12 chance on the Kentucky 27-yard line. LB Trevin Wallace recorded his first sack of the game to push Akron further behind the chains for 4th down. The Zips missed a 47-yard field goal attempt short with 5:39-minuts remaining in the half. The ‘Cats took over the ball on the Akron 30-yard line. The ‘Cats were quickly put behind the chains on first down after a loss of 8-yards with an Akron sack. The ‘Cats regained the yardage after a 25-yard completion to TE Jordan Dingle, pushing the ‘Cats to their own 47-yard line. Ray Davis rushed for a gain of 12-yards after a missed deep shot to WR Barion Brown. After a loss of 4-yards on a TE screen pass, Leary found WR Tayvion Robinson for a gain of 28-yards to the Akron 17-yard line with 2:07-minutes to play in the half. An Akron pass interference against TE Izayah Cummings pushed the ‘Cats to the Akron 7-yard line. Another mishandled snap saw the ‘Cats lose 18-yards and get pushed back to the Akron 28-yard line with under a minute to go in the half. A 6-yard catch by Robinson put the ‘Cats into a 3rd-and-22 situation. Leary found Robinson in the endzone for an athletic catch and a 22-yard touchdown reception to put the ‘Cats in front by a score of 14-0 with 8-seconds to play in the half. Leary finished an efficient half passing, completing 12 of 16 passes for 208 yards, 2 TDs, and 0 INT. The leading rusher for the first half was McClain with 23 yards on 3 carries. The leading receivers for the ‘Cats in the first half were TE Dingle (4 rec, 89 yds) and WR Robinson (4 rec, 62 yds, 1 TD). The defense bent but didn’t break, holding Akron scoreless in the first half thanks to a missed 47-yard field goal and just 77 total yards on offense. LB Wallace and DE Henry-Young each recorded a first half sack for Kentucky’s defense.
Halftime: Kentucky 14 – Akron 0
The third quarter began with a Kentucky kick into the end zone for a touchback to start Akron’s first offensive possession of the half. The ‘Cats stopped the Zips on a 3rd-and-3 attempt with a key tackle from Hairston. The Zips went for it on 4th-and-2 and gained over 20-yards but was penalized due to an ineligible player downfield, forcing a punt. The ‘Cats began their first second half possession on their own 22-yard line with 11:24-minutes to play in the quarter. The first ‘Cats play was a 3-yard run by Davis. WR Barion Brown converted a 3rd-and-3 with a gain of 7 yards to the Kentucky 36-yard line. Leary found a wide-open WR Brown-Stephens for a 64-yard touchdown that was called back due to holding by C Burton. Leary overthrew WR Key on the next play and was intercepted by the Zips, who started their next possession on the Kentucky 45-yard line. QB Irons scrambled for a first down on a 3rd-and-5, pushing the ball to the Kentucky 32-yard line with 7:45-minutes to play. Trevin Wallace collected his second sack of the game on a 3rd-and-4 for Akron. The Zips converted a 36-yard field goal for their first score of the game, narrowing the ‘Cats lead to 14-3 with 3:27-minutes remaining in the third quarter. The next Kentucky possession began on their own 19-yard line. The first play of the drive saw Leary complete a 24-yard pass to Robinson. Leary evaded defenders and found RB Davis as he was going to the ground on a 3rd-and-11 attempt. Davis changed direction and took the pass 58-yards to the end zone to put the ‘Cats in front 21-3 with 1:38-minutes to play in the quarter. Keaton Wade collected his first sack of the season on a 3rd-and-4 attempt for the Zips, ending the third quarter with the ‘Cats leading 21-3.
The fourth quarter began with an Akron punt. Kentucky’s next possession began on their own 27-yard line. The first play of the drive saw Leary find TE Kattus for a gain of 18-yards. Ray Davis weaved in and out of defenders and breaking tackles on his way to a 55-yard touchdown rush on the next play. The PAT from Raynor extended the Kentucky lead to 28-3 with 13:47-minutes remaining in the game. The ‘Cats defense gave up a short-yardage pass on 3rd down to allow the next Akron possession to continue to their own 36-yard line with 12:30-minutes to play. The Kentucky defense pressured QB Irons on the following two plays, forcing a 3rd-and-10. A ‘Cats defense stop forced another Akron punt with 11:30-minutes to play in the game. The punt returner, WR Robinson, muffed the punt and the Zips recovered the ball on the Kentucky 23-yard line. The ‘Cats defense again forced the Zips into a 3rd-and-7 situation, where QB Irons overthrew his receiver. The Zips missed a 38-yard field goal attempt. The ‘Cats took over their next offensive possession on their own 20-yard line with 10:31-minutes to play in the game. RB Ramon Jefferson gained 13-yards on the first down carry. QB Leary got the wind knocked out on a big hit after a incomplete pass down the field on a 2nd down attempt. Backup QB Kaiya Sheron took over for QB duties following that play for the ‘Cats. After an incomplete pass from Sheron, the ‘Cats punted the ball to the Akron 22-yard line. Akron converted a 3rd-and-4 attempt with a 20-yard pass from Irons to Gathings. The ‘Cats defense stood firm on the next set of downs, forcing a turnover on downs after back-to-back pass breakups by the secondary. The ‘Cats offense took over on their own 38-yard line with 5-minutes to play in the game. RB Demi Sumo-Karngbaye took a carry 42-yards down to the Akron 12-yard line. Sumo-Karngbaye found the endzone with a 4-yard touchdown carry to push the ‘Cats lead to 35-3 with 3:04-minutes to play in the game. Akron’s offense gained a couple of first downs before the Zips saw the clock run out after a sack from DL Tommy Ziesmer to end the game. Kentucky defeated Akron by a score of 35-3.
Final: Kentucky 35 – Akron 3
Kentucky – 450 (315 Passing, 135 Rushing)
Akron – 239 (190 Passing, 49 Rushing)
Turnover Differential: (+2 Akron)
Kentucky 3 – Akron 1
Time of Possession:
Kentucky – 25:14 minutes
Akron – 34:47 minutes
Devin Leary – [(16 comp – 26 att) (315 yds) (3 TD) (1 INT)]
Ray Davis – [(7 car) (72 rush yds) (1 rush TD), (3 rec) (97 rec yds) (1 rec TD)]
Tayvion Robinson – [(5 rec) (86 yds) (1 TD)]
Jordan Dingle – [(4 rec) (89 yds) (1 TD)]
Trevin Wallace – [(5 totTk) (2 Sacks) (2 TFL)]
Maxwell Hairston – [(7 totTk) (1 TFL)]
The ‘Cats (3-0, 0-0 SEC) will begin SEC play on the road as they take on the Vanderbilt Commadores (2-2, 0-0 SEC) next Saturday, September 23. Kickoff is scheduled for 12:00 p.m. EST. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.