Kentucky will give its new-look offense a bigger test Saturday when SEC East rival Missouri comes to Lexington.
The Wildcats (1-0, 0-0 SEC) throttled Louisiana Monroe 45-10 in their opener while the Tigers (1-0, 0-0) got past Central Michigan, 34-24.
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis, a transfer from Penn State, completed 18 of 26 passes for 367 yards and four touchdowns for first-year coordinator Liam Coen, who came to the Wildcats from the Los Angeles Rams.
Chris Rodriguez rushed for 125 yards and a touchdown and receivers Josh Ali and Wan’Dale Robinson combined to catch 10 passes for 261 yards and three scores.
The Wildcats’ explosive season-opening debut got the attention of Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz.
“Totally different style, totally different feel,” Drinkwitz said. “(They) execute it at a high level, shifts, motions formation. Vertical shots, intermediate, middle-field throws, quick game, got the whole package.
“The only thing that’s a surprise to me is how quickly they’ve gotten to where they’re at. Sometimes when you come in as a new offensive coordinator, to make such drastic change, it’s kind of hard to get in that quickly. But they’re humming on all cylinders right now.”
Coen crossed paths with first-year Missouri defensive coordinator Steve Wilks in the NFL. Wilks was head coach of the Arizona Cardinals, then defensive coordinator of the Cleveland Browns
His defenses at Missouri look similar.
“They want to try to stop the run and challenge you on the perimeter to throw the football and challenge you to win one-on-one matchups,” Coen said. “That’s something that we have to try to defeat.”
But Missouri’s new-look defense had its hands full with Central Michigan. The Tigers yielded 475 yards offense, including 301 in the air.
The Tigers played turnover-free football on offense and got a breakout performance from running back Tyler Badie, who stepped into the starting role with 203 yards rushing, 40 yards receiving and two touchdowns.
Connor Bazelak completed 21 of 32 passes for 257 yards and two touchdowns, but the Tigers converted just one of their 11 third-down opportunities.
The Wildcats had won five consecutive games in the series until last season, when the Tigers won 20-10.
“Eli and I have built a friendship and I like him, but he kicked our butt,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “He kicked our butt. I’m not going to forget — that’s on my mind. He had his team more prepared than I was.”
–Field Level Media