Levis, Ali, Robinson lead Cats to season-opening victory

LEXINGTON, Ky. (UK Athletics) – Will Levis passed for 367 yards and four touchdowns as Kentucky opened its 2021 season with a 45-10 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday at Kroger Field.

Two Wildcats had more than 100 yards receiving in the game. Senior Josh Ali had five receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown while junior Wan’Dale Robinson had five catches for 125 yards and two scores. Isaiah Epps nearly made it a trio, catching three passes for 83 yards.

On the ground, Chris Rodriguez Jr. went over 100 yards for the seventh time in his career. The junior rushed 19 times for 125 yards and a touchdown.

Kentucky had 564 yards of total offense in the first game under new offensive coordinator Liam Coen. UK finished with 419 yards passing and 145 yards on the ground.

Levis became the first UK passer to throw for over 300 yards since Stephen Johnson had 338 against Louisville in 2016.

Meanwhile, the Kentucky defense more than did its job against ULM. The Cats held the Warhawks to 87 total yards (70 passing, 17 rushing) in the game. ULM had 43 yards on its first drive of the game, then 44 yards the rest of the game.

Kentucky took the opening kickoff and got one first down. But the Cats turned it over on a Levis interception, giving ULM the ball at the UK 43 yard line.

The Warhawks would take the ball into Kentucky territory but the drive would stall, and ULM would try a field goal. It was good but UK was penalized on the play and the Warhawks took three points off the board in hopes of getting more.

That decision paid off as ULM drove inside the UK five yard line and punched it in the end zone on a three-yard touchdown rush by Kadyn Roach. Calum Sutherland added the extra point and the Warhawks led 7-0 with 8:53 to play in the first quarter.

Kentucky answered on its next drive. The Cats went 84 yards in just five plays, finishing with a 33-yard Levis touchdown pass to Wan’dale Robinson in the left corner of the end zone. Matt Ruffolo added the PAT and the game was tied 7-7 with 6:13 left in the first.

After at ULM punt, Kentucky took the lead. And quickly. On the first play of the drive, Levis connected with Ali on a 58-yard touchdown bomb. Ruffolo added the point after and the Cats led 14-7 with 4:20 still left in the first. That would be the score at the end of the period.

In the second quarter, the Cats extended their advantage. UK methodically marched down the field, largely on the legs of Rodriguez. Kentucky used 14 plays to cover 84 yards, with Rodriguez covering the final 27 yards himself. The scoring play was a two-yard rush by the senior and when Ruffolo added the PAT, Kentucky led 21-7 with 10:40 left in the half.

After another ULM punt, Kentucky went to the air again. Levis connected with Robinson for 62 yards, getting the Cats to the ULM 18 yard line. Those two would connect again, on a 13-yard scoring strike, to extend the UK lead. Ruffolo’s PAT made it 28-7 with 5:44 left in the first half. That would be the halftime score.

The first four possessions of the second half resulted in punts, two by each team. But on its third possession of the half, Kentucky got deep into ULM territory. The big play was a 57-yard pass from Levis to Epps, getting UK to the ULM 19. But a bad snap and a sack forced UK into a 45-yard field goal attempt from Ruffolo, which he made, giving the Cats a 31-7 lead with 3:54 left in the third quarter. UK would hold the same advantage as the quarter came to an end.

Early in the fourth quarter, Kentucky scored again. This time, it was Levis connecting with tight end Brendan Bates for a four-yard touchdown pass. It was the first career touchdown for Bates. Ruffolo’s PAT made it 38-7 with 13:07 to play.

Lousiana-Monroe would add a field goal in the fourth quarter to cut the UK lead to 38-10. Kentucky would finish the scoring with a four-yard touchdown rush from Michael Drennen II with 1:00 left to play. Ruffolo’s PAT made it 45-10, which would be the final score.

Kentucky returns to action next Saturday, hosting Missouri in the SEC opener for both teams. Kickoff is set for 7:30 ET and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.

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