The No. 9 Kentucky Wildcats, ranked their highest in 15 years, host Youngstown State, a Football Championship Subdivision school, on Saturday in Lexington, Ky.
Kentucky (2-0) is coming off a 26-16 victory at then-No. 12 Florida that ascended the then-No. 20 Wildcats 11 spots in the national rankings. The Wildcats haven’t been this highly ranked since checking in at No. 8 on Sept. 30, 2007 after starting 5-0 before losing at No. 11 South Carolina the next week.
The Wildcats rallied from a 16-7 deficit by scoring the game’s final 19 points, including Keidron Smith’s 65-yard interception return for a touchdown that broke a 16-16 tie, giving Kentucky the lead for good with 3:25 left in the third quarter.
The victory was Kentucky’s second straight over the Gators, a feat the Wildcats hadn’t accomplished since 1976-1977. Florida had defeated Kentucky 31 straight times dating to 1986 before the Wildcats bested the Gators in 2018 to spark a run of three wins over Florida in the past five seasons.
The win in The Swamp was also history-making for another reason: Mark Stoops became the winningest coach in Kentucky football history.
In his 10th season, Stoops improved to 61-53, just ahead of the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant, who went 60-23 in Lexington from 1946-53.
Kentucky, which is favored to beat the Penguins by nearly four touchdowns, is led by quarterback Will Leavis. Against Florida, the senior went 13-for-24 passing for 202 yards with a touchdown and an interception, in addition to adding a 1-yard touchdown run.
“I know how tough they are and what type of program, the history that they have, they’re not going to be intimidated,” said Stoops, a native of Youngstown, Ohio. “That’s all good, there’s a connection there, but at the end of the day, they’re coming in here to beat us and play well and we have a job to do, and it’s our job to keep that intensity and keep that focus and keep on improving.”
Kavosiey Smoke rushed for 80 yards on 14 carries against the Gators, while Dane Key had three catches for 83 yards and a score.
Both will likely see an increased workload until All-SEC running back Chris Rodriguez’s four-game suspension ends when the Wildcats play at Ole Miss on Oct. 1. He ran for 1,379 yards and nine touchdowns last season.
Youngstown State (2-0) is coming off a 49-16 win over visiting Dayton (1-1) in which Demeatric Crenshaw threw a school-record tying five touchdowns on just 11-for-17 passing for 230 yards.
Jaleel McLaughlin rushed for 129 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries, an average of nearly 10 yards an attempt.
For the season, McLaughlin has rushed for 332 yards and four scores on 33 carries, in addition to catching three passes for 61 yards and a touchdown.
Receivers Max Tomczak (five receptions, 148 yards, 1 TD) and Bryce Oliver (10 10 receptions, 121 yards, 2 TDs) have also gotten off to good starts. Crenshaw is completing 54.3 percent of his passes for 384 yards with five touchdowns and no sacks.
“I love seeing the tough things in a football game, because that shows you what type of character you have in the locker room,” Youngstown State coach Doug Phillips said. “For me to see some struggles early on right now, guess what? There’s going to be more struggles.
“The next play is the most important, and we have to move on. Those things are going to happen in a game, and how you handle those highs and lows, we use those as teaching points each and every day.”
–Field Level Media