Mark Stoops might want to stop scheduling games against Eastern Kentucky.
For the third time in his 11 seasons as Kentucky’s head coach, Stoops watched the FCS Colonels play his Wildcats far closer than expected. Kentucky failed to score on its first six offensive drives Saturday and did not lead until the third quarter on the way to a 28-17 win.
UK entered the game as a 35-point favorite.
For the second consecutive game, Kentucky’s offense failed to live up to the soaring preseason hype created by the return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen and addition of transfer quarterback Devin Leary.
Leary completed 14 of 25 passes in the first half before rallying to finish at 24 for 38 for 299 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. Multiple dropped passes did not help his stat line, but Leary also overthrew several open receivers in the game, continuing to show signs of rust after returning from a season-ending torn pectoral muscle suffered in October 2022 while playing for at N.C. State.
Meanwhile, Kentucky’s defense continued to struggle on third down, allowing EKU to convert 6 of 12 tries. The Colonels converted two third downs on their opening six-play, 30-yard touchdown drive and two on the second touchdown drive to pull within four points at 21-17 in the fourth quarter.
Needing a spark, Kentucky inserted Barion Brown at punt returner with less than a minute left in the first half and EKU punting from its own 20-yard line. Brown, who normally is reserved for kickoff return opportunities, fielded the punt near midfield and returned it 36 yards to the EKU 24-yard line. On the next play, Leary hit Robinson on a perfect throw to the corner of the end zone for Kentucky’s first points of the game. Kentucky scored touchdowns on its next three possessions. Brown finished the game with 152 all-purpose yards.
MVP: TAYVION ROBINSON
On an afternoon where Kentucky’s offense struggled mightily, super senior wide receiver Tayvion Robinson was close to perfect. Robinson caught all six passes thrown his direction for 136 yards and two touchdowns. Kentucky coaches challenged Robinson after a disappointing 2022 season, and early signs suggest he has responded in the way hoped.
Since the schedule permanently went to 12 games in 2006, Kentucky has played 17 games against FCS opponents. Only four of those games have been decided by less than 24 points, but all three games against Eastern Kentucky in that span have been decided by 11 points or less.