LEXINGTON, Ky. — On a day with extra meaning for Mark Stoops, his team delivered in the quintessential Stoops way. Kentucky's defense smothered its opponent, while the offense tacked on four touchdowns and one field goal, for a winning score of 31-0 over Youngstown State inside Kroger Field.
The victory marked UK's first shutout win since 2009 and only its second since 1996, according to the SEC Network. It's also the 17th consecutive game where the Kentucky defense held its opponent to fewer than 200 yards of rushing offense.
The matchup between the No. 9 Cats and the Penguins was UK's first since Coach Stoops officially overtook Bear Bryant as the program's all-time winningest coach, and it pitted Kentucky against Stoops' hometown team. Several other UK coaches, staff members and players also have Youngstown roots, including associate head coach Vince Marrow, safeties coach Frank Buffano, and former Cat turned assistant, Courtney Love.
Will Levis had an efficient outing for the Wildcats: completing 27/35 passes for 377 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, to go along with a touchdown of his own on the ground.
Kavosiey Smoke led the way for Kentucky's ground attack, rushing for 66 yards and one touchdown, while Dane Key racked up a team-leading six receptions for 90 yards in the air for the Wildcats.
But again, it was the defense that really put the game out of reach for the Penguins. Youngstown State earned just one first down in the first half, and by the end of the game, they'd only earned 196 total yards of offense.
Admittedly, things got off to a slow start for the Wildcats, especially after starting outside linebacker J.J. Weaver left the game with a left arm injury. The Kentucky trainers wrapped his arm on the field before taking him to the locker room for further evaluation, and he did not return to the field for the remainder of the game.
When Martez Thrower blocked a YSU punt, the Cats had excellent field position for an offensive opportunity. They weren't able to take advantage of it, however, as Levis threw an interception near the goal line to give the ball back to the Penguins.
Kentucky's defense did its part to get the ball back, and the offense was able to make its way back to the end zone. Levis threw a 15-yarder to Robinson, who was taken down on the 1-yard line as the first quarter came to an end. Levis punched it in less than two minutes into the second quarter to go up 7-0.
The Cats put two more touchdowns on the board before halftime. The first, thanks in part to a 24-yard scramble by Levis, followed by a catch in the end zone by Key. The touchdown means the true freshman has recorded a touchdown catch in each of his first three collegiate games.
The second score was thanks to a nine-play, 71-yard drive by the offense that ended with a 2-yard touchdown catch by redshirt freshman Chris Lewis.
At the break, Kentucky owned a 21-0 lead.
The defense continued to shine in the second half. Carrington Valentine made his presence felt with an impressive pass break up in the end zone on a 4th down to prevent a Youngstown State touchdown.
Carrington Valentine said 🙅♂️🙅♂️🙅♂️— BBN Tonight (@BBNTonight) September 17, 2022
The offense was efficient in the third quarter, taking time off the clock while still putting points on the Penguins. A 7-yard carry by Kavosiey Smoke tacked on six more for the Cats, and Kentucky went up 28-0.
Youngstown star running back Jaleel McLaughlin was largely limited by the UK defense, although he did break free for a 64-yard gain that looked like it would result in Penguins points in the third period. Carrington Valentine had other plans.
A pass to the end zone - intended for former Wildcat, current Penguin, Bryce Oliver - was intercepted by Valentine for a UK touchback.
Ball hawk Carrington Valentine 😼pic.twitter.com/8tiqkyG1Gb— BBN Tonight (@BBNTonight) September 17, 2022
Kentucky's defense stayed resilient in its effort to keep YSU out of the end zone, while the offense was able to add a field goal late in the fourth quarter.
Before the game, Coach Stoops was honored as Kentucky's all-time winningest head coach.
It was also "Hero's Day" at Kroger Field, and servicemen and women were honored throughout the game. The recognition actually stared prior to kick-off, with a flyover and a field-sized American flag during the National Anthem.
Heroes' Day! Thank you to our military service members, first responders and veterans! pic.twitter.com/RlpIhX09ci— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 17, 2022
Kentucky will return to Kroger Field next Saturday, Sept. 24th to take on Northern Illinois. Kick-off is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
For more on the game and the Wildcats, watch BBN Tonight weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on LEX 18 News, your official station for Big Blue Nation. Exclusive interviews and full episodes are also available on BBNTonight.com