Kentucky Stops Ball State in Season Opener
Kentucky scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams on Saturday, beating Ball State 44-14 in the 2023 season opener at Kroger Field.
Quarterback Devin Leary, making his first start for Kentucky, connected on 18 of 31 passing for 241 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Running back Ray Davis, also wearing blue for the first time on Saturday, rushed for 112 yards and a pair of scores for the Cats.
Kentucky (1-0) had 357 yards of total offense in the game compared to just 295 for Ball State. The Cardinals actually had more first downs than the Cats (18-16) but the Cats took advantage of both BSU turnovers, converting those into 10 points.
The Cats also got a defensive score on a 69-yard fumble recovery and return by Jalen Geiger, as well as a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Barion Brown.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 2, 2023
Defensively, Trevin Wallace led the Cats with 12 tackles, while Alex Afari, Maxwell Hairston and D’Eryk Jackson each had eight stops.
On the first play from scrimmage, Leary connected with Dane Key over the middle for a 44-yard completion, quickly getting the Cats into BSU territory. But the drive stalled and UK settled for a 41-yard field goal from Alex Raynor, which was good, and Kentucky took an early 3-0 lead.
Ball State went three-and-out on its first drive but the Cardinals’ punt pinned the Cats at their own six. Kentucky quickly dug itself out of that hole on a 26-yard run by Davis. But Kentucky was forced to punt, giving the ball back to Ball State with 8:40 still to play in the first quarter.
On the ensuing possession, the Cardinals drove into UK territory for the first time. Ball State would march 73 yards in 13 plays, ending with a one-yard quarterback sneak touchdown run by Layne Hatcher. Jackson Courville added the extra point and Ball State led 7-3 with 1:35 to play in the first.
Kentucky wasted little time getting into the Ball Stat red zone early in the second period. A 27-yard connection from Leary to Key, followed by a 16-yard completion to Tayvion Robinson, got the Cats to the BSU four yard line. A couple of plays later, Davis scored on a two-yard rush, his first touchdown as a Wildcat, to give UK the lead. Raynor added the PAT and Kentucky led 10-7 with 11:31 to play in the half.
Ball State drove into UK territory on its next possession before the UK defense made a big play. Hatcher completed a pass to Tanner Koziol, who was hit by UK’s Afari, resulting in a fumble that Geiger scooped up and took 69 yards for a Kentucky touchdown. Raynor added the PAT and Kentucky grabbed a 17-7 advantage with 6:58 left in the half.
The UK defense forced another three-and-out on Ball State’s next possession, forcing a Cardinals’ punt. Kentucky took over at its own 45 with 4:35 to play in the half.
Kentucky would get into Ball State territory but, on fourth and three from the BSU 33, Leary was intercepted by Ball State’s Tyler Potts to end the threat and give the Cardinals the ball back with 1:37 left in the half.
The UK defense would make another big play before the end of the half. BSU’s Malcolm Gillie caught a pass from Hatcher but was hit by UK’s Hairston, causing a fumble that was recovered by Jordan Lovett, giving Kentucky the ball at the BSU 31 with 1:22 left in the half.
Kentucky could do nothing with the ensuing possession, but the Cats got a 46-yard field goal from Raynor with 1:08 to play in the half to make it 20-7 UK.
Ball State got the ball back but Kentucky used its timeouts wisely and forced a Cardinals’ punt. The Cats took over on their own 45 with 31 seconds to play. On the second play of the possession, Leary hit Barion Brown for 26 yards, getting the Cats to the BSU 29 with 17 seconds left in the half. On the final play of the half, Raynor connected on a 46-yard field goal, giving Kentucky a 23-7 lead at the half.
The Cardinals got the ball first in the third quarter. BSU got one first down and drove near midfield before being forced to punt. UK took over at its own 11 with 9:29 remaining in the third quarter.
Kentucky took over and put together an impressive scoring drive. The Cats marched 89 yards in seven plays, culminating when Leary found Key in the back of the end zone for a five-yard touchdown pass. Raynor added the point after and Kentucky led 30-7 with 6:43 left in the third.
Ball State answered with a scoring drive of its own. The Cardinals went 75 yards in 10 plays. The drive ended with a touchdown pass from Kaydin Semonza to Ty Robinson. Courville added the PAT to make it 30-14 with less than a minute to play in the third.
On the ensuing kickoff, Brown fielded the ball on the right hash at the one, went up the middle, and was off to the races, covering 99 yards for a kick return touchdown, the second of his young career. Raynor added the PAT and Kentucky led 37-14 with 28 seconds left in the period. That would be the score after three quarters.
🏎️💨 @BarionBrown to the 🏡
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 2, 2023
In the fourth quarter, Ball State drove deep into Kentucky territory, eventually getting to the UK one yard line. But on fourth and goal, Semonza tried a quarterback sneak and was stuffed by UK’s Keaten Wade and Trevin Wallace, foiling the scoring opportunity and giving the ball back to the Cats with 9:57 left in the game.
Kentucky would add a late score when Davis scampered 30 yards for his second touchdown of the game with just six seconds remaining. Raynor added the PAT to provide the final margin of victory.
The Cats return to action on Saturday, hosting Eastern Kentucky at Kroger Field. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. ET and the game can be seen on SEC Network Plus.