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Alabama Football vs Kentucky Preview: When the Wildcats have the ball

No Will Levis? No problem

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Kentucky Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

After a disastrous 2022 with an overhyped QB in Will Levis, Kentucky has turned over a new page in 2023 and increased their scoring by 10 full points per game. A lot of that has been the return of offensive coordinator Liam Coen. Coen was with Kentucky a few years ago when Levis first starting getting attention, but he went on to be OC of the L.A. Rams in the NFL last season. He actually wound up leaving the Rams before the season ended to take his old position back at Kentucky, and the Wildcats are the better for it.

Coen runs a very modern version of a pro-style offense. The rushing game is based on a lot of pulling linemen and power/man blocking, and the passing game uses a lot of tight splits, play-action, pump fakes, and double moves while primarily attacking the intermediate distances.

NC State transfer QB, Devin Leary, hasn’t had quite the success many thought he would, but he’s still been a very solid QB. Leary is a master at executing playfakes on passes and runs and does a phenomenal job at using his eyes to look away from where he’s ultimately planning to throw and get defensive backs out of position.

He’s got a lightning quick release and can hit any route on the field - essentially all the arm talent in the world, great attention to small details, and a good mind. So why the 57% completion rate? Some of it is random inaccuracy, which I think is more chalked up to him not being calibrated to the UK receivers still than it is to his actual aim. He’s also a QB that’s very willing to try to make throws to guys in tight coverage if a defender’s back is turned, and his receivers have not always done a great job at coming down with those catches.

His receiving trio of Barion Brown, Tayvion Robinson, and Dane Key are all veteran players at this point and each have right around 30 catches for 350-450 yards. They’re a true three-player attack with no clear #1 guy, but all three a very involved on any given play.

The real key to offense so far, though, has been running back Ray Davis. The bowling-ball shaped running back was a standout on a bad Vanderbilt team last year (over 1000 rushing yards) before transferring to Kentucky. He’s already 903 rushing yards this year on an impressive 6.1 yards per carry, and has another 227 yards in the passing game (Coen loves a good throwback screen pass), plus 14 total touchdowns. In face, he’s the #2 rusher in the SEC behind Missouri’s Cody Schrader.

Unfortunately for the Wildcats, their offense is exactly the type of offense that Nick Saban and Kevin Steele have built a career on stopping. Ray Davis will move the chains for them a little, but Alabama’s aggressive defensive backs will prevent Leary from really being able to pick apart those centerfield zones.

They may hit one good double move for a TD, but I don’t see too much more offense than that. Alabama’s defensive backs are just better than their receivers, and their passing offense is built around the receivers winning their routes.

I’ll go with 17 points for the Wildcats in this one.