Nov 26, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) holds up the Governor   s Cup trophy after winning the game against the Louisville Cardinals at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky QB Will Levis to leave for NFL draft

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis is leaving school for the 2023 NFL Draft and running back Kavosiey Smoke reportedly is headed for the transfer portal.

Levis told UK Blue Chips in a Twitter Spaces interview Wednesday night that he’s unsure if he’ll play in Kentucky’s bowl game, which will be announced Sunday.

“I’ll make an official announcement once I feel it’s necessary and appropriate,” Levis said. “But I do believe after this year I’ll be declaring.”

Levis has one year of eligibility remaining. However, he’s a sure-fire first-round pick with expectations of being selected in the top five in next year’s draft.

The 6-foot-3 Levis threw for 2,406 yards and 19 touchdowns against 10 interceptions this past season. He battled turf toe and missed a game. He threw for 2,827 yards and 24 TDs in 2021.

Smoke will enter the portal as a graduate transfer, ESPN reported Thursday.

He’s rushed for 1,583 yards and 13 touchdowns in five seasons at Kentucky. He rushed for 277 yards and a score behind starter Chris Rodriguez Jr. this past season.

–Field Level Media

UK offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello talked about the offense for the upcoming season during a Media Day event at Kroger Field in Lexington, Ky. on Aug. 3, 2022.

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Kentucky fires OC Rich Scangarello after one season

Kentucky fired offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello after just one season, the school confirmed to at least two media outlets Tuesday.

The move comes a day after Kentucky fired running backs coach John Settle.

Kentucky scored an SEC-low 22.08 points per game this season under Scangarello, finishing 7-5.

Scangarello in February replaced Liam Coen, who left to become the OC with the Los Angeles Rams.

–Field Level Media

Nov 19, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops looks on during the first quarter against the Georgia Bulldogs at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky signs Mark Stoops to massive extension

Kentucky has extended football coach Mark Stoops’ contract through the 2030 season.

The deal, signed on Nov. 11, extends his current contract by three seasons and runs through June 2031.

Stoops, 55, will earn $8.6 million per season beginning in February 2023, according to multiple reports Sunday.

That represents a jump from his $6.35 million salary in 2022.

The Wildcats (6-5, 3-5 SEC) lost 16-6 to No. 1 Georgia on Saturday in Lexington, Ky., but are bowl eligible for the seventh consecutive season under Stoops.

Stoops has compiled a 65-58 record, including 4-2 in bowl games, since taking over the program in 2013.

He was the SEC Coach of the Year in 2018 and he is the winningest coach in program history, passing Paul “Bear” Bryant (60-23-5 from 1946-53) earlier this season.

“We have been working on this for over a month and are glad to have it finalized,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a news release. “Continuity has become more and more important in today’s landscape, and make no mistake about it, the job that Coach Stoops has done is well known and highly regarded throughout the college football world.

“This extension also recognizes what Coach Stoops has done over the past decade, with unprecedented achievements in the history of Kentucky football, and reinforces his commitment to UK as we strive for continued success in the future.”

Stoops’ buyout was also raised from $1.75 million to $4.5 million. His deal includes significant bonuses if Kentucky makes a College Football Playoff appearance.

The Wildcats finish the regular season Saturday at home against rival Louisville.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Stetson Bennett (13) throws a pass against the Mississippi State Bulldogs that would result in a touchdown during the first quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 1 Georgia pushing for perfection at Kentucky

Top-ranked Georgia draws one more serious obstacle prior to the SEC championship game Saturday when it travels to Kentucky.

The Bulldogs certainly didn’t have a letdown last week after polishing off then-No. 1 Tennessee 27-13 on Nov. 5. They scored on the first play of the second half to take control of a 45-19 win at Mississippi State.

Georgia coach Kirby Smart, whose team seeks to defend last year’s national title, says it has kept working for ways to be better than their opposition.

“Can you do what you do better than the people in your profession on a daily basis and not get bored with monotony? It’s hard to sustain anything in life, in your career, whatever it is,” he said. “If you want to be the best sportswriter, you want to be the best broadcaster, you got to do it better than the other people in your profession.

“You got to do that by recreating yourself, by consistently outworking someone, and sometimes people get comfortable. We’re trying our best to be at our best. The challenge is, how do you do that better than the team you’re up against?”

The Bulldogs (10-0, 7-0) have demonstrated that consistency, aside from sloppy wins over Kent State and at Missouri. They’ve outscored opponents by 29 points per game with a top 10 offense and a top 5 defense.

Stetson Bennett boasts career-bests for completion percentage (67.6) and yards (2,895) with at least four games left in his season. And he’s not sacrificed mistakes for it, either, tossing only five interceptions in 330 attempts.

On top of that, Georgia spreads the wealth. Nine different receivers have at least 10 catches and six different players have rushed for more than 100 yards. It hasn’t escaped the notice of Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.

“We all understand it’s a real challenge,” he said. “It’s a team that’s very deep and very physical.”

A top 10 team going into October, last week’s stunning 24-21 loss to a Vanderbilt squad that entered the day with a 26-game SEC losing streak knocked Kentucky clear out of the College Football Playoff rankings.

Kentucky was outgained 448-322 by the Commodores. Its offensive line surrendered four sacks and quarterback Will Levis, who some believe is a first round NFL draft pick, threw for only 109 yards on 11 of 23 accuracy with an interception.

It was the kind of performance that raises many more questions than it provides answers and Stoops understands it.

“Under extreme, extreme pressure your habits are going to come straight to the surface and obviously I haven’t created enough good habits with this unit, with this team,” he said. “We do have a very good team. We have to play better in certain situations.”

One bright spot last week was Chris Rodriguez, who rushed for 162 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries. The fifth-year senior has rushed for 733 yards despite missing the first four games.

The Bulldogs own a 61-12 advantage in the all-time series, winning the last 12 matchups.

–Field Level Media

Nov 12, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores wide receiver Jayden McGowan (16) carries the ball during the first quarter against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt stuns No. 24 Kentucky in last minute of play

Mike Wright’s 8-yard touchdown pass to Will Sheppard with 32 seconds left allowed Vanderbilt to break its 26-game Southeastern Conference losing streak, stunning Kentucky 24-21 on Saturday afternoon in Lexington, Kentucky.

After Chris Rodriguez Jr.’s 72-yard run gave Kentucky (6-4, 3-4) a 21-17 lead late, Wright led the Commodores (4-6, 1-5) 80 yards on 12 plays on the streak-breaking drive.

The key was a 4th-and-11 pass of 40 yards to Quincy Skinner Jr. to the Kentucky 8, setting up the game-winning score three plays later.

The win was Vanderbilt’s first in the SEC since a 21-14 victory over Missouri on Oct. 19, 2019 — the third-longest losing streak in conference history.

Wright was 12 of 23 for 184 yards with a TD and an interception. He also rushed for 126 yards on 11 carries and a score, while running back Ray Davis had 129 yards on 26 attempts and a TD.

A 17-point favorite, the Wildcats were led by Rodriguez’s game-high 162 yards on 18 rushes with two TDs. Will Levis went 11-for-23 for 109 yards with an interception.

Kentucky got good field position when defensive back Carrington Valentine recovered a fumble on the game’s second play and returned it 21 yards. That set up Matt Ruffolo’s 47-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

But on an RPO play on the ensuing possession, Wright dashed 59 yards for his fifth TD. Yet Kentucky responded with a 15-play drive that took 8:21 off the clock, getting a second Ruffolo field goal — a 27-yarder — to tighten it to 7-6.

The Wildcats’ defense thwarted a drive when Keidron Smith intercepted a Wright pass at the goal line. Kentucky drove 61 yards in 10 plays, but Ruffolo’s 37-yard attempt for its second lead was blocked by Nate Clifton.

On Vanderbilt’s first series of the second half, Davis capped a 10-play, 81-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge at 7:47 for a 14-6 lead. His 45-yard run set up the score, but Ruffolo trimmed it to five with a 39-yard kick on the next possession.

In the fourth quarter, Rodriguez keyed a 66-yard drive and ended it with a 5-yard run. Vanderbilt’s Joseph Bulovas then kicked a 26-yard field goal for a 17-15 lead.

–Field Level Media

Nov 5, 2022; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) looks to pass during the fourth quarter against the Missouri Tigers at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: William Purnell-USA TODAY Sports

‘Remember November’: Kentucky faces Vanderbilt, seeks strong finish

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said complacency won’t be an issue on Saturday as his bowl-eligible Wildcats face Vanderbilt in a Southeastern Conference matchup in Lexington, Ky.

“With three games left in November, we still have to be relentless in our improvement,” Stoops said. “We’ve got to finish strong. That old saying ‘remember November’ is no joke. You want to remember how you finish.”

The Wildcats (6-3, 3-3 SEC) will begin a three-game homestand in the game against the Commodores (3-6, 0-5), with matchups against Georgia and Louisville to follow. An improbable sweep of all three would put the Wildcats in position for a second consecutive 10-win season, including a bowl game.

Their chances for that might come down to the health of quarterback Will Levis, who passed for three touchdowns last week in a 21-17 win at Missouri while playing through foot and shoulder issues that led to six sacks.

Stoops said Levis’ lack of mobility was “unfortunate for himself and for us because we’ve seen what he’s done in the past with his mobility. But Will will continue to work extremely hard to get treatment and be as ready as he can be to help his team.”

Mistakes were costly for the Commodores last week in their 38-27 loss to South Carolina. They rushed for 226 yards, but four turnovers were too much to overcome as they dropped their 26th consecutive conference game. Vanderbilt hasn’t won an SEC contest since a 21-14 victory over Missouri on Oct. 19, 2019.

The Commodores on Saturday will be without starting quarterback AJ Swann, who came away with an undisclosed injury against South Carolina.

Mike Wright, who started at QB the first three games this season, will start against Kentucky.

“Mike’s gonna be the guy this week as we get going,” offensive coordinator Joey Lynch said, according to The Tennessean.

Wright has completed 58.3 percent of his 96 passes for 654 yards in seven games and has rushed for 328 yards with an average of 7.5 yards per carry.

Swann has passed for 1,195 yards and rushed for a net minus-55.

–Field Level Media

Kentucky running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) holds back Tennessee defensive back Trevon Flowers (1) during the NCAA college football game between Tennessee and Kentucky on Saturday, October 29, 2022 in Knoxville, Tenn.

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Unranked Kentucky tries to end slide vs. improving Missouri

Missouri coach Eli Drinkwitz expects Kentucky to arrive eager to reestablish its standing at his team’s expense.

After rolling toward a 4-0 start, the Wildcats (5-3, 2-3 SEC) have lost three of their last four games heading into Saturday’s game in Columbia, Mo.

Kentucky is coming off an ugly 44-6 loss at Tennessee that kept it outside the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season.

“My anticipation is they’re going play their best game of the year,” Drinkwitz said. “They’re going to want to atone for last week. I know they’re all going to sit there and think that this is a game that they can come in and win and so it’s going to be important for us to play our best game.”

But Kentucky coach Mark Stoops is taking nothing for granted. The Tigers (4-4, 2-3) lost by three points in overtime at Auburn, by four points to Georgia and by seven points at Florida before beating Vanderbilt and upsetting South Carolina in their last two games.

“I give Coach Drink a lot of credit, because they had a brutal loss a few games back, with the Auburn game, where they were essentially an inch from winning the game,” Stoops said. “The team could’ve went any which way, and they turn around and play an incredible game, play Georgia as good as anybody has played them and had a tough loss, and go to Florida and play incredibly well. You could take a few plays out of that one and they can win.”

The Wildcats will be looking to get quarterback Will Levis back on track after he completed 16 of 27 passes for just 98 yards and three interceptions against Tennessee.

“It was tough,” Stoops said. “I think when the game was starting to get away from us, he’s forcing things. That’s the competitor in him. That’s human nature. We’re trying to force, trying to make plays.”

Kentucky is averaging just 112.6 yards per game on the ground this season, second-lowest in the SEC. But Chris Rodriguez Jr., La’Vell Wright, JuTahn McClain and Dee Beckwith combined for 130 yards rushing against Tennessee and Drinkwitz expects the Wildcats to prioritize the run.

“I think last year there was a stretch when they had 18 straight runs against us,” Drinkwitz said. “So we know this is going to be a tough physical matchup and the trenches.”

Missouri ranks second-to-last in the SEC with 210.8 passing yards per game. But quarterback Brady Cook passed for 224 yards and rushed for 53 yards and a touchdown against South Carolina.

His top target is Dominic Lovett, who caught 10 passes for 148 yards against the Gamecocks. Lead running back Cody Schrader had 113 yards from scrimmage in that game.

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2022; Oxford, Mississippi, USA; Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) during the first half against the Mississippi Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

Report: Kentucky QB Will Levis (turf toe) to play vs. Mississippi State

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis is set to return to action on Saturday when the No. 22 Wildcats host No. 16 Mississippi State, coach Mark Stoops reportedly told ESPN on Friday.

Levis missed last week’s 24-14 home loss to South Carolina due to turf toe. He wore a boot to protect the injury to his left foot.

Levis also has a dislocated middle finger on his non-throwing hand that was sustained during a 22-19 road loss to Ole Miss on Oct. 1.

The Wildcats (4-2, 1-2 SEC) will be looking to halt a two-game slide.

Levis, a highly regarded NFL prospect, has passed for 1,405 yards, 12 touchdowns and four interceptions in five games this season.

Kaiya Sheron made his first career start for the Wildcats in the loss to South Carolina. He completed 15 of 27 passes for 178 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked six times.

Mississippi State (5-1, 2-1) is led by star quarterback Will Rogers.

–Field Level Media

Oct 1, 2022; Starkville, Mississippi, USA; Mississippi State Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers (2) makes a pass against the Texas A&M Aggies during the fourth quarter at Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field. Mandatory Credit: Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

No. 16 Mississippi State on fire entering clash at No. 22 Kentucky

No. 16 Mississippi State will visit No. 22 Kentucky on Saturday night after outscoring its last three opponents by a combined 127-55.

And if coach Mike Leach is correct, the Bulldogs have more left in the tank for the Southeastern Conference clash in Lexington.

“Quite a bit, because you’re talking about every position on the team where you can get a little bit more,” he said. “We’re finishing runs better than we did last year, but we can certainly do better. We’re blocking the second level better than we did last year, but we could certainly do better.

“We’re playing faster than we did last year, but we could certainly play faster. Then defensively, we do a lot of good things, and we are kind of explosive and powerful on defense, but some of the big plays we could definitely shut down, too.”

Some might see it as coach-speak, but Leach knows this is no time for Mississippi State (5-1, 2-1 SEC) to bask in the glow of a dominant stretch. With No. 3 Alabama looming on the road next week, the Bulldogs certainly can’t get caught looking ahead to its SEC West neighbor.

If quarterback Will Rogers continues to execute as he has this year, Mississippi State should be in good shape. Rogers is completing nearly 72 percent of his passes through six games for 2,110 yards with a 22-3 touchdown-interception ratio.

In last week’s 40-17 rout of Arkansas, Rogers completed 31 of 48 passes for 395 yards with three touchdowns. The Bulldogs finished with 568 total yards, including a 100-yard game on the ground from Dillon Johnson to give the offense balance.

Meanwhile, Kentucky (4-2, 1-2) has fallen out of the Top 10 after consecutive SEC losses. The Wildcats struggled offensively for the second straight game last week in a 24-14 home defeat against unranked South Carolina.

Starting quarterback Will Levis (ankle/finger) watched that defeat from the sideline in a walking boot after suffering multiple injuries in a 22-19 defeat at Ole Miss the previous week. In his place, Kaiya Sheron hit 15 of 27 passes for 178 yards and a pair of touchdowns against the Gamecocks, but he also tossed a late interception and absorbed six sacks.

Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Levis is a day-to-day proposition for Saturday. Stoops said Sheron’s teammates could have played better around him.

“Obviously, when you lose one of the top players in college football, it doesn’t help your football team, but that’s still no excuse for the way we played,” Stoops said. “There are certainly things we could do better. That holds true after watching the film.”

The Wildcats’ defense allowed the Gamecocks to roll up 179 yards on the ground and South Carolina broke up a 7-7 halftime score by scoring 17 consecutive points in the second half before UK scored late.

Mississippi State owns a 25-24 lead in the series, which dates back to 1914. The Bulldogs posted a 31-17 victory over Kentucky last October in Starkville as Rogers completed 36 of 39 passes for 344 yards with a touchdown.

–Field Level Media

Oct 8, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Kentucky Wildcats running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. (24) runs the ball during the first quarter against the South Carolina Gamecocks at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

South Carolina upsets No. 13 Kentucky as offense comes alive in second half

Spencer Rattler overcame a lethargic start to spark South Carolina to a 24-14 upset of No. 13 Kentucky in a Southeastern Conference matchup Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.

Rattler passed for 128 yards in the second half to finish with 177 for the game for the Gamecocks (4-2, 1-2 SEC). He completed 14 of 19 passes, including a short toss to Antwane Wells Jr. for a 42-yard catch-and-run score.

MarShawn Lloyd eclipsed 100 yards on the ground for the second time this season with 110 on 22 carries and scored on a 2-yard run on South Carolina’s first possession. Jalen Brooks scored on a 24-yard run with 7:02 remaining to clinch the victory.

With starting quarterback Will Levis sidelined by an apparent foot injury, Chris Rodriguez Jr. carried the brunt of the offense for the Wildcats by rushing for 126 yards. Backup quarterback Kaiya Sheron, a redshirt freshman, passed for 178 yards and was sacked six times.

He had touchdown passes of 16 yards to Jordan Dingle in the second quarter and of 10 yards to JuTahn McClain late in the fourth.

After a disastrous first quarter that started with the Wildcats mishandling an exchange on their first play to give the Gamecocks a short field for a touchdown, Kentucky managed a 7-7 tie at the break on Dingle’s touchdown.

The Wildcats also had a punt blocked, and Matt Ruffolo missed a 45-yard field goal attempt in the opening 15 minutes.

The Gamecocks took advantage of the Wildcats’ turnover for an early score, but they missed an opportunity to add to their lead when Rattler lost a fumble just three plays after King-Demenian Ford’s blocked punt gave South Carolina the ball at the Kentucky 22-yard line.

The Gamecocks finished the first half with just 90 yards in total offense while Rodriguez alone had 98 yards — 97 on 16 rushes — for Kentucky. South Carolina went on to finish with 356 yards for the game, while Kentucky racked up 299.

–Field Level Media