Will Levis threw four touchdown passes, one in each quarter, as No. 8 Kentucky pulled away from upset-minded Northern Illinois for a 31-23 victory on Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.
Levis completed 18 of 26 passes for 303 yards without a turnover. He had two touchdown passes to Tayvion Robinson and two to Barion Brown as Kentucky (4-0) tuned up for a Southeastern Conference clash next week at No. 16 Mississippi.
Robinson hauled in seven passes for 147 yards, while highly touted freshman Brown added four receptions for 102 yards. Kavosiey Smoke added 85 yards on 12 carries.
Brown’s 70-yard touchdown grab early in the second half gave the Wildcats the lead for good. Then in the fourth quarter, Robinson’s 40-yard scoring catch put Kentucky up 31-14.
Northern Illinois (1-3) rallied with a 38-yard field goal from John Richardson and a 2-yard touchdown run by Justin Lynch with 2:47 left. But the Huskies’ hopes of a comeback died when the Wildcats recovered the ensuing onside kick.
In the first ever meeting of the teams, the defending Mid-American Conference champion Huskies hung with the Wildcats for a half. In his second career start, Ethan Hampton completed 13 of 25 passes for 196 yards and a touchdown.
Northern Illinois showed no nerves early, driving 75 yards after receiving the opening kickoff. Hampton completed all three of his passes on the march, including a 2-yard touchdown toss to Tristen Tewes.
Kentucky answered with a 75-yard touchdown drive of its own, which included a conversion of a risky fourth-and-1 from its own 34. Twelve plays after picking up the first down with a quarterback sneak, Levis capped the march with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Brown to tie it 7-7.
The Wildcats struck much more quickly for their second score. Shortly after Smoke got Kentucky out of a deep hole at its own 2 with a 27-yard run, Levis fired across the middle to a wide-open Robinson for a 69-yard touchdown pass.
Before the end of the half, the Wildcats gifted the Huskies a game-tying touchdown. A fumble by Smoke was recovered by JaVaughn Byrd, giving Northern Illinois possession at the Kentucky 34 with 42 seconds left.
Six plays later, Shemar Thornton took the ball on an apparent end around but pulled up and threw a 3-yard pass to Tewes, who was open in the end zone with six seconds left in the half.
–Field Level Media