Kentucky football: Snacking on defenses, not banana peels or mayo coffee, it's the life of Will Levis
The era of NIL money has meant many things for college football, but one for certain has been this: It’s allowed the personalities to flow. No more Nick Saban style keeping it-buttoned-down for college athletes (except maybe the ones Saban still coaches). But even within those parameters, it’s been an odd and interesting season for Will Levis.
The basic details of Levis and his arrival in Lexington are now familiar. Levis played at Penn State, but they saw him as their running quarterback, and he moved on. He connected with UK offensive coordinator Liam Coen and decided to bring his talents to Lexington. A rifle-armed passer who does still have a penchant for scrambling, Levis excited a Kentucky program that has been desperate for a more consistent downfield passer seemingly since Andre Woodson in 2007 or maybe Mike Hartline in 2010.
But there are the things we didn’t know. Like the whole bananas.
Levis, with no apparent commercial plan, released a TikTok of him eating a banana. Not too odd. Except that it was. He ate the banana (a very overripe banana at that) whole, peel and all. It became a story.
SEC Network analyst Alyssa Lang decided to attempt to copy Levis during Kentucky’s Week 1 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
No, Levis did not ink an endorsement deal with Chiquita (that we know of). But he did realize when he had a good thing going, upping the ante a few weeks later with mayo coffee.
— Jonny (@Jonnycb7) October 1, 2021
Again, Levis not only did his own thing, he left plenty of others sampling mayonnaise coffee, including Lang again.
When 5-0 Kentucky faced LSU, many wondered what Levis’ next odd snack would be. To the delight of Big Blue Nation, it was LSU’s defense, and his arrival might be the story of UK’s season.
Levis opened strong against a UL-Monroe team that was thoroughly outclassed in Lexington. In only 26 attempts, he passed for 367 yards and 4 touchdowns. Big Blue Nation was certain they had Air Raid 2.0. But that wasn’t consistent with Kentucky’s personnel, the power running game that has been their team’s foundation, or the reality of SEC defenses.
Since that opener, Levis has hit 200 passing yards only once, and that was against FCS foe Chattanooga in Week 3. In his first 3 SEC games, Levis was 32-for-57 passing for 368 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. But Mark Stoops and Coen urged patience, noting that Kentucky was very close to hitting several more big plays that were off by fractions of a second or fractions of an inch. Kentucky could win 20-13, like they did against Florida, or 16-10, like they did against South Carolina.
But against LSU, Levis and Coen’s offense found synchronicity. It wasn’t an astonishing passing game — Levis only attempted 17 throws. But he connected on 14, for 145 yards and 3 touchdowns. It wasn’t a big day statistically, but Levis’ efficiency was remarkable.
Meanwhile, Levis rediscovered the ground game. His top rushing performance previously was 30 yards against South Carolina, and he had a single rushing touchdown on the season. But Levis picked up 75 yards and 2 more touchdowns on the ground against LSU. Given Kentucky’s dynamic pair of running backs who each topped 100 yards on the ground, adding in a few nice runs and an efficient passing game was … impressive.
Beating SEC football teams is no longer shocking at Kentucky. But scoring 42 points may well be. And having a quarterback who is as sharp as Levis was is an intriguing addition to the UK arsenal. Even with Kentucky trying to look ahead to Georgia, Stoops couldn’t entirely cover his happiness.
“He looked really poised, really confident,” Stoops said. “Maybe the numbers aren’t overwhelming, but he was very clean … and you could see his confidence stepping up.”
Levis was also pleased.
“I could have had some better throws accuracy-wise, but my decision making and ball placement for the most part were pretty good when it needed to be,” Levis said. “Just comes with good preparation and trust in the timing and progression of everything.”
This has been the progression. Will Levis went from the much anticipated new guy to the guy who ate weird food to the guy who is chewing up SEC defenses in leading UK to a 6-0 start. When asked about Saturday’s matchup with No. 1 Georgia, Levis admitted, “That’s why I came here.”
So bananas and coffee have been fun. But winning … well, let’s just say if Levis leads an upset over Georgia, he’ll be more famous (and popular) than whole bananas and mayonnaise coffee combined.