10:16:58:Football vs. Missouri

Kentucky defensive back Tyrell Ajian (23) makes a tackle during UK’s game against Missouri on Saturday, Sept. 11, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 35-28. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Kentucky is slowly finding their identity in they early portion of the season — for better or for worse.

Chattanooga outplayed Kentucky in nearly every aspect of Saturday’s match up fundamentally. The Wildcats might have had the edge on the stat sheet, but you wouldn’t have guessed it watching the game live. 

“I don't think we played a very good game together today where the defense and the offense complemented each other at all,” Mark Stoops said post-game.

Things got off to a rocky start when Kentucky allowed a 48-yard rush by Chattanooga running back Ailym Ford on the first drive of the game, setting up their first touchdown of the afternoon. The six-play 75-yard drive saw the Mocs march down the field in impressive fashion — it was the only time they would do so in the first half. Chattanooga only managed to find 26 more yards after that drive but were helped tremendously by their play against Kentucky’s offense.

Kentucky was lucky to head into halftime with the 14-10 lead after a Will Levis interception by UTC’s CaMiron Smith deep in Wildcat territory that led to a Mocs field goal followed by a second turnover on a strip sack from Jay Person on fourth down on the next drive.

I made some throws that usually I wouldn't,” Levis said. “That first interception was one of the worst interceptions I've ever thrown. I don't know what I was thinking really, and it's just frustrating looking back.”

If there were one positive takeaway from he first half — it’s the fact that Kentucky didn’t give up more than 10 points. The defense forced three-and-outs directly after both turnovers, only giving up three points in that stretch, mostly due to the Mocs field position after the pick.

“It wasn’t good,” Stoops told UK Radio’s Dick Gabriel at halftime. “A lot of self-inflicted wounds. Penalties. Ball on the ground. Interception. Not hitting open receivers. Unacceptable. Not good enough.”

Kentucky looked just as jumbled to begin the second half as they had in the first. Two straight penalties (holding, illegal substitution) pushed Chattanooga downfield for an opening possession field goal.

The Mocs had every bit of momentum heading into the fourth quarter after Levis threw his second interception of the afternoon, setting Chattanooga up to take the lead on a 30-yard field goal by Aaron Seals — Kentucky just had no answers.

They couldn’t stop short passes to the flats, were out-rushed, weren’t physical enough and looked as though they lost all will to win while Chattanooga was the complete opposite. The bleachers began to thin out and Kentucky got some pep in their step, trying to avoid the major upset by scoring on the next drive to re-take the lead. 

Sure, Kentucky drove down the field and scored on a 31-yard touchdown throw from Levis to Izayah Cummings and Tyrell Ajian’s game-sealing 95-yard pick six (third longest in UK history) was enough to let Kentucky escape with the win, but the damage had been done; Chattanooga exposed and exploited their weaknesses and Kentucky’s ego took a hit. 

“I'm going to have get their heads up because I'm sure they're very frustrated right now, very mad, because you're not getting enough plays,” Stoops said. “You're not getting to run, you're getting stopped on third down. That hurts everything, hurts all the momentum and the confidence.”

BBN can go to sleep knowing their ‘Cats are 3-0 heading into next week’s date in Columbia against South Carolina — but which Kentucky team will show up? The one we thought we knew through the first two games, or the one that could barely defeat an FCS team at home?