Kentucky opens campaign with rebuilding Louisiana Monroe

Field Level Media

August 29, 2021 at 8:24 pm.

Mark Stoops has rebuilt the Kentucky football program to the point where it has gone to bowl games in the last five seasons of his eight-season tenure.

The Wildcats open their season at home Saturday in Lexington against a Louisiana-Monroe program that first-year coach Terry Bowden is just starting to try to elevate from rock bottom.

Kentucky is coming off a 5-6 season after a win in the Gator Bowl, which ended a streak of four consecutive winning campaigns.

The opener provides the first look at first-year offensive coordinator Liam Coen’s scheme that he brought from the Los Angeles Rams. He’s trying to upgrade a passing game that finished last in the SEC in each of the last two seasons.

Penn State transfer Will Levis takes over at quarterback after a brief three-man training-camp battle.

“He’s been very efficient,” Stoops said. “His presence is felt immediately. He’s a very mature young man, very intelligent. There’s command in the huddle. And there’s the talent in the arm. It doesn’t take long to see the arm talent.”

Kentucky hopes a rejuvenated passing offense is accompanied by a rejuvenated pass rush.

The Wildcats had 15 sacks last season after having at least 30 in each of the previous three seasons. That drop-off coincided with an increase of nearly seven more points per game allowed.

Bowden, a former head coach at Samford, Auburn, Akron and North Alabama, is trying to improve a program that finished 0-10 a year ago.

He brought in more than 50 new players to try to upgrade the roster and create more competition.

“I’m kind of at that point where I’m used to seeing new faces,” offensive tackle Blake Lodes said. “That comes with the territory. It doesn’t really faze me, and I enjoy seeing the new guys.”

The newcomer with the highest profile is quarterback Rhett Rodriguez, son of first-year offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, a former head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona.

The younger Rodriguez is expected to start, but otherwise Bowden has been tight-lipped about his depth chart.

“We’re going to be evaluating up until the last minute, and I’m not going to want to publicize that any sooner than I have to,” Bowden said. “There’s some unknowns there, and I think you don’t want to make a decision there publicly until you have to.”

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