Penn State transfer Will Levis is on campus and going through summer workouts with the Kentucky football program. The former three-star recruit out of Connecticut is catching a lot of buzz when it comes to discussing who could be Kentucky’s starting quarterback this fall.
The Wildcats return some proven pieces on offense, but with the addition of three new offensive coaches to go along with the transfers of Levis and Wan’Dale Robinson, there is still a lot of unknowns regarding Liam Coen’s first unit in Lexington. We have an idea about what things may look like, but most of us will be walking in blind when that season opener arrives just before Labor Day.
To help us get a better grasp of what Levis could be bringing to the table, KSR did some digging. After studying some tape and charting his performances from last season, this is a quarterback that brings some warranted optimism to Kentucky football.
Last season, Levis started just one game for Penn State, but the 6-3 quarterback played in eight contests while passing for 461 yards and accounting for four total touchdowns. The sample size is small, but Levis was somewhat efficient in the passing game. When compared to returning SEC QBs and other prominent QBs around the country, Levis has numbers that stick out.
Success rate is a measure that specifically grades if a specific play is staying ahead of the chains. For a play to be considered successful within this metric, a play must gain 50 percent of the needed yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third or fourth down.
As the data and eye test prove, Kentucky’s offense struggled last season. The Wildcats had the worst passing offense in the SEC, and the advanced numbers show that. Meanwhile, Matt Corral had a great season and is worthy of Heisman Trophy buzz as he returns for Ole Miss.
Levis operated within a small sample size, but the quarterback was able to efficiently move the chains when allowed to throw. His big-play rate — completions of 15-plus yards — was only 14.55 percent and needs some improvement but the right-hander was able to complete throws at the short-to-intermediate level with more accuracy than he’s probably given credit for. There is arm talent that could turn into something in the vertical passing game.
Digging into some Will Levis tape. The Nebraska game is what gets the most attention. This play right here is obviously something to get excited about. Pocket awareness, agility, eyes downfield, 50-yd rope moving to his weak side. pic.twitter.com/WV7k65T8cc
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettKSR) June 22, 2021
His sack rate of 9.84 percent was the largest of all the quarterbacks charted and brings concern, but there are some positives to pull from this data.
Despite being a quarterback, Levis had more rushing attempts (133) than passing attempts (102) in his career at State College. The former mid three-star recruit was a wildcat quarterback for the Nittany Lions in short-yardage situations.
Last season, Levis recorded 15 or more rushing attempts in four of the eight games played. The quarterback never had a rush attempt record 15 yards, but most of these carries occurred in third or fourth down situations where just a minimal gain was needed. Levis rushed for three touchdowns last year and graded out pretty well in the ground game.
Nearly half of Levis’ attempts were considered a success while his stuff rate — rush stopped for no gain or a loss — of 13.92 percent is something offenses can live with. The quarterback does a really good job running behind his pads and is at his best with sticking with a north/south run game.
In Kentucky’s new offense, Coen will be able to go to some gap scheme runs — QB power, QB counter — to take advantage of the rush ability that Levis has. However, the bootleg game off of the wide zone runs could be very effective as Levis can take advantage if the defense loses contain.
Room to grow
One of the biggest attributes that Levis is bringing to Lexington is his game experience. The graduate transfer has only made one start but has played in some big moments. Levis participated in 15 total games over the last two seasons and has been thrown into the fire.
The quarterback did not melt when the opportunities presented themselves.
In 2019, No. 10 Penn State went to Columbus to take on No. 2 Ohio State in a game that clinched a division title on a cold November afternoon. After Penn State starter Sean Clifford was knocked out of the game in the third quarter, Levis entered with the Nittany Lions trailing 21-0.
Levis immediately led the offense on a touchdown drive while the Penn State defense forced some turnovers leading to James Franklin’s ballclub trailing just 21-17 within just five minutes. Levis finished the game with 18 rushing attempts while going 6-of-11 passing before Ohio State closed with a 28-17 victory.
Last season, Penn State was 0-3 and headed to Lincoln for a big game against Nebraska. The Nittany Lions fell behind 24-3 before Levis was put in the game in the middle of the second quarter. In seven possessions with Levis running the show, Penn State created six scoring opportunities — Two touchdowns, three field goal attempts, one red zone turnover on downs.
In each game, Levis was unable to make the big plays late in the fourth quarter, but the QB did give his team a chance to win. That is all Kentucky is looking for as the program tries to find answers at the sport’s most important position. Levis has a work history that is worth getting excited about.
The advanced numbers tell us that Levis could potentially be an upgrade for the offense.