Tomorrow at noon, Kentucky Football kicks off the 2023 season vs. Ball State. We’ve talked the matchup to death, with opponent previews, an in-depth scouting report, and what Kentucky must do to open the season with a feel-good victory. Now, it’s time to share our predictions.
Here is what the KSR crew believes will happen when the Cats and the Cardinals finally face off at Kroger Field.
Ball State has a proven quarterback in Layne Hatcher, who has thrown for over 10,000 yards in his career, and some impressive defenders in linebackers Clayton Coll and Cole Pearce. That said, the Cats should take care of business with relative ease. Like most, my eyes will be on the offensive line. Protecting Devin Leary is the key to the season and the first three games will be huge for the Big Blue Wall to find its footing.
If the offensive line does its job, Kentucky’s got the playmakers to put up points. I’m excited for our first real look at Devin Leary and Ray Davis in Kentucky uniforms, and how the offense looks with Liam Coen back in the saddle. After reading Adam Luckett’s scouting report, it sounds like Ball State’s secondary is rebuilding, so I think Barion Brown and Dane Key could have a field day. I’m also predicting a touchdown for freshman Anthony Brown-Stephens, one of the stars of spring practice and fall camp. Combine all of that with a legal cold beverage from the Kroger Field concession stands and you’ve got the recipe for the perfect season opener.
Score: Kentucky 41, Ball State 10
Ball State provides a nice test for the Wildcats in areas where they need to be challenged early. The Cardinals will throw the ball early and often, giving the new starting quarterbacks plenty of reps. Ball State’s offensive line returns 66 combined starts. The defensive line will have to earn its QB pressures. On the other side of the line of scrimmage, the rebuilt Big Blue Wall will face a front seven that features a few future NFL players.
Even so, Ball State isn’t going to beat Kentucky by out-Kentuckying the Wildcats. The running game may take a little while to get going, but Devin Leary will create explosive plays through the air and dial up four touchdown passes. The Cats will rush for two more and Alex Raynor will kick a field goal while the second unit will surrender a late score, but this should be a fun day for the Big Blue Nation.
Score: Kentucky 45, Ball State 7
Ball State brings the MAC’s best running back, 2022 First Team selection Marquez Cooper, to Lexington for his first game as a Cardinal. Unfortunately for Cooper, he will debut with his new team against an SEC frontline that includes Deone Walker, the sophomore sensation waiting to be unleashed in Year 2. With Walker and the strength of Kentucky’s defense in the front seven, Cooper and Ball State’s offense won’t find much on the ground. Former Alabama redshirt QB Layne Hatcher won’t get it going through the air, either.
Kentucky’s defense keeps Ball State out of the end zone, while the new-look offense sees Devin Leary throw four touchdown passes.
Score: Kentucky 38, Ball State 3
The score will not reflect the talent differential or give pause to the long-term optimism of this season for Kentucky football. And it’ll be by design.
The Wildcats have a three-game grace period to iron out the kinks and slowly ramp things up on both sides of the football. Liam Coen and Brad White won’t be throwing the kitchen sink out there from day one while back-end rotation pieces also get snaps for development — two factors that could impact point totals ever so slightly. Kentucky simply has way too many dudes to keep it close, but hitting the spread won’t be a gimme. You could see a scenario where the Wildcats jump out early and coast down the stretch to close out the four-score win — firmly dominating in all three phases without showing much on tape.
And that’d be A-OK in Mark Stoops’ book.
Devin Leary throws for three scores, and Ray Davis and Ramon Jefferson each punch one in. The defense gives up an early field goal and a late touchdown with the reserves in. Start game prep for Eastern Kentucky.
Score: Kentucky 35, Ball State 10
Football time in the Bluegrass is back, and I believe the Big Blue Nation will like what they see from the Wildcats on Saturday.
Ball State is built very similarly to Kentucky using the same kind of defensive structure and philosophy on top of heavy pro concepts on offense. That means a significant advantage for the home team due to the talent differential.
Kentucky gets off to a fast start on offense while flexing its muscles on defense. The Cats claim an early lead and never look back after Devin Leary throws for 300-plus yards.
Score: Kentucky 45, Ball State 13
I’m predicting a slow start for Kentucky. Ball State might even jump out with the first score of the day. First-game jitters will hit the many newcomers early on, but it won’t take too long to steady the ship. The second quarter is when Devin Leary and the rest of the Kentucky offense come alive. A close first-quarter score will turn lopsided by halftime in the Wildcats’ favor. I’m calling for a big opening half from Barion Brown — lookout for a deep kickoff return.
One element of this game that could come into play is the heat. There’s a high of 90 degrees on Saturday with little wind. A noon kickoff could curb that a bit, but once the second half rolls around, it’s going to be hot on that turf. Ideally, Kentucky is in firm control and can cruise down the stretch without an overabundance of cramping.
Score: Kentucky 31, Ball State 14
Your turn, BBN. What’s the score going to be tomorrow at Kroger Field?
Got thoughts? Take advantage of our KICKOFF SALE and subscribe to KSR+ to continue the conversation on KSBoard, the KSR+ Message Board. $1 for 1 month for new subscribers, or 50% off for an entire year.