Wildcats put hopes on Vandy transfer

By: Bob Holt Bob Holt's Twitter account
Published: Monday, July 31, 2023
Kentucky defensive back Keidron Smith (1) tackles Vanderbilt running back Ray Davis (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky defensive back Keidron Smith (1) tackles Vanderbilt running back Ray Davis (2) during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Kentucky Wildcats are counting on running back Ray Davis to do the same thing for them this season that he did against them last season.

Behind Davis’ 129 rushing yards on 26 carries, the Commodores beat the Wildcats 24-21 to end a 26-game SEC losing streak.

After the season, Davis transferred to Kentucky, where he’s expected to start as a fifth-year senior.

“He’s one of the tougher backs in the SEC to tackle for sure,” Kentucky defensive lineman Octavious Oxendine said at SEC media days. “He’s low to the ground, strong, quick.”

Mark Stoops, in his 11th season at Kentucky, said Davis’ performance against the Wildcats helped convince him to make Davis a priority to recruit out of the transfer portal.

Davis played two seasons at Temple and two at Vanderbilt. He didn’t play against the Wildcats in 2021, missing the final nine games of the season with a toe injury.

Davis showed he was fully recovered last year when he rushed 232 times for 1,042 yards and hauled in 29 receptions for 169 yards and 3 touchdowns. His average of 100.9 all-purpose yards ranked sixth in the SEC.

Davis graduated from Vanderbilt with a communications degree in December, then enrolled at Kentucky, where he’s working toward a second degree in business.

“Great respect for Ray,” Stoops said at media days. “When he got in the portal and we had an opportunity to visit with him, it didn’t take you five, 10 minutes to spend with a young man like that, and you knew he was the type of player you wanted on your team, both as a football player and with the character and being a graduate of Vanderbilt.

“Just a great young man and very talented player. And very tough. I felt like he fit our mold.”

Kentucky was in need of an experienced running back after Chris Rodriguez left for the NFL, where he’s now a rookie with the Washington Commanders. He rushed for 3,643 yards in 40 games with the Wildcats.

Davis has 2,512 yards rushing and 439 receiving in 31 college games, including 16 starts.

A week after Davis helped Vanderbilt beat Kentucky, he rushed 30 times for 122 yards in the Vanderbilt’s 31-24 victory over Florida. His biggest game was against South Carolina with 167 yards on 20 carries when the Gamecocks beat the Commodores 38-27.

“I think Ray brings a great veteran presence to the running back room,” Kentucky offensive lineman Eli Cox said at media days. “He’s new to Kentucky, but he’s obviously played a lot of college football. He has a lot of snaps and carries under his belt.

“We lost C-Rod, who was our No. 1 back for years, so adding Ray was really important for us.”

Davis is one of eight players on offense the Wildcats added through the transfer portal, including sixth-year senior quarterback Devin Leary from North Carolina State to replace Will Levis.

Levis, a two-year starter at Kentucky after transferring from Penn State, was a second-round pick in the NFL Draft by the Tennessee Titans.

Leary passed for 3,433 yards and 35 touchdowns with 5 interceptions in 2021. He was limited to six games last season due to a pectoral injury and passed for 1,265 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Stoops and the Wildcats are counting on Leary to regain the form he showed at North Carolina State now that he’s healthy.

“Devin is a proven player,” Stoops said. “A guy who when healthy played at the highest level and had great consistency.

“I love the way he goes to work. He has a lot of confidence. He has a chip on his shoulder, which I like.

“Obviously for him, getting his season cut short a year ago with an injury didn’t sit well with him. So he’s very anxious to get out there and lead.”

Oxendine said he was impressed in spring practice by the tight windows in which Leary completed passes.

“He can put the ball into places that not every quarterback can,” Oxendine said.

Davis committed to Kentucky on Dec. 20, the same day as Leary, to give the Wildcats two impact transfers for their offense.

“After what Ray did to us last season, I know he’s going to come in and be perfect for our scheme,” Kentucky linebacker J.J. Weaver said at media days. “He’s going to do a lot of good things for us.

“I’m glad he’s on our side of the field this year and we don’t have to go against him.”

Davis will face his old team in the SEC opener when Kentucky plays Vanderbilt on Sept. 23.

Kentucky At a Glance

LAST SEASON 7-6, 3-5 (Tie 4th in SEC East)

COACH Mark Stoops (66-59 in 10 seasons at Kentucky)

RETURNING STARTERS 11: Offense 6, Defense 5

KEY PLAYERS QB Devin Leary, RB Ray Davis, WR Barion Brown, OL Eli Cox, linebacker J.J. Weaver, DT Deone Walker, FS Jordan Lovett



OUTLOOK Kentucky filled key spots through the transfer portal, notably quarterback Devin Leary (from North Carolina State) and running back Ray Davis (Vanderbilt). A key will be if several transfers on the offensive line can help that unit have better pass protection after the Wildcats allowed 46 sacks last season to tie for 126th nationally.

2023 Kentucky Football Schedule

Sept. 2 Ball State

Sept. 9 Eastern Kentucky 

Sept. 16 Akron

Sept. 23 at Vanderbilt*

Sept. 30 Florida*

Oct. 7 at Georgia*

Oct. 14 Missouri*

Oct. 28 Tennessee*

Nov. 4 at Mississippi State*

Nov. 11 Alabama*

Nov. 18 at South Carolina*

Nov. 25 at Louisville

* — SEC game


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