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Kentucky Wildcat Football: Leaning on Levis

Will Levis

Fast-rising Kentucky QB on a similar path as Burrow



On the Led Zeppelin song from the iconic "Led Zeppelin III" album "Immigrant Song," Robert Plant sang the lyric, "We come from the land of the ice and snow." 
Nothing more authentic can be said of Kentucky Wildcats starting quarterback Will Levis, who transferred a season ago from Penn State to seek a starting quarterback job after losing his job to Sean Clifford.

When Penn State coach James Franklin uses a famous coach to speak colloquially, "I don't read the papers," hopefully for his sanity, it is accurate, and he hasn't seen where draft pundits at CBS and Pro Football Focus have Levis in the Top 10 of next year's draft.

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Comparisons with another Big Ten transfer

Levis will certainly start receiving comparisons with another Big Ten transfer who hit it big in the SEC in former Ohio State and Heisman-winning LSU quarterback Joe Burrow.

Burrow lost the starting quarterback job to another future first-round selection in Dwayne Haskins and realized his desire to start and transferred to LSU.

What he did at LSU is very well documented; the short version of it, once Burrow put it all together in 2019, he won everything a quarterback could achieve: Heisman Trophy, Maxwell, Manning, Unitas, Camp, Davey O'Brien Awards, National Championship, and became the first player selected in the 2020 Draft.

When you  compare Joe Burrow's 2018 season, the season before the supernatural season, and Will Levis's 2021 season, you start to see where a lot of the hype is coming in for Levis:

Player/Stat

Year

Comp%

Yards

TD

INT

Rating

W-L

Joe Burrow

2018

57.8

2,894

15

6

133.2

10-3

Will Levis

2021

66.0

2,826

24

13

148.3

10-3

Levis matches up well with where Burrow was at the same time frame as his collegiate career.

It isn't also surprising that both entered their final seasons with coordinator changes.

Burrow entered the season with LSU Head Coach Ed Orgeron and Offensive Coordinator Steve Ensminger bringing in New Orleans Saints offensive assistant Joe Brady to be the Passing Game Coordinator and Wide Receivers, Coach.

Brady took a lot of principles and philosophies that New Orleans Saints Head Coach Sean Payton believed in and oversaw one of the most potent offenses the college football ever saw, with Burrow being the master conductor completing 76% of his passes and 60 touchdowns.

Liam Coen, who coordinated Kentucky's offense in 2021, is returning to the NFL to the Los Angeles Rams for a second time, this time as Sean McVay's offensive coordinator.

Kentucky Head Coach Mark Stoops recognizes the talent on offense the Wildcats have in Levis, running back Chris Rodriguez Jr, Virginia Tech wide receiver transfer Tayvion Robinson, and incoming 4-star freshmen Barion Brown and Dane Key. Levis's #1 target TE Keaton Upshaw wanted to bring someone in from the same coaching tree as Sean McVay and Kyle Shanahan that would replicate and expand on Coen's success last season in Rich Scangarello.

Scangarello spent the last five seasons in the NFL working in various positions, from Quarterbacks Coach to Offensive Coordinator.

Scangarello worked with San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. After being acquired in a mid-season trade with New England Patriots, Garoppolo completed over 67% of his passes, averaged nearly 9 yards per attempt, and had a QBR of 82.7.

After stops in Denver and Philadelphia, Scangarello returned to San Francisco last season as Quarterbacks Coach and worked with Garoppolo and 49ers first-round pick Trey Lance.

Garoppolo led the Niners to the NFC Championship Game, led the NFL in yards per completion at 12.7, and completed 68.7% of his passes, with Scangarello collaborating with Mike McDaniel to the 9th scoring offense in the league last season.

Stoops and Levis are hoping Scangarello is their version of Joe Brady.

Levis Film Review

Watching Levis on film, you find out quickly a few reasons why NFL prognosticators are drooling about Levis.

The first thing Levis possesses is his amazing footwork. When you focus on Levis and isolate the film, he benefits truly from Kentucky's "Big Blue Wall." Still, when one of the linemen misses an assignment and Levis is under duress, he doesn't get happy feet, he always is chopping with excellent pocket presence, and when he is on the move, he sets his feet.

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The next thing Levis looks for is his ability to work his shoulders to fake out the defender. This is the one trait I feel Levis and Burrow are equals on. He sells it so well he creates windows and allows receivers to have that separation for the big play.

Another aspect of his game that makes him NFL-ready is his arm strength. Levis has NFL starter strength on throws, and pay attention when you look at 2021 Kentucky games. He makes the sideline throws on flat or corner seven routes. Levis excels at the delivery but can anticipate at the bit.

Levis's weaknesses might not be all on him, but they were noticeable.

Levis lacks the elite touch that Joe Burrow possesses. On the deep or low percentage throws, Levis is a step down from Burrow in this ability.

Most of Levis's turnovers came in situations where Levis didn't have the touch on the throw and invited the secondary to pick it off.

There were situations where it was hard to discern whether it was poor coordination, poor execution on the receiver, or Levis trying to force the issue that led to poor execution or decisions by Levis, but that is one area Kentucky has to fix. Scangarello has to teach Levis to fight another down or series.

Final Analysis

Levis enters his final season in Lexington in an eerily similar situation Burrow did at LSU in 2019.

The differences are Levis doesn't have the elite supporting cast Burrow had in LSU. 

Levis has a very manageable schedule where Kentucky might be New Year's Six bowling.

The Wildcats avoid traditional SEC West powers in Alabama, Texas A&M, LSU, and Auburn.

They have two early road tests with Billy Napier's rebuilding Gators on September 10 and at The Grove against Lane Kiffin's Ole Miss Rebels on October 1.

Kentucky and Levis should perform well in these games to gain more contention.

Kentucky ends its season with back-to-back home encounters with Georgia, then battles for the Governor's Cup against Louisville.

Levis has the opportunity to be the face of a program and take them to new heights and may find himself in New York.

If he does take that next step, he will be in the same position Burrow was in 3 years ago.