By GARY B. GRAVES AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Ray Davis ran for two touchdowns while Devin Leary passed for one in their Kentucky debuts, and Kentucky’s defense made several big plays to rout Ball State 44-14 in the season opener for both teams on Saturday.
The Wildcats (1-0) trailed 7-3 entering the second quarter before rallying with 20 unanswered points, with 10 coming off two fumble recoveries. Jalen Geiger returned the first 69 yards to make it 17-7, and Jordan Lovett’s recovery led to the second of Alex Raynor’s three field goals for a 13-point lead.
Davis, 1,000-yard rusher last season at Vanderbilt, broke a 30-yard TD run late in the fourth along with a 2-yard score in the second to finish with 112 yards rushing on 14 carries. Leary completed 18 of 31 attempts for 241 yards to surpass 7,000 in his career in a highly watched performance after transferring from North Carolina State.
Leary hit Dane Key with 5-yard TD in the fourth to make it 30-7. Barrion Brown’s 99-yard kickoff return made it 37-14 before Davis’ big run capped it.
Kentucky outgained Ball State just 357-295 but was helped by a defense that posted eight tackles for loss, three sacks and stopped the Cardinals at the goal line in the fourth.
Ball State appeared poised to surprise Kentucky before collapsing in a mistake-prone second quarter. The Cardinals managed a TD late in the third but were stopped near the goal line and turned the ball over on downs in the fourth. Transfer Layne Hatcher started at QB but Kadin Semonza took over and finished 15 of 21 for 165 yards.
Kentucky’s defense overcame a slow start to deliver big hits and takeaways in the second quarter to shift momentum before making a huge goal-line stand in the fourth. The highly-touted debuts of Leary and Davis, not to mention Liam Coen’s return as OC, didn’t fill the stat sheet as expected but were generally solid. Most importantly, the offensive line allowed just one sack after giving up 47 last season.
Ball State visits two-time defending national champion Georgia on Saturday.
Kentucky hosts FCS neighbor Eastern Kentucky on Saturday.