LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Devin Leary believed Kentucky would eventually put the pieces together after a shaky start. He certainly did his part getting the football in the right hands.
Leary passed for four touchdowns, including two to Tayvion Robinson, as Kentucky scored four consecutive TDs to rally past and hold off Eastern Kentucky 28-17 on Saturday.
The Wildcats (2-0) entered as heavy favorites but spent much of an overcast day having to overcome their FCS neighbor. In fact, the Wildcats needed almost the entire first half just getting started offensively after having a blocked punt on the game’s opening possession and committing other mistakes including penalties, drops and turning it over on downs.
EKU turned that blocked punt from the 30 into a 7-0 lead as Parker McKinney dashed 14 yards for the touchdown.
Consecutive plays just before halftime changed Kentucky's fortunes as Barion Brown returned a punt 36 yards to the EKU 24. Leary then found Robinson with a beautiful pass in the left corner of the end zone for the tying TD, and the Wildcats carried that momentum well into the fourth quarter.
“To get a punt return at the end of the first half and seven points was critical,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.
Robinson rallied the Wildcats again after Patrick Nation's 21-yard field goal put the Colonels up 10-7 coming out of the break. He caught a go-ahead 6-yard TD on the next drive, which followed his 25-yard reception and Brown's 26-yard reverse, then keyed Kentucky's next score with a 56-yard reception off a flip pass, with a 15-yard horse-collar penalty tacked on.
Brown's 13-yard TD provided a 21-10 cushion that Kentucky needed as EKU closed within four on McKinney's 9-yard TD pass to Braedon Sloan. Ray Davis' 24-yard catch and dive for the left pylon with 8:08 remaining added insurance as the Wildcats improved to 6-0 against the Colonels.
Leary completed 24 of 38 for 299 yards as Kentucky outgained EKU (0-2) 414-311. The second half was particularly impressive as the North Carolina State transfer completed 10 of 13 attempts for 174 yards.
“We got into a rhythm in the second half,” Leary said. “Coach (Liam) Coen (the offensive coordinator) wanted to hit them with a little bit of tempo. It was good to see us get a bit of rhythm and tempo in the second half.”
Robinson caught six passes for 136, Brown added six for 51 and Davis rushed 12 times for 52 yards along with his TD catch.
McKinney completed 19 of 29 for 219 yards to surpass 10,000 career yards. The Colonels aimed to rebound from a 66-13 loss at Cincinnati and beat an FBS team for the second consecutive season.
Players from both teams wore helmet stickers paying tribute to ailing former EKU coach Roy Kidd. The College Football Hall of Famer guided the Colonels to NCAA Division I-AA titles in 1979 and ’82 along with winning 16 Ohio Valley Conference championships.
Eastern Kentucky entered intent on pulling off an upset and seemed to keep Kentucky on its heels. The Colonels managed a TD off the blocked punt, but two turnovers hurt chances to get more. They stayed close in the second half but couldn't stop the Wildcats once they got going.
“I was disappointed in the outcome but pleased with how the team came in competed,” EKU coach Walt Wells said. “We made improvements from week 1 to 2, but a lot of work to do.”
Kentucky committed 10 penalties for 70 yards and couldn't get out of its own way on either side of the ball until late in the first half. Once the Wildcats broke through they couldn't be stopped as the speedy Robinson and Brown created big plays.
Eastern Kentucky hosts Western Carolina on Saturday.
Kentucky hosts Akron on Saturday in its final nonleague game before opening Southeastern Conference play at Vanderbilt in two weeks.
AP college football: https://apnews.com/hub/college-football and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-football-poll