Recap: Kentucky outlasts Northern Illinois, 31-23; Will Levis throws 4 touchdowns

The Kentucky football team is off to a 3-0 start (1-0 in the SEC). Ranked No. 8 in the latest AP poll, UK hopes to continue its momentum with a home contest against the Northern Illinois Huskies (1-2) at 7 p.m. on ESPN2.

The banged-up Wildcats are coming off a 31-0 victory over Youngstown State. Kentucky struggled on the offensive front by allowing three first-half sacks. But the UK defense kept the team from incurring any major damage.

The game didn't have its difficult moments, however. Linebacker J.J. Weaver exited against Youngstown State and is week to week with an injury, UK coach Mark Stoops said Monday at his weekly news conference. Stoops said Weaver is unlikely to play against Northern Illinois.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops talks with an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Youngstown State in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops talks with an official during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Youngstown State in Lexington, Ky., Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022. (AP Photo/Michael Clubb)

Kentucky is a heavy favorite against the Huskies (24.5 points), according to the VegasInsider consensus line. Northern Illinois may be without quarterback Rocky Lombardi, a Michigan State transfer. Lombardi left the Huskies’ loss to Vanderbilt last Saturday with an undisclosed second-quarter injury. He had completed all seven of his passes for 79 yards and a touchdown.

The Huskies’ hope is he’ll return in time for Saturday’s game at Kroger Field.

In his first two games this season, Lombardi completed 32 of 53 passes for 451 yards and four TDs with one interception. Last season at NIU, Lombardi threw for 2,597 yards and 15 touchdowns and ran for 473 yards and nine scores.

Be sure to hit REFRESH for the latest updates.

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FINAL: Kentucky 31, Northern Illinois 23

Northern Illinois scores again, cut Kentucky's lead - 2:47, Q4

Justin Lynch ran in a 2-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion was unsuccessful.

Kentucky 31, Northern Illinois 23

Northern Illinois scores on a field goal - 5:26, Q4

Northern Illinois kicker John Richardson made it a two-possession game with a 38-yard field goal.

Kentucky 31, Northern Illinois 17

Tayvion Robinson scores second touchdown of the night - 8:46, Q4

Make it two touchdown receptions for Kentucky's Tayvion Robinson tonight. Robinson scored on a 40-yard touchdown and has seven receptions for 142 yards in the game. Will Levis now has four touchdown passes for 303 yards (18 for 26).

Kentucky 31, Nothern Illinois 14

End of the third quarter - Kentucky 24, Northern Illinois 14

One more quarter to go. The Kentucky defense has been solid, so we'll see if UK can improve its lead even more. Will Levis has quite the game going with 232 yards passing (13 for 19) and three touchdowns.

Kentucky extends its lead with field goal - 3:04, Q3

Kentucky's offense stalled, but kicker Matt Ruffolo booted a 49-yard field goal to give UK a little bit of breathing room.

Kentucky 24, Northern Illinois

Barion Brown sprints to the end zone, gives Kentucky the lead - 14:02, Q3

Barion Brown has made another huge play. Will Levis threw a pass to Brown, who caught the ball around the 50-yard line, then ran all the way to the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown reception. Brown has three receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns already.

Kentucky 21, Northern Illinois 14

Halftime: Kentucky 14, Northern Illinois 14

Will Levis has thrown for 132 yards and two touchdowns. Kavosiey Smoke has 70 yards on eight carries, but that fumble was costly.

Northern Illinois ties it up right before halftime - 0:06, Q2

Despite being a 25.5-point favorite heading into the game, Kentucky has its hands full against Northern Illinois. The Huskies capitalized off the UK fumble with a Shemar Thornton 3-yard pass to Tristen Tewes.

Kentucky 14, Northern Illinois 14

Kavosiey Smoke fumbles, turns the ball over for Kentucky - 0:40, Q2

Right before the half, Kavosiey Smoke ran 23 yards before fumbling the ball, which was picked up by Northern Illinois. The Huskies have taken over at the Kentucky 34.

Kentucky 14, Northern Illinois 7

Will Levis tosses a bomb to give Kentucky the lead - 5:08, Q2

Kentucky has taken the lead! Will Levis threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Tayvion Robinson. Earlier in the drive, Kavosiey Smoke had a beautiful 27-yard run.

Kentucky 14, Northern Illinois 7

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End of the first quarter - Kentucky 7, Northern Illinois 7

Will Levis has completed 6 of 9 pass attempts for 55 yards. Barion Brown has two catches for 26 yards.

Barion Brown catches touchdown pass from Will Levis - 0:48, Q1

What an opening drive for the Kentucky football team. Kentucky went 75 yards in 16 plays. It lasted 8 minutes, 5 seconds). The drive was topped off with a 15-yard touchdown catch from Barion Brown.

Kentucky 7, Northern Illinois 0

Can't find Kentucky vs Northern Illinois? Tune to ESPNews

Due to the Indiana and Cincinnati game going long, Kentucky football is currently on ESPNews.

Northern Illinois strikes first with a touchdown pass - 8:53, Q1

NIU marched down the field to open the game with an 11-play, 75-yard drive. Quarterback Ethan Hampton tossed a 2-yard touchdown to Tristen Tewes.

Northern Illinois 7, Kentucky 0

How to watch Kentucky football vs NIU on TV, livestream

Game time: 7 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 24

Location: Kroger Field (Lexington)

TV: ESPN2

Online livestream: ESPN.com/watch

Terrestrial radio broadcast: 840-AM in Louisville; 630-AM, 98.1-FM in Lexington

Online radio broadcast: UKAthletics.com

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Off to a 3-0 start, Kentucky has looked like one of the best teams in the country.

The defense has been stout, and the offense gets Chris Rodriguez back in a week just in time for a crucial SEC matchup on the road against Ole Miss.

Here's where USA TODAY projects UK to play in three months.

Kentucky football vs Northern Illinois point spread, betting odds

As of Friday, Sept. 23, Kentucky was favored by 25.5 points, according to the VegasInsider consensus line.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Kentucky football recap: UK defeats Northern Illinois in Lexington