Shane Beamer isn’t mincing words about Kentucky quarterback Will Levis.
Take Tuesday’s weekly press conference as evidence. Beamer lauded Levis for his “rocket” of an arm and the dual-threat ability he’s brought to the Wildcats offense. Combine that with new offensive coordinator Liam Coen and Kentucky ranks 26th nationally in total offense through three weeks.
“(He’s a) really impressive player,” Beamer said Tuesday. “He’s got size. He can run. He throws one of the more impressive deep balls that I’ve ever seen.”
That Beamer pointed to Levis as a key cog in this week’s matchup against a 3-0 Kentucky team is expected. The Penn State transfer beat out former four-star recruit Beau Allen and Auburn import Joey Gatewood in the preseason for the Wildcats’ starting job.
Levis has taken his role and run with it through the first three wins of his burgeoning Kentucky career.
He currently ranks 29th in the country in total passing yards and sixth in the Southeastern Conference. Levis is also second in the conference in plays of 20-plus yards and first in plays of 30 yards or more, while his 168.74 quarterback rating is good for 19th nationally.
“He’s built like a H-back back here that you’re trying to tackle,” Beamer said. “Not to mention he’s got a rocket for an arm and is really, really accurate with a quick release.”
And while Levis has been dynamic through three games — including a win over Missouri — he hasn’t faced a defense that stacks up numerically with what he’ll see at South Carolina on Saturday.
For as maligned as USC’s offense has been at times through three weeks, the defense has quickly become an unforeseen strength, particularly in the secondary.
The Gamecocks currently sit tied for third in the SEC in plays of 20 yards or more allowed with seven (five of which came against Georgia last week). South Carolina is also only allowing 179 pass yards per game and 6.5 yards per completion.
Beyond the yardage numbers, the Gamecocks have made a living forcing turnovers in their first three games.
South Carolina currently leads the conference with six interceptions as a team. Safety Jaylan Foster leads all individual SEC players with three interceptions this season, while he had a fourth called back against Eastern Illinois due to a penalty.
USC is also one of only six teams in the country to have returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season.
“We’re just trusting and believing in the coaches’ game plan,” Foster said Saturday of why South Carolina has been able to piece together so many turnovers. “They put together a good one every week, so we try to trust and believe in it and we just come out and try to execute it.”
Though South Carolina and the bulk of the SEC have yet to see Levis up close and personal, quarterback Luke Doty gives the Gamecocks at least some semblance of an idea of what they might face Saturday.
Not quite as rocket armed as Levis, Doty isn’t too far off size-wise at 6-foot-1, 210 pounds to Levis’ 6-foot-3, 232-pound frame. The former Myrtle Beach High School star also has the dynamic running ability Levis has only shown in spurts this season.
In his only game action of the season against Georgia, Doty raced in and around the pocket evading Bulldog defenders throughout the contest. Beamer pointed to his third-down strike to Jalen Brooks in the second quarter, where he stepped up and evaded pressure to deliver a conversion, as the poignant quarterbacking he can bring to the Gamecocks when fully healthy.
“There is some similarities and two quarterbacks that can run,” Beamer said. “And that’s the other thing — they’re throwing deep balls 60 yards downfield over people’s heads. But then you’ve also got to be aware of (Levis) just keeping the ball and running it.”
If South Carolina has postseason aspirations in 2021, it likely will take keeping Levis at bay to get there given the end-of-season gauntlet the Gamecocks face that includes games against No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 9 Clemson, No. 11 Florida, No. 23 Auburn and a road trip to Missouri.
Levis was shaky against UT-Chattanooga last week, tossing a pair of interceptions and turning in his lowest quarterback rating this season as Kentucky narrowly escaped a disastrous upset on the heels of its win over Missouri.
It’ll fall on South Carolina’s defense to make UK’s dynamic signal-caller look mortal once more on Saturday at Williams-Brice Stadium.
Watch South Carolina vs Kentucky
Who: South Carolina Gamecocks (2-1, 0-1 SEC) vs. Kentucky Wildcats (3-0, 1-0 SEC)
Where: Williams-Brice Stadium in Columbia, S.C.
When: 7 p.m. Saturday
Line: Kentucky by 5.5