Here is a breakdown of UK’s offensive unit this season, and why you should expect it to be much improved from last season:
Quarterbacks: Max Smith showed promise towards the end of last season as a true freshman. In his first start against Mississippi State, Smith completed 26-of-33 passes. The following week, Smith threw for 283 yards for 2 touchdowns and 0 INT’s in a 30-13 win over Ole Miss. For a true freshman to come in mid-season and be as successful as Smith was without even having the benefit of a few non-conference tune-up’s was very impressive. Smith will likely earn the start in this year’s opener against Louisville, but if he should struggle, the Patrick Towles era could begin earlier than some may expect. Towles, a 4-star, 9th ranked QB in the country (according to Rivals) threw for 3,820 yards for 42 touchdowns and only 1 interception in his senior season at Highlands. If Smith ends up winning the job and keeping it, expect the Cats to redshirt Towles, but with Joker in a contact year, he won’t take long to turn to Towles if he needs to early in the season. Morgan Newton appears to be moving back into a backup role and Bookie Cobbins could be under center in certain “Wildcat” formations if he is able to stay academically eligible. All around, there’s no reason to not expect much better quarterback play in 2012.
Receivers: Kentucky returns its only consistently reliable WR from last season in La’Rod King (40 catches, 598 yds, 7 TD’s). To be blunt, the rest of the wide receiver corps cannot be any worse than they were a year ago. Part of the problem last season were injuries to EJ Fields, who caught 7 receptions against Louisville, and Gene McCaskill, who had 32 career receptions before last season. Rising sophomore DeMarco Robinson was the star of this year’s spring game, catching 9 passes for 146 yards and 2 touchdowns. The wide receivers as a group can only improve from a year ago, and with better quarterback play, the margin of improvement could be huge. The passing game in general will also be aided by a deep and talented group of returning TE’s, including Tyler Robinson, Jordan Aumiller, and Ronnie Shields.
Running Backs: True freshman Josh Clemons was one of the few bright spots for the Cats early last season, scoring 2 touchdowns in his first 2 college games, only to be injured halfway through the season. CoShik Williams will probably get the majority of the carries in 2012, owner of two 100+ yard performances in 2011 including 111 yards and 2 touchdowns in a win over Ole Miss. Williams also scored the only touchdown for the Cats in the historic 10-7 win over Tennessee. Assuming that everyone can stay healthy, Raymond Sanders will round out a trio of reliable options in the backfield.
Offensive Line: The only significant losses on the offensive side of the ball are Chandler Burden, Billy Jo Murphy, and Stuart Hines from the offensive line, but the OL will be returning 2-year starter Matt Smith at center, senior and 2-time All-SEC second team selection Larry Warford at right guard, and the talented Darrian Miller, who started 2 games as a freshman, will step up as the full-time left tackle this season. The only major question mark on the offensive line will be whoever will step up at right tackle. That position is up for grabs between Trevino Woods and Kevin Mitchell, who moved from playing left guard last season, or perhaps one of the incoming freshman.
On the defensive side of the ball, it will of course be difficult to replace Danny Trevethan and Winston Guy, but expect the offense to be much more exciting and fun to watch in 2012. I would also expect the play calling to be much more diverse and risky with a head coach and staff that are dependent on having a big year to keep their jobs. A lot of new faces stepped into new roles last season on offense, but this year should be a more experienced group with no huge voids to fill, as was the case last season after the departures of Randall Cobb and Mike Hartline.
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