The Kentucky football program invited 900 of its 2016 season ticket holders to Commonwealth Stadium →
Football Season Coverage
By Drew Franklin on ©June 26th, 2016 @ 8:00pm
The Kentucky football program invited 900 of its 2016 season ticket holders to Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday to tour the facilities and hear from Mitch Barnhart and some of the players. I had nothing going on Saturday, so I crashed the party to check it all out myself. Why not, right?
Let me tell you all about what I saw and learned…
The new practice facility is on schedule to be complete on July 15.
Mitch Barnhart said the coaches plan on moving into their new offices on Friday, July 15. The project is on pace to be ready to go that day.
The players will begin using it August 1.
A new sports science laboratory will replace the old football offices in Nutter.
UK will soon have a new sports science lab with experts from all over the country to focus on injury prevention for the university’s student-athletes.
Fans of the Day:
Still no stadium Wi-Fi for fans.
“Those will be things we’ll come back — we’re going to get to,” Barnhart told one of the tours. “But they’re very expensive and we have to find a way to work through it. My goal is to get the players’ stuff done first and I’ll come back and address that later on.”
He said it costs around $6 million to install the new stadium-wide Wi-Fi.
All of the bleacher-backs will be in place in “about a season and a half.”
The visitors and students will not get them, though. UK decided against bleacher-backs in the student section to encourage students to stand and be part of the game.
They’re doing about a half a million each year on the installment of the new backs.
Watch more of Barnhart’s comments during the tour:
There is a foosball table in the back service area of CWS.
Ever wonder why the concessions stands can run a little behind? I may have found the answer. There is a foosball table in the back service area where everything is stored.
So next time they tell you it will be a couple more minutes on that pepperoni pizza, you tell them to call a timeout in their foosball game.
You’re looking at the new pork chop sandwich. It’s marinated pork loin with pineapple, dipped in Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ sauce. Get you one at Commonwealth this fall.
There is a new Wildcat Creed on the wall of the locker room.
The new creed was written last year by the UK Student-Athlete Advisory Committee and it defines what it means to be a Wildcat. It’s on both sides of a wall in the center of the CWS locker room.
One of the tour groups wanted to sing the fight song.
So, they sang the fight song.
This is also where the football team sings the fight song after wins, hopefully with a little more passion and enthusiasm than this bunch.
Jacob Hyde’s ringtone is “House Party” by Sam Hunt.
A little fun fact for you there. His phone, which was plugged into the sound system, went off while he was speaking to one of the groups.
Courtney Love said Nebraska didn’t have anything like UK’s stadium locker room.
Love raved about UK’s new stadium locker room and how organized it is for game days. Each position group is assigned its own area in the room with dry erase boards on the walls for pregame and halftime coaching.
Wesley Woodyard said NFL teams don’t have anything like it, either.
Fans got to run (most walked) through the tunnel and onto the field.
It’s a party! It’s a party! It’s a partay!
Again, this wasn’t the most enthusiastic bunch. I would’ve been shoving people into the wall and bashing heads with grandma once those doors opened.
We are 67 days away from kick-off.
Nick Saban and Urban Meyer are the powerhouse coaches of the college football world and we all know it. Saban and Meyer combine for eight national championships, seven over the past 10 years.
Only three other active coaches have a national championship; Jimbo Fischer, Bob Stoops and Les Miles.
The question this upcoming college football season is whether or not someone else can be added to that small list.
Sporting News released their annual coach rankings, where they rank college football coaches from 1 one t0 128.
Sporting News ranked Mark Stoops 70th, four spots up from last year.
Here is where this season’s opponents’ coaches rank (last year’s rank):
- 124. Jay Hopson, Southern Miss (NR)
- 24. Jim McElwain, Florida (55)
- 115. Doug Martin, New Mexico State (127)
- 62. Will Muschamp, South Carolina (NR)
- 1. Nick Saban, Alabama (2)
- 97. Derek Mason, Vanderbilt (107)
- 33. Dan Mullen, Mississippi State (50)
- 67. Barry Odom, Missouri (NR)
- 37. Kirby Smart, Georgia (NR)
- 25. Butch Jones, Tennessee (40)
- 22. Bobby Petrino, Louisville (34)
Jim Harbaugh has a new recruiting tool. The Michigan coach has started wearing the jerseys of local sports heroes wherever he goes.
Last minute shopping in L.A. All set for tomorrow, Thx Larry pic.twitter.com/cuw5nZvwCn
— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) June 25, 2016
The khaki and jersey tucking head football coach is obviously doing all this to get the attention of recruits. To him I guess he thinks it looks cool. To me, not so much but what do I know. I’m not a talented high school football player who wants to play at Michigan.
Harbaugh sporting an Allen Iverson jersey in Virgina.
Harbaugh wore both a Cal Ripken and Ray Lewis jersey while in Baltimore.
So what do you all think… weird or not weird?
In case you missed it, the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame ceremony was this weekend. Chris Westry, Mike Edwards, Derrick Baity and Jon Toth represented UK as members of the All-Commonwealth team. The All-Commonwealth team is made up of current football players from colleges and universities within the state, that displayed outstanding achievements this past season.
This year’s KY Pro Hall of Fame class included former UK offensive linemen Dermontti Dawson & Warren Bryant. As most of you already know, Dawson played for the Pittsburgh Steelers for 12 years, where he was named to seven straight NFL Pro Bowls. Bryant played in the NFL for 13 years, after being selected 6th overall in the 1977 NFL Draft by the Atlanta Falcons.
Also inducted was former UK head coach (1954-1961) Blanton Collier. The Paris, KY native went on to coach the Cleveland Browns to an NFL Championship in 1964.
Here you see Kentucky offensive lineman Jon Toth with both Dawson and Bryant. Could this be foreshadowing a future inductee of the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame? Let’s certainly hope so!
Congrats to all of the inductees into this year’s KY Pro HOF class!
By Freddie Maggard on ©June 24th, 2016 @ 9:00pm
In terms of scheduling, timing is not quite everything but it sure as heck can help, or in some cases, hurt.
Let’s take a look at Kentucky’s 2016 opponents and the teams they play before and after the Cats. This perspective offers a projective outlook and perhaps helps to lessen a daunting, on paper schedule to one that is potentially manageable on-the-field:
September 3rd: Southern Mississippi
Next Opponent-Savannah State
Opening its season in Commonwealth Stadium, the Golden Eagles will have all of fall camp to dial in on a coveted and rare victory over a SEC opponent. The last USM road SEC win came in Tuscaloosa when it beat the Crimson Tide 21-0 in 2000. Shannon Dawson will be directing an offense that racked up over 7,000 total yards in 2015. Adding to game’s growing grudge and intrigue, Louisville grad transfer CB Devontre Parnell now calls Hattiesburg home. USM is expected to win its conference, but a win at Kentucky will be its early and concerted motivation.
September 10th: At Florida
Next Opponent-North Texas
The Gators will feature a new starting quarterback in Luke Del Rio with hopes to bolster a stuttering offense. Down the 2015 stretch, stuttering may actually be a compliment when describing the mess that was the Gator offense. Remember this name, RB Mark Thompson. The JUCO product has the size and talent to possible alter Florida’s fate. In this three-week scenario, Kentucky is the meat in a cupcake sandwich. With back-to-back close calls verses the Cats, expect UF to be full-steam-ahead in the Swamp.
September 17th: New Mexico State
Prior Opponent-New Mexico
In the week prior, the Aggies play its arch enemy. I fully expect a W here, but two aspects of this three-week period intrigues. NMSU is coached by former UK QB Doug Martin. After UK, Martin’s opponent will be Troy’s Neal Brown. Both played and coached at Kentucky.
September 24th: South Carolina
Prior Opponent-East Carolina
Next Opponent-Texas A&M
Steve Spurrier did Will Muschamp no favors in the personnel department. Carolina could potentially be coming off an embarrassing home loss to the Pirates. The week after, the Gamecocks will be facing a track-meet in College Station.
October 1st: At Alabama
Prior Opponent-Kent State
Nick Saban plays his alma mater in a warm-up game before UK comes a callin. One possible saving grace for the Cats is the Tide’s pending fist fight at Arkansas.
October 8th: Vanderbilt
Simply stated, this is a revenge game for Mark Stoops. After an embarrassing and costly 2015 loss in Nashville, Kentucky desperately needs this win. The Dores will be coming off a physical game against Florida. RB Ralph Webb’s durability will be put to test. Nick Chubb and the ultra-talented Dawgs will be waiting. Tough stretch for Vandy.
October 8th: Mississippi State
Prior Opponent: @BYU
Next Opponent: Samford
A Dak-less Dog squad will be fresh off a challenging road trip to Provo, Utah. A tangle with the Cougars and 4,551 feet of elevation could lead to Miss State having tired legs in Lexington. After the Cats, Samford will be a welcomed visitor in Starkville.
October 29th: At Missouri
Prior Opponent-Middle Tennessee
Next Opponent-@ South Carolina
Tiger fans as well as new head coach Barry Odom will envision this three week stretch as a possible run on W’s. All SEC DE Charles Harris, Walter Brady, Terry Beckner, and the hopeful return of Harold Brantley have all the makings of a nasty defensive front. But, this game will be there for the taking. No way around it, this is a must win.
November 5th: Georgia
Depending on how the World’s Largest Cocktail Party turns out, the Dawgs could fly into Lexington packing a serious hangover or in a tizzy after losing to its hated neighbors to the south. To make matters more interesting, Georgia will play another rival in Auburn on the following Saturday. The Jimmies and Joes heavily favor the Dawgs. OG Greg Pyke, RB Nick Chubb, and OLB Lorenzo Carter are just a few of the future NFL’ers that will be on Kirby Smart’s first roster. But this particular three-week Georgia gauntlet sets up nicely for a potential Commonwealth Stadium upset.
November 12th: At Tennessee
Prior Opponent-Tennessee Tech
At this stage in the season, Tennessee will be making its typical, year-ending, momentous run. The difference in 2016 is that UT may be playing its way to Atlanta and possibly beyond. The Volunteers are LOADED. QB Joshua Dobbs, RB Jalen Hurd, DE Derek Barnett, and two 1st Team All SEC returners will be a tough out.
November 19th: Austin Peay
If concerned here, there will be much bigger November fish to fry. Moving on.
November 26th: At Louisville
The Ville didn’t win the AAC in its only season in the conference and wouldn’t have won it last year as its eventual champion, the Houston Cougars, beat the Cards in Papa John’s Stadium. In the upcoming season, Louisville QB Lamar Jackson and OLB Devonte Fields will be hard to handle regardless of opponent or geographical location. Nevertheless; for Louisville, back-to-back demonstrative games will be interesting.
So there you have it, the befores and afters for all 12 opponents. Some will face the Cats coming off tough losses or physical games that will be certain to take its toll. Others will be coming off cupcake parties. But when analyzing a schedule, it’s central to scrutinize each opponent within a three-week window.
Things are coming along at the new UK football practice facility next to Commonwealth Stadium. The sod was installed on the fields today and everything looks to be on pace for completion in time for fall camp.
71 days until kickoff!
By Freddie Maggard on ©June 23rd, 2016 @ 4:30pm
The NBA Draft is well, unique. Initiated by a ping-pong-ball lottery process that took place over a month ago, draft night action is fast and action packed. I’m not what you could describe as an NBA guy, but I’ve always been fascinated with the lottery process.
Looking ahead to football season and for expectant improvement, all eyes will be on Drew Barker. Fair or not, QB’s receive far too much blame and credit. Today, let’s take a look at seven statistical categories that significantly influenced 2015’s outcome and are in desperate need for improvement IF the Cats are to be playing post-Thanksgiving football:
*Please note: Numbers are FBS national rankings. Currently, 128 teams compete at this level.
122nd Tackles for Loss
The Wildcats averaged a mere 4.42 Tackles for Loss per game for a grand total of 53 for the year. No sugar coating this one, that number must improve.
109th Quarterback Sacks
In addition to not tackling ball carriers behind the line of scrimmage, UK managed just 17 QB Sacks in 2015. Averaging 1.42 per game does not equate to winning defensive football.
80th Forced Fumbles
This is not pick on the defense day, however not only did it not influence action in opponent’s backfield, UK’s defenders forced a low number of fumbles. In fact, a total of 9 for the season or just 0.75 per game.
71st Allowed Third Down Conversion Percentage
Third down conversions extend drives and ultimately win football games. Kentucky allowed their opponents to move the 3rd down chains 39.43% of the time.
95th Scoring Offense
I fully expect Kentucky to make a significant jump in this category. However last season it managed a mere 24.7 points per game. In contests against Vanderbilt, Auburn, and Florida; one could argue that at a minimum 10 points were left on the field in each of those games.
85th Third Down Conversion Percentage
Why do teams only average 24 points? One major factor is the lack of 3rd down success. The Wildcats moved the chains on 37.43% of these plays.
79th Total Passing Offense
Patrick Towles and Drew Barker were a combined 218-397 while throwing 16 interceptions. In today’s game, a 54.9% completion percentage and 208 yards per game will not get it done.
Referencing film study, an old football adage says, “The eye in the sky don’t lie”. Same can be said about statistics. Numbers paint an accurate picture of a season’s summation of work. For the Cats to win six, the above numbers must improve.
By Freddie Maggard on ©June 22nd, 2016 @ 1:00pm
Based on your feedback from our last Glossary post, I thought we could discuss more football terms and situations…
Defensive Line Twists
Defensive twists are preplanned, schematic maneuvers of two or more defensive players (mainly defensive linemen and linebackers) in which they exchange roles, positions on-the-field, and or responsibilities after the football is snapped with intention to confuse offensive blockers. In other words, defensive lines have the same deception capability as their offensive foes. This is just another accurate example of how football can be compared to chess.
*Please note that depicted in football X and O diagrams: X’s represent defensive players, O’s the offense.
How offensive personnel can predict twists?
Experience is an overused and underestimated term which doesn’t merely refer to the number of game snaps a player has under his belt. Operational experience is the functional description that describes the ability to accurately foresee the opponent’s actions prior to the football’s snap. Using the above example in practical terms, predicting defensive line twists can be predicated by down and distance (1st and 10 for example) as well as the defensive line’s stance variation. I’ll try to explain; when a defensive lineman’s hand is barely touching the turf, most likely the defender’s path will require lateral, directional movement. With knuckles or fingers firmly planted in the ground, a bull-rush or straight forward path is likely.
How to counter twists
If the called play is a run, even the most experienced quarterback usually just has to roll with it and hope for the best. In a game of odds; at times straight forward rushes can gash defensives that are twisting and turning all over the place. After being burned a couple times, twisting defenses usually cool their heels. The offensive line coach is critical in scouting report preparation as well as fundamental instruction in order for the OL (Offensive Line) to adjust for twists. Communication is the key.
-This term describes a defensive pass coverage during which two traditional cornerbacks are responsible for the deep third of the football field. The free safety is tasked with the middle of the field and acts in similar fashion as a baseball center fielder. His role is to stay deeper than the deepest receiver threat. Additionally, a strong safety controls the flats or the outside passing lanes of the football field. His role is similar to a weak-side linebacker and is heavily counted on for run support. Historically, strong safeties were called “Monster” or “Rover” backs. The side of the field in which the strong safety is aligned is labeled the “strong-side”.
How to identify the Cover 3
Cornerbacks are aligned outside the widest receiver normally 7-10 yards off the line of scrimmage. Free safety is lined up in the middle of the field, or moves to that area post-snap.
Best Way to Attack
Short or intermediate passes toward the sidelines are mostly automatic completions. Again by referencing today’s spread offenses, it’s simple to counter. Put more eligible receivers on the field than a typical Cover 3 personnel set can manage.
What do QBs and coordinators talk about on their headsets?
I often get this question. Got to remember, the game has drastically changed since I played in the late 80’s and early 90’s. However, I’d assume that that in general, the quarterback to coordinator communication has remained fairly constant.
Offense is forced to punt, the QB exits the field and is first received by the head coach. Depending on the situation, this interaction includes words of encouragement or a good ole fashion butt chewing. Then if the coordinator is stationed in the booth, the QB puts on the headset and an onslaught of verbal interaction ensues. This process can be one of dread or triumph.
The OC (Offensive Coordinator) starts the communication by calming the nerves of a jumpy QB or motivating the other that may be lacking passion. Call it the pep talk or motivation portion of the discussion. Then the inevitable question from the OC, “What are you seeing?” By asking this, the coordinator is assessing his offensive leader’s mental state of mind. The QB normally replies with a series of X’s and O’s stuff which can either reassure or concern the coach.
However, there are aspects of the game that only the on-field QB can sense. For example, observations on defensive voice calls or audibles, eye direction or other blitz indicators, and secondary verbal and non-verbal communication. This information greatly assists the OC in play calling.
If things are going really well, the two may talk freely or better yet, no communication may occur at all. When things are bad, oh boy.
Quarterbacks during a timeout
Another frequently asked question. I normally don’t like to tell old football stories, but I couldn’t pass on this one. In the final seconds of a rain-soaked, sloppy and boring game against North Carolina, UNC Coach Mack Brown called his last timeout. With only one more snap to move to 2-0 on the season, I dreadfully trotted to the sideline with full mullet blowing in the CWS wind expecting a colossal butt chewing. You see on the previous Victory Formation play, like an idiot I fumbled the snap, we recovered. On the sideline, Claiborne was animated to say the least. He yelled for a football and demonstrated the proper manner in which to take a snap and then get on one knee. So in a 20-year-old sarcastic tone I asked, “so you want me to take the snap and then jump on the ground”? He didn’t think that was funny. He went on to again coach me up on the proper mechanics of a Victory Formation play. With muddied pants, nostrils flaring, and 12 “good gollies”, Coach Claiborne had made his point abundantly clear. I slapped him on the rear end and laughed my tail off all the way back to the huddle. I didn’t screw it up for a second time as we won the track-meet 13-6. I loved my coach.
Back to on subject, water is distributed as a plethora of towels are thrown in the quarterback’s direction. Managers and athletic trainers are the unsung heroes of every football team. If time permits, headsets are dawned and a coordinator conversation is included. During timeouts are when scouting reports morph from paper (now virtual) to practicality. For example, if the upcoming play is 3rd and 2 in the middle of the field with the football inside the opponent’s 20-yard line; scouting report data suggests that the opponent favors man-to-man blitzes. This helps in proper plays being called to counter. Situational awareness, gut feeling, and hours of film study pays off. During timeouts, head coaches are primarily motivators, coordinators are subject-matter-experts.
Keep your questions coming. Hope this helps.
Father’s Day is the day to show all our dad’s how much we love and appreciate all the hard work they do. To honor their dad’s today, several past, present and future Cats took to social media to express their gratitude.
The Harrison Twins
A photo posted by Andrew Harrison (@drewroc5) on
A photo posted by Aaron Harrison (@theaaronice_ptp) on
A photo posted by Patrick Towles (@patty_ice_8) on
A photo posted by Erin Siciliano Calipari (@theerincalipari) on
A photo posted by Megan Calipari (@megancalipari) on
A photo posted by Brad Calipari (@bradcalipari) on
A photo posted by johnwall (@johnwall) on
A photo posted by Isaac Humphries (@isaachumphries7) on
I’d also like to give a shoutout to my dad who is basically the grown up version of me. Thanks for all your hard work to provide for mom, bub and I, sharing your love for all things UK, spending countless hours coaching or watching Garret and I in sports, and encouraging me to apply for KSR and for probably being way more excited about my interview than I was. Love ya, Dad.
Josh Forrest is standing out amongst the linebackers, and it’s just not for his height.
The 6-foot 3 rookie has been hard at work since landing in Los Angeles, and the hard work is paying off according to the Los Angeles Times.
“He’s moved up quite a bit,” Williams said. “He wasn’t in quite a good enough condition when he first got in here. All rookies are shocked at the level of conditioning that you have to have here.”
Forrest joined a linebacker corps that features Ayers, middle linebacker Alec Ogletree and Mark Barron. This season, his biggest contributions probably will be made on special teams.
“Any backup linebacker, backup safety, really [any] safety-corner-linebacker has to be very, very good in the special teams to get time with us,” Williams said, “because we’re pretty versatile in the front line of guys that we have.”
Here’s to hoping that Forrest keeps moving up.
Class of 2018 quarterback Jarren Williams is bringing a bright light into UK Football today despite the string of recent decommitments.
— Jarren Williams (@Jarren2Williams) June 19, 2016
Williams is a pro style quarterback who should bode nicely with Eddie Gran’s offense in two years.
Standing at 6-3 and 201 pounds, Williams had 10 other offers including Florida State, West Virginia, and Louisville.
Check out some highlights:
This makes me happy.
A big congratulations to Jon Toth who was named to the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame’s 2016 All-Commonwealth Team.
This is the second straight year that Toth has been selected. The University of Kentucky’s had three player selected to the Collegiate All-Commonwealth Team last year, including A.J. Stamps, Patrick Towles and Jon Toth.
The Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will be held on Friday, June 24 in Lexington. The 2016 honorees including Council Rudolph, Myron Guyton, Warren Bryant, Ray Buchanan, Blanton Collier and Dermontti Dawson.
By Kaan Solagan on ©June 19th, 2016 @ 1:00pm
LeBron and Cavs will try to erase a 52 year championship drought for Cleveland hinging on their game seven performance in Oakland tonight. 1964 was the last year Cleveland won a professional sports championship, and it was under the coaching of Kentucky’s very own, Blanton Collier.
The ex-UK head coach was fired at Kentucky three years prior to winning a championship as the coach of the Cleveland Browns in 1964. In that game, Collier not only won a championship, he also beat a former assistant from his 1959 staff at UK, Don Shula. Just three years removed from his position at Kentucky, Collier coached his 1964 team to a NFL Championship on the shoulders of Jim Brown against the Baltimore Colts, two years before the Super Bowl was created.
At UK, he succeeded Bear Bryant — arguably the greatest college football coach of all time.
In Cleveland, he followed Paul Brown — arguably the most significant pro football coach of all time.
A Millersburg native and Georgetown College graduate, Collier spent eight seasons (1954-61) as Kentucky’s coach. Ten UK coaches later, Collier (41-36-3) is still the last one to leave with a winning record.
Yet, at the time, it was Bryant’s shiny 60-23-5 record at UK (1946-53) that Collier’s tenure was judged against.
“Daddy knew he had a good record at Kentucky,” Collier McLaughlin said. “But I’m sure, on some level, what happened in Cleveland was satisfying because it showed (UK) what it had and let go.”
Sounds like Kentucky football alright. The Cats haven’t had a coach leave with a winning record since Collier was fired in 1961, and he won a professional championship with the Browns just three years later. Tyronn Lue looks to replace Collier as the last man to have won a professional sports championship in the city of Cleveland, ending the half-century of heartache for the Cleveland faithful.
LeBron would like nothing more than to win his first ring in Cleveland against the NBA-record breaking Warriors, it would surely be his most cherished title so far. For the Land.
During the recruiting process of the historically great 2014 Kentucky football recruiting class, the catchphrase #NoFlyZone made famous by former DB coach Derrick Ansley was a common theme amongst players in the secondary committing to become a Wildcat. Players like Mike Edwards, Darius West, Jared Tucker, and Kendall Randolph used the phrase regularly on their Twitter accounts to emphasize the inability of opposing offenses to attack them through the air. Though Ansley has since moved on to Alabama to coach, the phrase he made famous will finally come to fruition this season.
National analysts are raving about the secondary Kentucky has put together for the 2016-17 campaign, headlined by CB Chris Westry, CB Derrick Baity, and S Mike Edwards. Mark Stoops made comments in the spring indicating that Edwards “might be the best player on the team,” and says his corner duo of Westry and Baity may be two of the best two corners he’s ever had.
During the Spring Game, Chris Westry looked like an All-SEC cornerback, not allowing a single completion on any ball coming his way, including a beautiful pass deflection on a hanging ball along the sidelines intended for Tavin Richardson. He proved to shut down opposing #1 receivers time and time again last season, as a true freshman nonetheless. During the postgame press conference of the Blue-White game, Stoops said, “When I see the ball going down the field on his side, immediately I’m like, ‘That’s not going to be complete,’ because I feel like it’s just not going to happen.” For any coach in the nation to be that confident of any player, especially for a true sophomore to be, you know the kid has stud written all over him. If Westry continues to exceed expectations and manages to stay healthy over the next few years, don’t be surprised if you eventually hear his name called in the first round of the NFL Draft.
Derrick Baity was a guy that came on strong after taking reps from Cody Quinn as the season progressed. Despite making expected rookie mistakes here and there, Baity showed flashes of brilliance as a true freshman which has since turned into consistent success. Mark Stoops expressed after the Spring Game that though Westry is a stud, Baity should certainly be accounted for on defense, saying “He is a really good player. People don’t talk about Baity, but if you didn’t have Westry on the other side, you would look at Baity and say, ‘Man, that’s one of the prettiest corners you could sign.’” For a pair of rookie corners, you rarely see that type of praise, and that certainly bodes well for this season.
After AJ Stamps showed major inconsistency in the first part of the season, Stoops threw Mike Edwards in the mix for major snaps, and he failed to disappoint. A jaw-dropping pass deflection in the back of the endzone against Mississippi State wowed Kentucky fans, and he built on that success in each game beyond. He led the team in tackles in several games, and came away with SEC Freshman of the Week honors against Charlotte in November. Despite sitting out part of spring with an injury including the Blue-White game, the entire coaching staff couldn’t stop raving about Edwards’ ability to fly around the field and make plays on the ball. His ball instincts are a thing of beauty, and his knack for knock-out punch hits are impressive to say the least. If he can stay healthy, Edwards will be the vocal leader this team needs on defense and could turn out to be one of the top safeties in the SEC.
Though the “big three” of the secondary consists of Westry, Baity, and Edwards, the depth at both safety and cornerback is quite impressive at well. Marcus McWilson and Darius West, both former four-stars out of high school, will compete for the starting safety spot opposite Edwards, which should turn out to be an interesting position battle this summer. True sophomore Marcus Walker impressed the coaching staff in his few reps last season as a freshman, and will likely get the majority of reps behind Edwards.
JD Harmon will certainly receive reps at corner, likely behind Baity, as he made numerous great plays on the ball last season including three huge interceptions. Blake McClain, Kendall Randolph, and true freshman Jordan Griffin should all likely see a good chunk of time on the field at corner, as well.
Considering Stoops coached some of the most impressive secondaries in NCAA history at Miami, and later had some pretty impressive kids at Florida State, him being this fired up about his upcoming group says a lot. Needless to say, the #NoFlyZone is officially headed to Commonwealth Stadium this fall.
It’s absolutely apparent this is a major year for the future of Kentucky football. I don’t believe Stoops is on the hot seat as of now, but a disappointing season would start an awful domino effect that could end up halting any positive momentum this program has garnered over the past four years. Recruiting right now is the best it has ever been, the coaching staff continues to impress nationally, and excitement for football in the bluegrass is at an all-time high, but a bowl-less season could derail any and all momentum they have for the future.
One game could be the deciding factor of major success in the future or the start of a downward spiral, and it falls on November 5th against the Georgia Bulldogs in Lexington. Here are just a few reasons why I believe the Cats will defeat the Dawgs in route to Stoops’ first bowl game at Kentucky.
1. Kentucky has the talent to make it happen
The team is now almost entirely made up of Stoops’ recruits, so there are no “Joker’s leftovers held this team back” arguments made in the first three years of the Stoops era. This is the fourth straight year of a top 40 recruiting class, two of which being top 25 quality. There are over 20 4-star and a few five-star recruits rated by at least one recruiting service, with players like Garrett Johnson and Chris Westry who weren’t considered four-stars certainly exceeding expectations. UK has never had more talent on paper than this team has, and it’s time to prove it against a quality opponent. Wins like Missouri, South Carolina, and Vandy have been fun in recent years, but it’s time to beat the big boys and make national headlines. This game is certainly their chance.
2. Georgia will have a question mark at QB
True freshman Jacob Eason will likely make a push for the starting job this offseason, and very well may accomplish that. Yeah, the guy is rated as a five-star prospect in nearly every recruiting service out there and is considered one of the top prospects of the 2016 recruiting class, but he’ll still be a freshman. A new level of energy consumes the stands at Commonwealth when Georgia is in town, and with a team right on the fringe of a bowl game, UK will be playing with a new level of swagger. That alone can cause a few rookie errors that could make or break the game for the Cats, especially with the best secondary in Kentucky history led by Chris Westry, Derrick Baity, and Mike Edwards keeping him honest.
3. The score has been relatively close in the UK-UGA series recently
Yes, UK hasn’t won against the Bulldogs since 2009, but the Cats have kept it relatively close dating back to the Rich Brooks’ era. There have certainly been outliers, namely the 59-17 slaughter in 2013 and the incompetent defensive showing in 2014’s 63-31 loss, but the vast majority have been close. In 2012, the Cats fell to the 11th ranked Dawgs 29-24, and only lost by nine, 19-10, in 2010. Even last year, the contest was up for grabs for a few quarters until the wheels fell off in the latter half of the game. Especially at home, history is in favor for the matchup to be competitive, and this could be the year UK finally gets over that victory hump.
4. Georgia plays Florida before, Auburn after
Georgia will be in a dog fight at home against the Gators beforehand, and then will have Auburn to look forward to the week following our matchup with them. A sandwich of two powerhouses is extremely favorable for the Cats, as not only will the Bulldogs be worn down from the week prior, they’ll also be inclined to look ahead to the matchup against the Tigers in their pursuit of the SEC Championship game. With the Cats ready for a battle, we may catch them at a good time and pull off the upset.
5. Simply put, they have to
UK’s schedule is certainly a little more difficult this coming season than it has in the past few years, there’s no denying that. There are a few “gimmes,” and several other winnable games, but it will without a doubt be a brawl for six wins this year. With the future of the program on the line, this may just be a game they have to win to get a ton of pressure off their backs. A lucky catch here, a favorable spot there, a turnover or two, etc., Kentucky just has to catch a few breaks and win this game.
A Georgia upset at home would make a lasting impact on the Stoops era, and just might give the Cats the momentum to be a competitor in the SEC East in the near future. If nothing else, it sure would be fun to see a fired up student section rip down the goal posts again.