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Football Season Coverage
Tonight Stephen Johnson returned to the scene of the crime to receive the Howard Schnellenberger Award, given each year to the MVP of the Governor’s Cup. Before he received the blue baseball bat, he posed with the former UK All-American and his position coach, Darin Hinshaw.
In case you forgot why Johnson was the Governor’s Cup MVP, the Kentucky quarterback threw for 338 yards and 3 touchdowns, completed 16 of 27 passes and rushed 8 times for 83 yards to defeat the Heisman Trophy winner. Some of his best work:
Jim Harbaugh and Jabrill Peppers were also in attendance for the Paul Hornung Award presentation, but we all know who The Real MVP is.
By Nick Roush on ©March 07th, 2017 @ 9:30pm
Dennis Johnson has done many great things for the state of Kentucky, but none compare to what he encountered Sunday afternoon.
The former Kentucky linebacker and current Woodford County head football coach was driving home from church in Harrodsburg on US-68 when he saw a motorist in trouble. The car was smoking as a man struggled to get his dog out of the vehicle. Johnson arrived just in time. See the story from WKYT:
By Mrs. Tyler Thompson on ©March 07th, 2017 @ 3:15pm
If you’re a living, breathing Kentucky football fan, you love Benny Snell. After just one season, Benny’s become one of the most lovable players in the Mark Stoops era, scoring a team-high 13 touchdowns and setting a new Kentucky freshman record for rushing yards with 1,091. As only one of two running backs named to the SEC All-Freshman Team, it’s hard to believe that anyone overlooked Benny in high school, but they did. Considered a three-star prospect by most services, Benny developed a chip on his shoulder that helped fuel his historic freshman season. Last month, “Benny Tha Bandit” opened up on his breakout year in his debut rap track, “Like I Do”:
“Been struggling all my life just to make it out.
More fans showing up to see what all the talk’s about.
If football don’t work, you know I’ve got to take the lyric route.
When against my team, boy, you know that’s a three-and-out.”
ESPN’s Greg Ostendorf interviewed Benny about his music, and the freshman phenom had this to say:
“I was happy I was unknown,” he said. “I just knew that a camp or a rating wouldn’t define how I am as a whole football player. It’s impossible. So I just had so much to show, so much to prove, to myself and to everybody else. I just kept that [chip] on my shoulder as I played.”
Read the rest of Benny’s interview at the Worldwide Leader, and enjoy his music below. And highlights just because I’ve missed football.
This may come as a disappointment to some, but apparently Kentucky’s spring practice will not involve a quarterback competition for the first time in a long while. Mark Stoops told a media gathering on Monday that Drew Barker would not be full-go during spring practice and that his offensive players felt comfortable with the team’s most experienced quarterback, Stephen Johnson.
Here are some of my observations following Mark Stoops’ opening press conference.
Stephen Johnson’s Development
Stoops was asked about what he’d like to see Stephen Johnson improve upon in spring practice. The UK head coach said, “Protecting the football, first and foremost. I think that’s something that we need to emphasize, and we talked about that. We addressed that yesterday, day one, in the first team meeting before spring practice, number one, is ball security. I think that’s an area that he needs to protect the football when he can.”
No sugarcoating reality: Kentucky had a significant turnover problem in 2016
- 28 total turnovers. Opponents scored 113 points off those turnovers.
- Comparatively, Kentucky scored 63 points off 21 forced turnovers.
- -50 points off turnover and a -7 turnover margin are staggering totals.
It all starts with the quarterback. Stephen Johnson’s turnover probability has been well documented. Adding to misery, multiple fumbles were scooped and scored. With extreme need of improvement; there’s a fine line in terms of overloading a signal caller to the point of ball security obsession. Stress importance absolutely; obsession, no. This can cause the QB to overthink and become robotic to the point that he rejects athletic instinct.
At times there are turnovers that are completely out of the hands of the quarterback, no pun intended. Ball security is all about confidence, situational awareness and fundamentals. Best case scenario is for Johnson’s experience as well as added strength and weight will expedite a remedy for excessive and untimely fumbles. There’s an old QB coach saying that is applicable in this situation, “Control the controllables, manage the manageables, forget the rest, be an athlete, and lead.”
Redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak is participating in his second spring practice. With Barker’s limitations, the opening is there for the Ohio native to solidify the backup role and to push Johnson on a daily basis. Both quarterbacks will benefit from the carryover of offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. On Tuesday, quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said he thinks Drew Barker may play in the spring game.
New Defensive Coordinator Responsibilities
Matt House was named as Kentucky’s defensive coordinator on January 30. Mark Stoops mixed no words when asked if he’d continue to call defensive plays, a role he was forced into in 2016. “No, Matt (House) will call the plays. Matt will call the plays and be the defensive coordinator, and I’ll be there to assist.”
No confusion in that statement. House will run the defensive show. Stoops will provide over-watch. Additionally, UK’s defensive staff is comprised of five coaches with defensive coordinator experience.
Unlike DJ Eliot, Kentucky will not be House’s first stint as a defensive coordinator. He led defenses at Pitt and Florida International. Thus, expectation and competency level are somewhat different.
Every hack with a laptop and a pulse has reported the need for improved defensive line play. This position group could hold the keys to the scoreboard and win/loss column. Matt House inherits an upper-level linebacker corps and a highly talented, accomplished secondary. Even with situational overachievement in regards to Naquez Pringle and Adrian Middleton, the Wildcat defensive front can only be described as-underwhelming. This especially applies to “Havoc” statistics (TFL, QB sacks, QB hurries, etc).
- The Kentucky defensive line combined for just 13 tackles for loss (Adrian Middleton registered 5.5), and 2 QB sacks in 2016.
When asked about his defensive line, Stoops did not dodge the fact that Derrick LeBlanc’s group must produce at a higher level and do so in a hurry, “You know that across the board we need to improve. And then interior defensive line, we need to play better. It was not a strength of ours last year at all. It was an area that we need to address, and we are addressing, and we expect to play better.”
Reading between the lines and interpreting coach speak, the Wildcat defensive line was put on notice. Derrick LeBlanc has the unenviable task of transforming discontent into optimism with virtually similar personnel.
DE/OLB Denzel Ware could be the key. If he lines up with his hand in the dirt as a defensive end, the junior automatically becomes the front seven’s top pass rusher.
It appears that Bunchy Stallings will start the spring as Jon Toth’s replacement at center. Stallings’ experience trumps Drake Jackson’s potential. But, I anticipate this situation to remain fluid. Stallings will be in the starting rotation either at guard or center. Stoops was also asked about Freshman All-SEC guard Logan Stenberg and he couldn’t help but to gush.
“He’s (Stenberg) is going to be very good. We’ve got a — you’ve got to slow him down a little bit. I’d rather say whoa than giddy-up. I had to slow him down a little bit yesterday. Started getting a little feisty, we’ve got no pads on. But he does have the attitude you’re looking for, he really does. He’s a nasty guy, and he’s big and strong and has some experience and some confidence now.”
The coach seems to appreciate the sophomore’s aggressive nature as there have been very few players that forced him into pulling back the reins. Luke Fortner is another offensive lineman who garnered a positive reaction. John Schlarman’s highly rated offensive line rotated 9 players last season. With the addition of redshirt freshmen Drake Jackson and Luke Fortner, he could reach 10 this fall.
Spring practice is all of two sessions old. It seems like yesterday that we gathered for National Signing Day. Pro Day is Wednesday. Year-around football is very SEC-like and fun. Much more to come.
By Nick Roush on ©March 07th, 2017 @ 12:45pm
The rain kept Kentucky inside for their second day of spring practice. It didn’t keep the fire out of offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, who’s picked up the intensity in his second year as the leader of the offense.
“We are so far ahead right now,” Gran said. “It is so much fun coaching the technique and coaching the fundamentals. That is a cliche and it’s what everybody talks about, but last year I was coaching to try to get guys lined up. I was coaching to just get a play off. Right now they know where to go, what to do. They’re playing fast.”
Gran can do much more because “now it’s not so crazy for them anymore.”
That means Gran can turn up the intensity in practice. He’s making everybody earn their time on the field, even Benny Snell. When asked how Snell has handled being ‘the guy,’ Gran quickly dismissed that title. “He’s running with the ones right now. I wouldn’t say he’s ‘the guy.’ Let’s not use those words. He’s gotta lot of work to do.”
He’s asking even more from the wide receivers. Filling the void left by Jeff Badet, guys like Tavin Richardson and Kayaune Ross are capable, but they have to produce in practice. “We’ve got to get some production. They gotta earn their scholarship. It’s time. They gotta quit eating free food.”
See all of Gran’s animated intensity below.
If you’re more into watching action than hearing about it, this video’s for you.
☑️ Day 2
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) March 7, 2017
It’s almost that time, friends. In just a few days, we’ll all be crammed into the Tin Roof on Broadway to preview Kentucky’s SEC Tournament run, which means that unless you get there EARLY, you’ll likely share some space in the aisles or near the wall with a Wildcat friend you haven’t met yet. Ahh, I can smell the cheap beer, fried food, and disinfectant now.
Plenty to do before then, so let’s get to it.
1. Calipari says he’s instituted — wait for it — another tweak
Calipari was as giddy as a schoolgirl on last night’s radio show, telling listeners that he’s in a better frame of mind than he was with the 2015 team headed into the tournament because he believes his team is still under the radar. Earlier in the day on the SEC Teleconference, he didn’t sound quite as chipper, telling reporters that something’s not quite right with this group and he plans to tweak things in the next few days.
“We’re still not quite where we want to be. Got a couple practice days here to get some stuff tweaked and get us to have a little different mentality as we approach games. I’m loving the fact that this team has learned to fight, that they stuck together when things looked bleak and they just kept going, had a will to win and all that stuff. But we’re still, there’s something that’s not quite right that we have a few days to try to fix.”
Maybe Cal saw something he liked between the teleconference yesterday afternoon and the radio show that night, because he sounded ten times more optimistic with Tom Leach.
2. You’ll get to hear what the team thinks heading into the SEC Tournament
This afternoon, select players will address the media about the team’s state heading into the postseason play. This will be the last time we hear from the team until Calipari’s first media opportunity in Nashville on Thursday, so check the site mid-afternoon to hear what the players have to say about any tweaks that are happening.
3. The SEC will release its end of the season awards
The week between the regular season and the postseason means two things: mentally and physically preparing yourself for SEC Tournament (hydrate!) and end of season awards. Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox pulled in honors from various national outlets yesterday, and today, they’ll likely get some more from the Southeastern Conference. Here’s the list of awards that were voted on by the league’s coaches:
- First and Second All-SEC Teams
- All-Freshman Team
- All-Defensive Team
- Coach of the Year
- Player of the Year
- Defensive Player of the Year
- Scholar-Athlete of the Year
- Sixth Man of the Year
- Freshman of the Year
Prediction: Monk for Freshman of the Year, Sindarius Thornwell Player of the Year, Mike White Coach of the Year. Lots of Cats everywhere else.
4. Bridgestone Arena is ready
I love how that reads!!!! Home of SEC Basketball!! pic.twitter.com/oeAjShCFbl
— PREDSident (@PREDSident) March 6, 2017
Tomorrow, SEC Basketball fans and Kentucky fans not willing to waste the first two days of their ticket books will descend upon Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville for four days of hoops hysteria. Per usual, these pictures of the venue remind me to 1) dress warmly because the ice is still under the floor and 2) pack lots of tea and granola bars because I hate Dr. Pepper, Sunkist, and Golden Flake.
Mississippi State and LSU will tip things off tomorrow night, followed by Auburn vs. Missouri, but just because all of that sounds like horrible, horrible basketball, have no fear; Nick, Drew, and I will be courtside Wednesday night to entertain you.
5. Mother Nature is not ready
Hopefully Mother Nature will do some tweaking to this forecast as well.
5. An SEC Tournament preview of The OTT podcast drops this afternoon
Fake Barney joined me and my husband last night to talk about Kentucky’s chances heading into the tournament, along with a lot of other really random stuff, including the exciting news that he’s going to be a dad! In lieu of torturing his friends with a gender reveal party, he shared the news on the podcast, so check the KSR podcast feed on iTunes later today to find out if he’s having a Malik or a Makayla. Plus, tune in for a lot of SEC Tournament talk, including Best/Worst SEC Tournament memories, etc.
6. We’ll hear from Eddie Gran and the offense after practice
Yesterday, Mark Stoops held a press conference to discuss spring practice, and this morning, Eddie Gran and select players will address media after practice. Check the site before lunch for a recap.
Speaking of football…
7. Tomorrow is Pro Day
Jon Toth and Boom Williams strutted their stuff at the Combine last week, but tomorrow, scouts and player personnel from nearly every NFL team will come to the Nutter Field House to watch all of the program’s draft eligible players go through a variety of skills tests, including running and agility drills, bench press, position-specific drills and the vertical jump. Former Cats Jason Hatcher and Maxwell Smith will also participate. Here’s the full list:
- Will Tom Collins 5-11, 241, FB (Jackson, Ky.)
- Tanner Fink 6-2, 251, TE/FB (Louisville, Ky.)
- Jason Hatcher 6-3, 250, OLB (Louisville, Ky.)
- J.D. Harmon 6-2, 200, CB (Paducah, Ky.)
- Jojo Kemp 5-10, 200, FB (Deland, Fla.)
- Marcus McWilson 6-0, 210, S (Youngstown, Ohio)
- Blake McClain 5-11, 200, DB (Winter Park, Fla.)
- Courtney Miggins 6-5, 285, DT (Lithonia, Ga.)
- Maxwell Smith 6-5, 235, QB (Granada Hills, Calif.)
- Ryan Timmons 5-10, 198, WR (Frankfort, Ky.)
- Jon Toth 6-5, 310, C (Indianapolis, Ind.)
- Stanley “Boom” Williams 5-9, 196, RB (Monroe, Ga.)
The event starts at 9:00 a.m. and UKAthletics.com will have a special show streaming live on its site starting at 9:30 a.m., starring our own Freddie Maggard, who will be alongside Dick Gabriel and Jeremy Jarmon.
One final football note…
8. Linebacker Nico Firios is transferring
Yesterday, redshirt sophomore Nico Firios announced he was transferring from the program. Firios battled injuries during his time at Kentucky and played mostly on special teams, tallying six tackles in 13 games. Best of luck to him wherever he ends up.
9. Check out Caleb Swanigan’s story on “Sunday Morning”
CBS’ “Sunday Morning” is required viewing in our household, and to my delight, Sunday’s episode included a profile of Purdue’s Caleb Swanigan, who survived a rough childhood to become one of the best players in college basketball. I’ve been a huge fan of Swanigan’s going back to when Calipari recruited him, and his story is worth a few minutes of your time:
10. Win SEC Tournament tickets or a UK golf cart at Dever’s
There are KSR remotes and then there are KSR remotes! Today’s is the latter. Get on down to Dever’s Golf Carts at 1030 East New Circle Road in Lexington to enjoy the show and register to win SEC Tournament tickets and this amazing UK-themed golf cart:
The first comes to us from the Florida 7A basketball semifinals, from a Cat who will wear shoulder pads this fall. Outside linebacker Jordan Wright showed no mercy with the left-handed poster in transition.
— Pat Lammer (@PLamRecruiting) February 25, 2017
Wright led all scorers 23 points in the State Championship game to win his second consecutive state championship. His future running-mate, Josh Paschal, threw down an impressive dunk too, but with less on the line. The teacher/student basketball game at Good Counsel turned into a Josh Paschal dunk contest.
— Coach Gooch (@GOOdashCH) March 3, 2017
The final dunk comes from a guy who will play in Rupp Arena. P.J. Washington doesn’t even look like he’s trying when he goes between his legs.
— PJ Washington (@pjwashington_25) March 7, 2017
Normally spring football in Kentucky is surrounded by questions at quarterback. This year’s most important position competition isn’t about the signal-caller, it’s about the guy who’s snapping him the ball.
Jon Toth started 48 consecutive games at center. Toth was the leader of the offensive line, calling assignments and protections for the front five. Last year the Cats subbed two-deep at every position on the offensive line, except center, giving Toth every possible snap. Finding a replacement will not be easy, but Stoops likes his options.
“I do think that we have some options starting with Bunchy (Stallings), with the experience that he has,” Stoops said at today’s press conference. “I think we have a lot of confidence in Drake (Jackson), but he is a redshirt freshman, and with Bunchy, you have the physicality you’re looking for, you have the experience you’re looking for. He’s very athletic. And we feel like we have some really good options at guard.”
Stallings is the apparent clubhouse leader heading into the spring. Former High School All-American Drake Jackson is in just his second spring practice. Redshirt freshman Luke Fortner could also potentially play center, but as of now he is strictly focusing on playing guard.
Even if Jackson can’t beat out Bunchy, there will be an opportunity for him to play. Whoever wins the starting center spot will not be the only one snapping the football this season.
“I believe when it’s all said and done, by the time we get to game one, we’ll have a two deep across the board,” Stoops said.
By Nick Roush on ©March 06th, 2017 @ 3:00pm
Former four-star high school All-American quarterback Drew Barker spent most of last season on the sideline with a back injury. He’s still on the sideline, but Stoops likes what he’s seeing.
“(He’s) Getting better. Not full strength. He hasn’t been able to go yet.” Stoops said he expects to see more from Barker in two weeks after spring break. “After spring break, we will see where he’s at. It’s my understanding that the doctors are going to let him do a little bit more after spring break. I don’t think it’ll be at a point where he’s in any 11-on-11, but maybe some seven-on-seven or half line or one-on-ones. He’s done some of that, but they’re limiting how far he can throw the football right now.”
Stoops told The Courier-Journal earlier this week: “He’s really impressed me physically…He’s further along than I anticipated.”
Barker isn’t the only one missing practice. Tight end C.J. Conrad, defensive lineman Alvonte Bell, running back Bryant Koback and quarterback Walker Wood are currently not participating in practice.
There are also some important players who are returning from injury. Wide receiver Kayaune Ross, tight end Justin Rigg and safety Darius West all missed a significant portion of last season because of injury. West’s knee injury might have been the Cats’ biggest loss in the 2016 preseason.
“I’m excited about him because we all know he was going to be a player last year. He would have played a bunch or maybe won the job. He was right in there battling for the starting position when he got hurt,” Stoops said. “He’s got good instincts, he just needs some experience. He needs some reps. You know, he looks really good right now, so hopefully he’ll stay healthy.”
See all of Stoops’ comments below.
If you’re not into watching the presser and would rather read the transcript, you’ll find it all after the jump.
The Cats are only one day into spring practice and the program is losing a reserve linebacker on the defensive side of the ball.
Nico Firios, an injury-riddled redshirt sophomore, announced via his Twitter account that he will be leaving the University of Kentucky:
“At this time I would like to announce that I will be transferring from UK. I would like to thank Coach Stoops for the opportunity he gave me to come and play here. I would also like to thank Kentucky fans for always showing endless support through the good and the bad. Lastly, I would like to thank my teammates for being my brothers and for being at my side through it all. I’m forever grateful for the opportunity, and I’m always going to be a Wildcat.”
Firios made six tackles in 13 appearances, mostly as a special teams player, in the 2016 season. ESPN ranked him the 19th best linebacker in the nation in the 2014 recruiting class.
By Nick Roush on ©March 06th, 2017 @ 1:00pm
Mark Stoops is taking a step back on the defensive side of the ball.
Last year Kentucky’s head coach took over the defensive playcalling duties from D.J. Eliot after a slow start to the season. Promoted to defensive coordinator this offseason, Matt House will take back the playcalling duties from Stoops. The head coach still plans on being intimately involved with the defense, “I always help where needed.”
Stoops is not worried about the defense’s progress with a different person calling the plays. “There’s carryover, and there’s also a clear identity of what we want moving forward.”
More from Stoops’ pre-spring practice press conference is on the way.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©March 05th, 2017 @ 9:00pm
We may just be reaching conference tournaments and Bracketology season, but UK Football’s spring practice is officially underway in the bluegrass.
UK Football released a highlight tape of today’s practice, and it’s about as incredible as you’d expect.
Fair warning, you may want to run through a wall after viewing.
You ready? We are.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) March 5, 2017
Running back sensation Benny Snell couldn’t have been more excited to suit up this morning:
Post Practice with @benny_snell:
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) March 5, 2017
Jon Toth spent the afternoon with the team as well, coming straight from the NFL Combine in Indianapolis to help mentor the next generation of talent on the offensive line.
Check out some of the other pictures from today’s practice:
UK’s Spring Game takes place on Friday, April 14 at 7:30 p.m.
The hype is real.
The Cats begin their quest for a second straight bowl season with the start of spring practice today. Kentucky finished the season 7-6 last year. Spring practice will conclude on April 14th, at 7:30 pm with the Blue-White Spring Game. Tickets for the game go on sale tomorrow for season ticket holders and on March 13th for the General Public. As usual, tickets are free. UK Students can pick up their own free ticket at the Joe Craft Center starting tomorrow.
Be sure to stay tuned into KSR all day for more updates from Day One!
Is there a better way to get into the football mood than this video?
And if you are really feeling up for it… here is the game in its’ entirety, because why watch it only once?
During some deep diving on the YouTubes I stumbled upon Tim Couch’s 1999 appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman.
Ahead of the NFL Draft, I find the interview fascinating for a variety of reasons. Couch’s mountain draw is much more pronounced as a 21-year old than it is now. He shared a funny story about the game vs. Miss. State, he threw footballs into taxi cabs and he said the Cleveland Browns are “great organization” that specialize in developing quarterbacks.
By Nick Roush on ©March 04th, 2017 @ 6:15pm
A very Happy Birthday to Tom Leach, the Voice of the Wildcats.
The best in the business, Leach’s voice paints a brilliant picture of what is happening when the Cats take the field and the court. Every game is now televised, but that has not diminished the high quality product. Even though it’s my job to watch every game, I make it a point to exclusively listen to Leach’s call once a year. It’s that great.
These Kentucky memories wouldn’t be the same without Tom Leach.
2005 Regional Final vs. Michigan State
Stevie Got Loose
2016 Game-Winning Field Goals
What’s your favorite call from Tom Leach?