Football Season Coverage
By Nick Roush on ©April 12th, 2019 @ 8:40pm
Just like Billy Madison’s Sloppy Joes, Kentucky’s defense in the Blue/White Game was extra sloppy. While fans celebrated 74 total points, Stoops was fuming over the fundamental defensive mistakes.
“It can look good for the offense, sloppy for the defense,” Stoops said shortly after the final horn.
“Today was really probably the most sloppy day we’ve had. There were some big plays. I like to see that. I like to see the explosive plays, but overall what you’re always looking for is good, hard-nosed, fundamental football and I saw a lot of sloppy play out here today.”
The Blue and White Teams combined for 774 yards of offense. Even though the defensive-minded head coach would prefer a few more stops, it provided plenty of entertainment for the 16,665 fans in the Kroger Field stands.
“We’re going to be a darn good team when it’s all said and done. I’m confident of that. I probably aggravate myself when you split the teams like this,” he said. “Trust me, I’m excited about this group.”
Can you feel that? It’s bass ringing from the newest addition to Kroger Field.
Before the 2019 Blue/White Game, UK rolled out an eight-foot drum to the 50-yard line. They debuted the massive musical instrument as a new pregame tradition. Before each game, a former player will bang the drum to the tune of “Go Big Blue.” Up first, College Football Hall of Famer Art Still.
New feature before UK games this season is the “Big Blue Drum.” Wildcat Hall of Famer has the honors tonight. They’ll have a former Wildcat do it before every game to a “Go Big Blue” chant from the crowd. pic.twitter.com/6yJ2eXruGP
— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) April 12, 2019
Creating new Kentucky football traditions is a great idea, when it’s original. Purdue boasts the “World’s Largest Drum,” while a former Missouri player bangs on “Big Mo” to the tune of their favorite chant, “M-I-Z! Z-O-U!”
Will the Big Blue Nation embrace the Big Blue Drum? Only time will tell.
By Nick Roush on ©April 12th, 2019 @ 7:58pm
As soon as the ball was snapped, Kentucky’s offense was rolling.
On the first play of the 2019 Blue/White Game, UK dialed up a double pass from Lynn Bowden to Terry Wilson and back to Bowden. Six plays later Bowden went unscathed 42 yards for a touchdown. From that point on, it was off to the races.
Terry Wilson completed 10-of-12 passes for 191 yards and two touchdowns to propel the first string Blue Team to a 64-10 victory in the spring game. Bowden caught four passes for 66 yards and a score.
A.J. Rose led the ground attack with three rushing touchdowns and 86 yards on 11 carries, but the explosive running back did not make the biggest play of the day. That honor goes to second-year running back Kavosiey Smoke who made one cut and sprinted 87 yards for a score on his first touch of the day.
The most pleasant surprise from the spring game was Bryce Oliver. After redshirting in 2018, the south Florida athlete caught eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. The longest catch of the day was made by Isaiah Epps, a 60-yard reception that sparked a two-play 84-yard touchdown drive.
You wanted to see more points? You got it.
By Maggie Davis on ©April 12th, 2019 @ 7:30pm
Benny Snell may not be suiting up for Kentucky for this year’s Blue/White Spring game, but he’s still on the field to cheer on his fellow teammates (and dance on the Jumbotron, as per usual). An SEC Network reporter caught up with the former Cat during the second quarter and, in true Benny fashion, he delivered.
Snell began by the interview by describing how much the program changed during his three seasons at Kentucky and what exactly helped make that difference so great.
“The difference was the effort and the promise to your brother,” Snell said. “The bond we created over the years, since my freshman year, has been unbreakable. We truly look out for each other around here, and that’s why the program has changed.”
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) April 12, 2019
This tight-knit family mentality also helped Kentucky win some of their close, marquee games last season, according to the former running back.
“When I was going through my freshman, sophomore phase, we were losing those close games: Louisville, Mississippi State, the powerhouse teams. Now, once we had that bond going into the season, we were beating those teams.”
Now, of course, Snell is going through the process of preparing for this year’s NFL Draft. What’s been the coolest part?
“Getting to meet the coaches,” Snell said. “I see a lot of the coaches on TV and, you know, I play [NFL video game] Madden a lot too, so getting to actually meet them in person is crazy.”
But of course, it wouldn’t be a Benny Snell interview without a little third-person narration. He’s currently working on selling himself, his style of play, his work ethic and his brand to NFL teams. What’s his pitch – who is Benny Snell on the football field?
“He’s a real aggressive runner; he ain’t going to let one person take him down,” Snell said of himself. “He’s fighting for every yard.”
By Nick Roush on ©April 12th, 2019 @ 5:30pm
Before the Cats take the field for the seventh Blue/White Game of the Mark Stoops era at Kentucky, the SEC Network traveled to Lexington to catch up with the Cats’ head coach at spring practice.
The head ball coach talked with former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik about what it was like when he first arrived in the winter of 2012 and the trajectory of the program moving forward.
The football roster has changed dramatically since Kentucky’s Citrus Bowl victory. Before you’re confused by all of the new numbers, let me get you acquainted with a few of the guys who will make plays during tonight’s Blue/White Game.
6 — Jared Casey is still learning on the job. Even though he might not schematically or fundamentally do exactly Brad White wants to see, he’ll make a play or two behind the line-of-scrimmage.
11 — Moses Douglass is the type of dude the coaches have to tell, “Remember, they’re your teammates.” The true freshman safety is bound to have at least one big hit tonight.
20 and 24 — Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez are going to get a lot of play tonight. One of them will steal the show. I have a hunch it will be Smoke, slashing through the middle of the defense.
21 — No, that’s not Chris Westry, but JUCO defense back Quandre Mosely looks a lot like him in full uniform.
23 — Fans learned Ty Ajian’s name when he picked off a crucial pass against Mississippi State. Even though Stoops is putting the defense behind the 8-ball, I’m calling it now, Ajian’s picking off a pass tonight.
26 — JUCO transfer Brandin Echols has quickly emerged as Kentucky’s most consistent cornerback. Even though he transitioned from wide receiver to defense not long ago, he brings much-needed physicality to the pass defense.
56 — You will NOT see Kash Daniel on the field tonight. Still recovering from injuries last season, Kentucky’s middle linebacker has not gone full contact throughout the spring. The Cats will lean on Chris Oats (22) and Jamin Davis (44) to fill the gaps.
Daniel’s absence is for precautionary reasons. For that same reason I would not expect to see much from Lynn Bowden tonight.
70 — Darian Kinnard played sparingly as a true freshman. This year he’ll be asked to start at right tackle alongside Luke Fortner (79).
78 — Nick Lewis is the largest human you’ve ever seen.
82 — Josh Ali has transformed into Terry Wilson’s No. 2 target behind Lynn Bowden. There are a few other young wide receivers who have lacked consistency, but have the potential to make big plays today — Bryce Oliver (85), Allen Dailey (89), B.J. Alexander (84) and Isaiah Epps (81).
92- Phil Hoskins had an excellent scrimmage last Saturday. Quick to rush the passer, he’s one of the dominant d-line’s most explosive playmakers.
94 — Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald came to Kentucky just months after transitioning from basketball to football. A once wiry end is now a nose guard. Quinton Bohanna (95) and Marquan “Bully” McCall (50) will get the early reps, but I have a hunch Abule will make a couple of eye-opening plays.
By Nick Roush on ©April 12th, 2019 @ 1:30pm
Kentucky’s trophy case has not received many updates over the last decade. Now that there are a few occupants, UK is busting them out for the fans to enjoy.
Prior to tonight’s Blue/White Game, the Citrus Bowl trophy and the Governor’s Cup will be on display in the Gate 12 plaza between the Joe Craft Football Training Facility and Kroger Field. Fans are invited to take pictures with the trophies beginning at 4:30 p.m.
Even though there will not be a Cat Walk, this might be an even better consolation prize.
1. Just because you can get in free, does not mean they are abolishing Kroger Field’s clear bag policy.
2. Parking lots open at 2:30 and are available on a first-come, first-serve basis.
3. If you still have not picked up a ticket, they will be distributed at all guest services locations. If you don’t make it to Gate 12 or the ticket office between gates 9 and 10, keep walking; soon enough you’ll be able to find tickets.
By Jack Pilgrim on ©April 11th, 2019 @ 8:00pm
While the Kentucky football team prepares for their annual Spring Game, we know of at least one player who will not be participating under the lights tomorrow afternoon.
After practice today, senior linebacker Kash Daniel told Big Blue Insider’s Curtis Burch that he will be sitting out due to “precautionary” reasons.
“I’m actually not playing,” he said. “It’s going to be different, but I’m still healing up from the season, so it’s precautionary for me. It’s good for me to not go out and bang while I’m not 100%.”
While he won’t be playing, Daniel said he would be serving as an assistant coach on the sideline, coaching up his defensive players and letting them have a little bit of fun.
“I’m looking forward to coaching the guys up and seeing DeAndre (Square), Chris (Oats), and everybody on defense to go and do their thing.”
Here is the entire quote:
Kash Daniel will miss the Blue-White Spring Game tomorrow night. He said he is still healing up from the season and it is "precautionary" pic.twitter.com/sJ5KfplB9d
— Curtis Burch (@curtisburch) April 11, 2019
When asked to follow-up on Daniel’s status, Kentucky linebackers coach Jon Sumrall said he just wanted to make sure his star middle linebacker was good to go when the games actually count this fall.
“We want to make sure he plays on Saturdays in the fall,” he said. “Everything’s fine with him, there’s nothing ‘wrong.’ It’s just a matter of, you’ve got a veteran player who’s played a lot of football and there’s no point in beating him up.”
The Blue-White Scrimmage will kick off at 6:00 p.m. tomorrow night at Kroger Field.
By Nick Roush on ©April 11th, 2019 @ 2:10pm
The 2019 edition of Kentucky spring ball will culminate with Friday night’s Blue/White Game. The action on the practice fields concluded this morning. Mark Stoops was pleased with the Cats’ effort through 14 practices.
“It’s been a very productive spring,” Stoops said this morning. “It’s been a long time. Guys put in a lot of work. We had a good, strong winter. Guys are lifting and running. We stretch it out, going three days a week for five weeks, players getting up every morning, lifting and meeting on the off days…it gets to be a little bit old by this time so they’re looking forward to wrapping it up tomorrow with a good spring game. Got a lot of work done this spring, and knock on wood, we’ve been blessed with not too many serious injuries. Hopefully we’ll get out tomorrow, get some good work done and stay healthy.”
Kentucky has accomplished plenty over the last five weeks, but there’s still room to grow before there season kicks off August 31.
“We have a long way to go, but that’s what spring’s for,” said Stoops. “We know we have some holes to fill. Guys are working hard. We’re well aware of that.”
Prepare for Big Plays
Earlier in the spring season, Stoops joked that the secondary is making him lose his hair. Finding five new starting defensive backs is no easy task. Brandin Echols is one of the first cornerbacks to step up, but as you’ll see tomorrow, the group still has plenty of progress to make.
“It’s hard to tell right now. We go against each other so much and get a feel for it,” said Stoops. “I think tomorrow will be a little bit of a determining factor for that. Tomorrow they’ll be put in some bad situations. They won’t be protected much, so I don’t know if it will be a true indicator. It’s certainly geared up for the offense to have more success. We’ll be pretty vanilla on the defensive side so don’t go attacking them too much if they have some success tomorrow.”
Stoops is scheming it up for the offense to have success down the field, and frankly, I love it. The more big plays, the better.
Is it Friday night yet? See you at Kroger Field!
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) April 10, 2019
Frustrations from Paschal
Josh Paschal has returned to action full-time this spring, but he’s not yet the same Josh Paschal. Still working through complications from his surgery, the UK defensive end cannot completely control the game like he could prior to his fight with melanoma.
“He’s still a little bit frustrated because if you know anything about him, he wants to come out and be the dominant player he knows he can be. He’s just not there yet,” said Stoops.
“There’s still just getting used to that foot where they reconstructed it and did a lot of surgeries on it. The poor kid — it’s just frustrating for him. So at times I’ve just got to talk to him about trying to be patient, and he is. He’s blessed to be out here. He greatly appreciates that he’s out here but he just wants to play at that same level and it’s a bit frustrating. We’re confident in time he’ll still be 100%.”
Squarely the Best
DeAndre Square had an eye-opening spring game in 2018 as an early enrollee. After playing in every game as a true freshman, he earned SEC All-Freshman honors. There’s still room to improve, but defensive coordinator Brad White likes what he sees so far.
“Great players never get satisfied, and he’s not satisfied where he is, but he’s definitely made some strides. It’s really been a comfort and a command difference you can see.”
No Dead Weight
The talent across the board has dramatically improved since Stoops first took control of the Kentucky football program.
“In general, I feel good about where we’re at. All of our guys seem to be improving,” Stoops said. “There’s not a whole heck of a lot of dead weight here anymore in our program. If there is, they have a tendency to move their way out, move on, so I think most of our guys are progressing.”
What White Wants to See
Obviously, an injury-free scrimmage is top priority. After that, he wants to see who rises to the occasion in front of the bright lights while playing a simple scheme.
“Hopefully tomorrow some guys stand out and flash. In really simple calls, who can stand out?” White said, “At the end of the day, it’s a bottom line business. We want guys that can make plays.”
Mark Stoops and his Wildcats will be taking the playing surface at Kroger Field tomorrow evening fresh off a 10-win season with a Citrus Bowl win. That trophy along with the Governor’s Cup will be on display outside the stadium tomorrow, but it’s now time to move forward.
UK returns a ton of talent and experience on both sides of the line of scrimmage, a starter at QB, a potential All-American at receiver, and a ton of high ceiling players at linebacker. The Wildcats have some intriguing pieces and with eight home games in 2019, the potential will be there to make a big splash this fall.
Entering Friday evening at Kroger Field, here are seven player personnel issues to be aware of entering this football season.
Joshua Paschal is now a full-time defensive end
The former top-300 recruit out of the DMV area flashed playing outside linebacker during his true freshman season in 2017 before melanoma forced him out of the lineup last fall. Fresh off a redshirt season, Paschal has moved to his more natural spot on the line of scrimmage and he will be a key cog in UK’s talented defensive front.
The 284-pound linemen brings great sudden quickness to the lineup and some other raw traits that will only get better with experience gained. Paschal showed a lot of ability as an interior pass rusher in obvious pass situations for UK in 2017 and everyone we’ll get to see more of that this fall.
Searching for a No. 2 wide receiver
There’s no question that Lynn Bowden, Jr. is UK’s most important player on offense and he will be very important to every offensive game plan Eddie Gran puts together this season. Bowden has an opportunity to be an All-SEC player and one of the best inside receivers in the country. But even Batman needed a sidekick.
All spring we’ve heard Mark Stoops address how his program must develop the passing game and to do that they need a second guy to emerge on the outside. Entering the end of spring ball, it appeared junior Josh Ali was the favorite to fill that void.
The South Florida native and former three-star prospect had a 66.7 percent catch rate last year with an 11.5 yards per grab average. That’s solid efficiency but UK needs more explosive plays on the outside. Someone like B.J. Alexander, Allen Dailey, Jr., Bryce Oliver, or fan favorite Ahmad Wagner could be a player that develops into a big role come Labor Day weekend.
A retooling secondary
Davonte Robinson is back for his redshirt junior season and the Henry Clay native will be one of the defense’s best players this season. The problem is UK is fishing for answers around him.
At free safety, it looks like redshirt sophomores Tyrell Ajian and Yusuf Corker are in a heated battle while senior Jordan Griffin floats around when Robinson moves to nickel. At field corner, played by Derrick Baity the last three years, it appears junior college transfer Brandin Echols is a lock to start. Opposite of him at boundary corner is a total guess. Redshirt sophomore Cedrick Dort, Jr. brings a minute amount of experience while redshirt freshman Jamari Brown has been mentioned by the coaches this spring. Junior college transfer Quandre Mosely is coming along slowly after playing primarily safety during his football career.
Mark Stoops has his hands full finding answers in the secondary and tomorrow will be the first time most in the Big Blue Nation will get to see these new cast of characters playing live reps.
New Defensive Coordinator
Matt House is now in Kansas City helping the Chiefs prep for the NFL Draft and a Super Bowl run this coming football season. Back in Lexington, Brad White has been recently promoted and is about to wrap up his first spring in the coordinator’s chair.
The former Colts assistant coach made a huge splash his first season in Lexington by helping Josh Allen develop into the best defensive player in the country. That and the development of the rest of his players allowed him to become the third defensive coordinator for Mark Stoops in Lexington. The scheme should remain mostly the same, but White brings a demanding coaching style to the defense.
In the past, the SEC Network has taken those of you watching from home on the field and onto the sidelines while the coaches do their thing. Keep your fingers crossed that they do this again and allow us to see just how White operates. The new coordinator is making stuff happen on the recruiting trail.
New look backfield
Benny Snell is off to the National Football League and now it’s rebuild time for Eddie Gran’s positional unit. Since 2016, Kentucky has consistently had one of the best rushing attacks in the SEC and for the first time since 2016 it feels like it will need to be a committee approach this fall.
A.J. Rose headlines the group and the redshirt junior from Cleveland has shown some home run ability. At 210 pounds, the former high school quarterback has the ability to pair power with some of that speed in addition to bringing a pass catching ability to the offense. But the big story tomorrow will be about the two redshirt freshmen.
Both Christopher Rodriguez, Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke redshirted last season, but there’s plenty to be excited about. Rodriguez is the best short yardage back of the group and he’s gotten many comparisons to Snell in his ability to move the pile and churn out tough yards. Meanwhile, Smoke brings big play ability to the position and some intriguing positional size (5-foot-9, 225 pounds). The Alabama native has a low center of gravity and should be hard to tackle. Add that with some burst and the future is bright for the young tailback.
Even with Snell gone, Kentucky is built to be a run first offense. The Wildcats want to eat clock and churn out first downs on the ground. They’ll need all three backs to contribute to help replace a program legend.
A familiar face at left tackle
Last fall camp, Kentucky was hit with some brutal injury news. Former five-star recruit and Lexington native Landon Young tore his ACL and was out for the season. After a year of rehab and heavy strength training, the redshirt junior could be primed for a great season.
The prototypical left tackle is up to 324 pounds and looks the part. The Lafayette alum has some legit NFL tools and has the potential to develop into an All-SEC tackle if that knee holds up. With the departure of E.J. Price following the season, it was essential to get Young back in the fold.
I’m not sure we’ve ever seen a UK offensive line this talented. Young, Darian Kinnard, and Drake Jackson were all blue-chip recruits while redshirt senior Logan Stenberg has developed into one of the best guards in the SEC. Depth needs to be addressed, but this starting group will have a chance to be the best offensive line in the conference.
After year filled with 10 wins and some growing pains, Terry Wilson is now an upperclassmen and gives Kentucky some much needed experience at quarterback. UK needs the signal caller from Oklahoma City to make a big step forward in 2019.
In 13 starts last season, Wilson completed 67.2 percent of his passes but more often than not they did not go anywhere. You add that in with 28 sacks allowed and that’s not a good recipe for success. This fall, Kentucky must allow Wilson take shots down the field and see that completion percentage fall a few points in favor of more yards per attempt. Add that in with better pocket mechanics and it could be a great year for Wilson.
There’s not going to be much to take from the spring game when evaluating Wilson, but it will be nice to see how accurate he is when UK lets it rip down the field. Early reports out of practice are that the quarterback has bulked up and that should help him stay fresh during the season. Kentucky is still going to need him to bring something to the table in the rushing department.
By Maggie Davis on ©April 10th, 2019 @ 7:00pm
With Tuesday’s breaking news of PJ Washington’s departure and Ashton Hagans’ return, some exciting news surrounding UK’s own Josh Allen got a bit lost in the shuffle. The Cats’ star player from the 2018-19 season has officially been invited to attend this year’s NFL Draft in Nashville, Tennessee. The draft will take place April 25-27. Only 23 of the best players from across the country were invited to attend. Ten other SEC players were invited.
The first round, when Allen will likely hear his name called, will be held on April 25, followed by the second and third rounds on April 26 and rounds No. 4-7 on April 27. The main NFL Draft stage will be on First and Broadway. Nashville’s Schermerhorn Symphony Center will be host to Selection Square, which will feature the “team tables,” where team representatives will make their draft selections. The “NFL Draft Experience” will be held in the parking lots and areas around the Titans’ Nissan Stadium.
Allen earned over a dozen awards this season, becoming UK’s first consensus All-American since wide receiver/kick returner Derek Abney in 2002 and the first unanimous selection since defensive lineman Art Still in 1977. He brought home multiple Defensive Player of the Year trophies, the National Linebacker of the Year award and the SEC Lineman of the Year title.
Still, his biggest accomplishment to date could come in a few weeks: the chance to be drafted to the pro league near the top of the list. Allen would become the 17th Kentucky player to be selected in the first round (first since Bud Dupree went No. 22 in 2015) and the first Top-5 pick since defensive lineman Dewayne Robertson went to the Jets at No. 4 in 2003.
Go get ’em, Josh!
Just in time for Kentucky’s 2019 Blue/White Game, the KSR Football Podcast is back catch you up on everything you missed from spring practice during March Madness. There have been plenty of roster additions and subtractions since we last saw Stoops’ Troops on the field. Drew, Charles and Nick break it all down and preview the Friday night scrimmage. Highlights:
— What Charles loves and hates about spring football.
— Who will be the second-most reliable WR behind Lynn Bowden?
— The Moose from Fort McMoney.
— What you need to know about each position group.
— High expectations and praise for a couple of assistant coaches.
— How a Spring Game playbook compares to one in the regular season.
— Somebody’s excited for the final season of Game of Thrones.
Get the podcast delivered to your phone by subscribing to “KSR Football Podcast” on iTunes or via Android’s Podcast Addict app. You can easily listen on the KSR App, available on iTunes and Google Play , and streaming online is simple through Pod Paradise.
In April of 2018, Ahmad Wagner was contemplating his future in Iowa City. Fresh off a disappointing 14-19 Iowa basketball season where the small forward played a career-low 9.1 minutes per game, one thought lingered — football.
After weighing his options, the “what if” that followed him since his all-state senior season at Wayne High School turned into the reality of a ten-win football season in Lexington, Kentucky and a New Year’s Day bowl victory.
“It’s crazy because I wasn’t even doing this last year,” Wagner said after Tuesday’s spring practice.
In his first football season in four years, Wagner played sparingly. He failed to record a stat in 2018, but he drew three pass interference penalties on his first three targets, including one that led to a game-winning touchdown at Missouri. Wagner also sealed a block that secured a punt return touchdown for Lynn Bowden in the Citrus Bowl. With his help, Kentucky won nine football games in the 2018 calendar year, four more wins than Wagner witnessed on Iowa’s basketball team.
Wagner played a small role for well for Kentucky in 2018. That role will grow exponentially in 2019.
“Ahmad has really taken some steps, which has been good to see,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. “I actually noticed him the last couple practices, so that’s a plus for us. With that big body, his problem is getting in and out of breaks, using that big body to his advantage, so that’s exciting.”
That big body is one Terry Wilson would like to throw it up to in the end zone this year.
“No doubt,” said Kentucky’s quarterback. “He’s a big target. He’s got good hands. He’s pretty fast. He’s not afraid to go get the ball. Just coming from basketball, he’s been doing a good job on the field learning the offense and just going out there and executing.”
Wagner did not have lofty expectations when he first arrived on Kentucky’s campus. He knew it would take some time to adjust and learn the offense.
“I didn’t feel like I was that good last year. I was just getting into the swing of things,” Wagner said. “This year I wanted to come in knowing the offense a lot better, remember all the teaching points they gave me and perfect that. I feel like I’ve done a good job of that. I’ve shown the coaches I’ve gotten a lot better, but there’s still a lot of room for improvement.”
This spring it’s all been about fundamentals. As much as his height is an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage for a wide receiver. Getting in and out of breaks and playing with low pad level is much more difficult for a dude that’s almost 6’7″.
“They’re on me about it on every single route I run. It’s just some thing I had to get adjusted to. I’m used to running straight up because I’m a big guy. They’re on me every time about getting my pad level down and getting on top of my routes. That’s what I really focus on, the little things they’re telling me because they obviously know more than I do.”
As the game he picked up last May continues to slow down, Wagner falls back on his teammates and coaches for supporting him throughout this transformation.
“To see where I’ve come from to here, just credit to the coaching staff and the players we have on this team for helping me out and really getting me ready for the moment.”
Wagner’s transformation is far from complete. When that moment arrives, prepare to see big plays from the big wide receiver this fall.