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WATCH: Benny Snell Breaks Down the Wildcat with the SEC Network Crew

WATCH: Benny Snell Breaks Down the Wildcat with the SEC Network Crew

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One of the nation’s best running backs spent a little extra time in the indoor facility this spring to shed light on his early success.  During the SEC Network’s Spring Tour, Benny Snell broke down the Wildcat package with Matt Stinchcomb and Laura Rutledge.

Snell discussed how taking the direct snap benefits his vision of the field, he used Rutledge as a lead blocker and he revealed one of the pass plays out of the package.


UK Spring Game Attendance Among Ten Best in the Nation

Kentucky’s spring game turnout was the second-best in school history, following Mark Stoops’ first Blue/White Game where 50,000 people flocked to Commonwealth Stadium.

UK distributed 37,172 tickets for Friday night’s spring game, good for eighth-best in the nation so far in 2017.  If you saw how many people were in the stands, you’d know that number is exaggerated.  Still, there were about 25,000 Kentucky fans at Commonwealth Stadium, better than the 21,000 that showed up to Kyle Field to see Texas A&M

The Cats will probably drop out of the Top Ten after Alabama, LSU, Georgia and Tennessee host their spring games this weekend, but regardless, go ahead and give yourselves a pat on the back BBN.  Louisville had a Heisman Trophy winner on the field and $3 beers, yet they couldn’t get 15,000 people to their spring game.  Well done BBN, well done.

1 Ohio State 80,134
2 Nebraska 78,312
3 Clemson 60,000
4 Michigan 57,418
5 Florida 48,000
6 Auburn 46,331
7 Oklahoma 43,723
8 Kentucky 37,172
9 Florida State 26,649
10 Michigan State 25,000

Numbers compiled by SB Nation and this Athlon Sports writer


ESPN writer wonders about Kentucky’s offense under Stephen Johnson

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It’s hard to imagine anyone but Stephen Johnson starting at quarterback in Kentucky’s first game of the 2017 season, a road game at Southern Miss. Last season turned around once Johnson stepped in to take the reins from the injured Drew Barker and he was outstanding in the upset of Louisville in the final game of the season.

But there are still concerns with Johnson at QB, writes ESPN’s David Ching, who sees a one-dimensional offense under Johnson’s guidance. Ching watched Friday night’s Blue-White game and believes the Wildcats could struggle without a drop-back passer.

An excerpt from Stephen Johnson’s passing struggles create summertime questions for Kentucky:

Johnson held onto the ball for too long, missed wide-open receivers for potential big gains and tossed an ugly interception just before halftime that helped the White team – a collection of reserves – tie the score at 14 against Johnson’s Blue team, composed of starters.

The Blue eventually won 31-14, but Johnson’s struggles hardly provided much confidence that the Wildcats can be more than a one-dimensional offense with him taking the snaps. It might even open the door for a dropback passer like Drew Barker, once he returns to full health following back surgery, or Gunnar Hoak (16-for-24, 174 yards, 2 TDs, plus a 5-yard rushing score in the scrimmage), who obviously outplayed Johnson (8-for-18, 106 yards, 1 INT) on Friday, to wrestle the job away from the incumbent starter.

Kentucky did just fine in Johnson’s one-dimensional offense last year and it could once again with Benny Snell leading the way out of the backfield, but Ching thinks the Cats need significant improvement from Johnson this summer or a QB controversy may pop up.

Read more on his critique of Johnson and UK post-spring game here.


Spring Game Analysis Part II

Spring Game Analysis Part II

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Earlier we discussed individual positions. Judging from a body of work consisting of just one open practice and a spring game with a fixed outcome to evaluate, the following are additional observations that may be of interest.

Special Teams

— Uncharacteristically Kicker Austin MacGinnis missed a makeable field goal. No fret, the senior is money in crucial situations. MacGinnis enters 2017 with a streak of 7 consecutive made field goals. His 257 career points rank second in UK history just 48 shy of Lones Sieber’s 305 mark.

— Punting is a totally different matter. Grant McKinniss averaged 39.2 yards per punt in 2016 which was close to the sophomore’s middling outcome on Friday. McKinniss possesses adequate leg strength as seen when he booted a 50 plus yarder. Consistency has been all but absent and must be improved in the offseason.

Strength and Conditioning

— Prior to the game I tweeted that the UK Strength and Conditioning Staff (Corey Edmond and Mark Hill) were in the early running for Most Valuable Player(s). We’ve discussed body changes on the Depth Chart Podcast in length, last night’s advancements were on display for all to see.

— Two examples are true-sophomores: LB Kash Daniel and RB Benny Snell. First, both possess a desire to advance. Success matters to them. Results have been positive and obvious.

— Presence of explosion or quick twitch body movements were more common on Friday than in last year’s spring game. This could be seen in the secondary and at linebacker in particular.

— Much like the example used with Daniel and Snell, individual players must buy-in and self-motivate for the process to work. At times, players that show little strength-conditioning development lack the desire to be advanced. The term “coachable” is applicable here. Self-responsibility and accountability have to be taken into consideration.

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Player Selection

Some may call this recruiting; I’d rather refer to the term as player selection. Mark Stoops and Vince Marrow are proven talent evaluators as the Cats are often the first to offer prospects before others quickly follow suit. There seems to be a common personality trait within the younger players, especially early enrollees.

— Cedrick Dort, Clevan Thomas, Jamin Davis should have been preparing for their senior prom. Instead, the trio excelled in their first spring game. A portion of their success should be credited to natural ability. But as Mark Stoops talked about after the game, there’s a sense of maturity and purpose that resonates within his freshman and sophomore classes. That does not happen by chance. The “want-to” matters as much as the “how-to”.

— Receiver Isiah Epps, DE Abule Abade-Fitzgerald, OT Sebastien Dolcine, OT Austin Dotson, and DE Chris Whittaker fit this same description. Unheralded by meaningless circumstance and evaluation standards, all have a chance to develop into contributors and eventual starters.

Player Development

On Friday, younger or backup players looked as good as starters in previous years and starters looked better than their predecessors at certain position groups. I’m not sure if the term “Player Development” has a definition but I’m fairly confident that what I saw on Friday fits the description. This team still has a long way to go.

— Obvious player development advancements in Friday’s spring game occurred at all four linebacker positions, in the secondary as well as along the offensive and defensive lines.

— Gunnar Hoak put on a show and is the future of the program. There is depth at quarterback. However, I’ve heard and read several saying that Stephen Johnson was only successful in the Governor’s Cup and did very little else. Numbers paint a different picture. The senior quarterback finished 9th in the SEC’s Total Offense category with 2364 yards, a 13-6 TD-INT ratio, and racked up 197 yards per game. In addition, his 130.95 QB rating surpassed 2015’s total of 112.01.

Jamar “Boogie” Watson dominated spring game action just as he did during an open practice. Watson was a basketball player; football was his second direction. Much like other multi-sport athletes, talent evaluators missed on him as he wasn’t a fixture at camps and combines. Those events don’t measure heart nor do they gauge the importance of sport-crossover traits. We’ve also seen this in Josh Allen and will soon see in a bunch of 2017 signees. Watson’s been on campus for less than a year and has taken full advantage of available resources in order to develop into a potential future starter.

— Consistency in youthful success is also a testament to player development. Kordell Looney is a prime example on the defensive line. DE Calvin Taylor is another. Both are obviously better on the field which resulted from countless hours dedicated in meeting rooms, weight rooms, cafeteria, and practice fields.

— Examples are plentiful along the offensive front as well. Guard Logan Stenberg’s advanced rapidly in his two years on campus. Bunchy Stallings, Nick Haynes, and so forth have all greatly improved since day one.

The most improved player that I evaluated on film was guard/tackle George Asafo-Adjei. Mentally sharp on assignment; the junior’s athletic movements were crisper, more purposeful, and explosive.

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New Coaches

— Defensive coordinator Matt House often screams the word “Strain”. I asked him to define the term. In his typical hoarse, post-practice voice, he said it meant to ask more than just good effort. Effort is a mere baseline; strain means to go further. His messaging has been taken to heart as most all defensive players interviewed during spring practice repeated the coach’s catch phrase.

— The defense certainly strained on Friday. At times it wasn’t successful but schematic scales were heavily weighed against them. In the open scrimmage House blitzed then blitzed some more. His aggressive style fits current personnel and produced positive results. Example, OLB’s Josh Allen and Denzil Ware’s name was rarely called on Friday. Both are considered upper tier SEC LB’s and will be active come September 2nd. All SEC LB Jordan Jones didn’t play. His presence automatically transitions the unit’s personality. Forcing the issue will be paramount; read and react has been replaced by attack and disrupt.

— Boogie Watson is now a known name within the BBN. So is Josh Allen, and Denzil Ware. Soon a slew of highly skilled newcomers will join them in Lexington. All of these players are assigned to Coach Dean Hood. OLB is the most difficult position within the UK defense. Dean Hood is a proven teacher and developer. Perfect match.

Derrick LeBlanc’s impact could be seen on Friday as well. Kordell Looney, Calvin Taylor, Adrian Middleton, Kengera Daniel and others seemed to play more freely and with increased aggression. Both traits that LeBlanc frequently discusses. Competition is another aspect that was a common along the defensive front. This especially applies to the nose tackle position. Knowing the importance of the position to the overall success or failure of the defense, Naquez Pringle and Matt Elam were rotated on the first team based upon play-by-play accomplishment. Looney is pushing Middleton. There is a four-man logjam at defensive end. Competition is a coach’s best friend.

As the defensive line goes so could this team. LeBlanc will play a critical role in this team’s outcome.

Has this been a sunshine pumping post? Partly yes and that’s ok. Things are trending up. However, I’ll say it again; this team has a long-long way to go. As history has shown us, there is a fine line between 5-7 and 7-5.


WLKY Sports has fun with Petrino’s Spring Game antics

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

(Photo by Lance King/Getty Images)

Fans in attendance of yesterday’s Red and White spring game were wowed by Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson as he threw for 346 yards and 3 touchdowns in just 2 and 1/2 quarters of play leading his Red team to a 52-7 victory.

Per usual our good friend Bobby Petrino had to steal some of the spotlight for himself, the Louisville Head Coach would not allow media members to film a single second of the spring game. Instead Louisville would provide TV stations across the city with “usable footage” from Saturday’s game, an attempt from Petrino and Louisville’s PR staff to control the media.

WLKY’s Dan Koob and Natalie Grise were forced to improvise for their Sports Saturday segment, the pair decided to have a little fun with the incorporation of stick figures :


Breaking Down Each Position Following Kentucky’s Spring Game

Expectation management is a measurement that should be taken into consideration when analyzing spring football games. Schemes are basic. Quarterbacks are off-limits for contact. Teams flip-flop players and coaches dial up plays in order to showcase a unit, position group, or an individual player. In other words, the fact the Wildcats finished its spring game with no significant injury should be the only evaluation tool utilized in Friday night’s scrimmage.

The younger players impressed. Let’s dive into analysis:

OFFENSE

Offensive Line

Eddie Gran wanted to see his players maintain 100% proficiency in assignment and discipline indicators. Did that happen? Not really, but the second year offensive coordinator must have been pleased with his offensive line. John Schlarman’s contract was extended with a raise. Friday night showed the BBN why. The Wildcats will again play with a two-deep OL. I tried to focus on individual, one-on-one blocking. Both the Blue and White team’s big guys impressed and at times dominated.

— Bunchy Stallings was solid at center. On one occasion, the junior snapped the football then pulled around the line-of-scrimmage to set the edge with a block against a pursuing linebacker. Athletic move. Dermontti Dawson type stuff. Drake Jackson also proved that he’s ready for game action. Replacing Jon Toth will not be an easy task.

— Guard Logan Stenberg’s development continues to excite. He mauled defensive linemen and on occasion, defensive backs. Stenberg will push for all conference honors. George Asafo-Adjei may be the most important lineman of the group as he rotated between guard and right tackle.

— OL depth is noticeable. From Mason Wolfe to Luke Fortner; Schlarman has two units that could start for some SEC programs. This is the only time in the program’s history that I can remember that being the case.

— Guard/Center Nick Haynes’ versatility also was highlighted as he played both.

— Pass blocking was not as clean as Schlarman would have preferred. But, high level run blocking has carried over from 2016.

Running Back

— As expected, we saw very little from Freshman All-American Benny Snell. And, that’s ok. What we did get to see reinforced my gut feeling that the sophomore is leaner, faster, and more explosive than he was a year ago. And, he was pretty darn good in 2016. Snell is the most competitive Kentucky RB that I’ve seen in my lifetime. Holding him back was a tall task for Eddie Gran. But, his OC told us on the post-game set that Benny grew up from the experience. Snell encouraged teammates. Running back is an independent, individual position. Having a proven star being supportive of other RB’s has to be considered as a tremendous and new development.

— Sihiem King rushed 19 times for 107 yards and two touchdowns. The elusive runner displayed that he can physically run behind his pads in the red-zone. AJ Rose will play a key role in 2017. He posted a couple nice runs prior to being injured from a vicious hit from Eli Brown.

— Overall, I came away more confident in the RB position than I was prior to the spring game. Benny will Benny, but there is depth. Gran will again have a full stable IF Bryant Koback can return from injury. Three RB’s is not enough against the grueling schedule awaiting the Cats. A fourth must surface.

Receiver/Tight End

— True freshman Clevan Thomas was as good as advertised. The rookie caught a touchdown and efficiently navigated the middle of the field. As an early enrollee, he should have been preparing for prom instead of going one-on-one with future NFL safety Mike Edwards.

— Kayaune Ross may be the hardest working player on the team from what I’ve witnessed throughout spring practice. Ross caught a touchdown pass on a fade route early in the game. I’ve seen him run that route hundreds of times after practice. Great example. He should be a red-zone threat.

— The BBN finally got a glimpse of TE Justin Rigg. Vince Marrow has harped on the redshirt freshman for two years now. CJ Conrad did not participate, but Rigg and Greg Hart effectively filled the void.

Quarterback

— Stephen Johnson played greedy. Gunnar Hoak played within the system. The result? Hoak outplayed the incumbent starter. If you’ve followed along on the Depth Chart Podcast or occasionally read KSR, I’ve been extremely high on Hoak since National Signing Day a year ago. We discussed this in length when a prior Kentucky QB commitment flipped to another SEC school and I screamed for the BBN to not worry or be concerned because of Gunnar. Poised, confident, and extremely smooth in the pocket; Hoak is the future of the Kentucky Football program.

— Johnson forced the action a little too much for his and the coach’s liking. Near misses on deep passes prevented the Governor’s Cup MVP from having a monstrous statistical outing. To his credit, Johnson started postgame remarks talking about how proud and happy he was for Gunnar Hoak.

— There should be no concern over the QB situation. Johnson is a proven entity. Hoak is a SEC-level starting quarterback. Having two ready to go against Southern Miss is a positive.

DEFENSE

Defensive Line

-Adrian Middleton appeared quicker and more forceful playing at his new weight of 275-pounds. The least heralded defensive linemen from the Class of 2014 has turned out to be the most impactful.

Kordell Looney is ready to take on SEC competition. Extremely active; the rookie batted down a pass, had a sack, and two tackles for loss. He will prominently factor in 2016.

6’9 305-pound DE Calvin Taylor is developing nicely and displayed additional improvement, strength, and lateral movement. Defensive end was a concern, but with TJ Carter, Kengera Daniel, incoming freshmen, and the return of Alvonte Bell the position should be ok.

-Nose tackle play didn’t match the level of the other two DL positions. Concerned? Not too much due to Naquez Pringle’s play in the latter portion of 2016. Matt Elam, Jacob Hyde, or a newcomer will be needed to step up and into a contributing role.

Linebacker

-Disappointed in Jordan Jones. The SEC’s leading returning tackler did not participate in the scrimmage because of a missed meeting. He’s better than that. His team needs him to be better than that.

-With Jones’ absence came an opportunity for Eli Brown and true freshman-early enrollee Jamin Davis. Davis led the team with 8 tackles and showcased why we were so high on him on NSD. I can now see Davis playing next fall if he can add 10 or so pounds. Kid’s going to be special.

-Kash Daniel was solid. He and Courtney Love may not jump out on the stat sheet or highlight reel, but the pair are consistent pluggers for Matt House’s defense.

Jamar “Boogie” Watson was the defensive MVP. His Friday play was consistent with what we saw in last Saturday’s open scrimmage. We can now project him as a 2017 playmaker. Watson was a basketball standout turned 2-star football prospect coming out of the DC area. Much like Jamin Davis, the kid’s going to be special.

Secondary

-True freshman CB Cedrick Dort Jr. (5’11 170) will never have to prove his toughness again. The early enrollee took on the block of pulling guard Logan Stenberg (6’6 320) and came off the turf wobbly. The very next play he deflected a downfield pass. Respect.

Davonte Robinson and Jordan Griffin were athletic and will make plays this fall.

-Didn’t see much out of All SEC safety Mike Edwards as the veteran had very little to prove on Friday. Tobias Gilliam, Robinson, and Darius West filled in nicely.

What does all this mean?

There’s no rationalizing what we saw on Friday. There are so many hidden tendencies that skew evaluation and scouting that again, the only number that matters is zero. Zero as in no major spring game injuries.

This team is better. How much better won’t be determined until September 2nd.


Spring Game Reveals Rising Stars

Clevan Thomas (18) after his first Commonwealth Stadium touchdown.

Only on campus three months, wide receiver Clevan Thomas received praise all spring from his coaches.  For Thomas, that was just lip-service.  He wanted to prove it on the field.

“I actually want to get a touchdown for the first time in Commonwealth.  I just can’t wait for that,” Thomas told KSR Tuesday.  He didn’t have to wait long.

With 35 seconds remaining in the first half, Thomas caught a wide open seven yard touchdown pass from Gunnar Hoak in the back of the end zone.

“When I got into the end zone I thought, ‘There’s got to be a penalty or something,'” Thomas joked after the game.  “Then when I noticed I was in the end zone, I just took a knee and thanked God, cause without him I wouldn’t be here.”

With 3 receptions for 28 yards, Thomas is one of four early enrollees who played exceptionally well in their Commonwealth Stadium debut.  Cornerback Cedrick Dort had an impressive pass deflection following a brutal hit from an offensive lineman at the line of scrimmage.  Quarterback Danny Clark remained poised in the pocket while calling the plays.  Nobody was a better tackler Friday night than Jamin Davis.

“Unbelievable, honestly.”  Davis was shocked he led the team in tackles with eight.  “I couldn’t even believe it truthfully.  I was like, ‘Man, am I really doing this?’  It was crazy.”

Playing alongside Kash Daniel for the White Team, it felt like Davis was there to make a play every time the starters in blue ran the ball.  It was impressive to see it for the first time, but he said he’s done much better.

“I feel like it’s just the start,” Davis said.  “Honestly, I don’t even feel like it was my best performance.  I was just playing football.  I feel like I could’ve done a lot better.”

Daniel was in Davis’ shoes this time last year as an early enrollee.  He knows Davis has a bright future ahead of him.

“Jamin’s a great, great young man,” Kash said.  “He’s a great kid.  He came in early like I did.  He’s made strides all through spring.  He’s still got some things to fix, like we all do, but I think Jamin really bought in to what we’re trying to do here.  I think he’s only going to go up.  There’s no going back for him.”

There were plenty of other young players who excelled in their first game under Commonwealth’s bright lights: Jamar “Boogie” Watson, Justin Rigg, Kayaune Ross and A.J. Rose to name a few.  Their early success is reassuring, proving they can compete in the SEC.

For the early enrollees, it gives them the confidence to take the next step during the offseason.  Speaking on behalf of his class, the new No. 18 had a message for the fans: “Our class is nothing to mess with.”


Missouri Spring Game Stunt Goes Horribly Wrong

Missouri Spring Game Stunt Goes Horribly Wrong

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Spring football games can sometimes feel a lot like minor league baseball games.  Teams employ a variety of contests to get fans involved.  Missouri’s spring game gimmick did not go according to plan.

During a timeout, four fans challenged sophomore cornerback Demarkus Acy to a 40-yard dash.  Acy ate Javon White’s rubber.

Granted, he did get about a seven-yard a head start, but cornerbacks should not lose footraces to fans in the stands.  I have a feeling they’ll be loosing a footrace or two to SEC wide receivers this fall.


Benny Snell was Hungry for more Spring Game Carries

Benny Snell spent more time taking pictures than playing in Friday night’s Blue/White Game.  The Kentucky coaching staff wisely limited the Freshman All-American’s snaps to only about a quarter.

Eddie Gran said he was surprised he didn’t see Snell flipping out on the sidelines in the second half.  “I was flipping out in my head, but I didn’t show it,” Benny said after the game.

Few players are more passionate than Snell.  His attitude is reflected by his running style.  On his third and final carry, he hit his offensive guard, Logan Stenberg, in the back at the goal line, but kept his feet chopping until he fell into the end zone.  Gran constantly keeps an eye on Snell to harness that passion into focused energy.

“Sometimes I go a little extra, a little overboard, and he tells me to calm down.  Calm down.  I need somebody like that because I do go overboard sometimes.”

Snell described it as tunnel vision.  He’s narrowing his focus, all while learning more.  “I’m starting to learn every position so I can make myself better.”

A smarter, more focused Snell that can catch passes out of the backfield means one thing: bad news for Kentucky’s opponents.


WATCH: Players and Coaches Speak After the 2017 Spring Game

Stephen Johnson

“Gunnar’s really starting to come into his own.”

Benny Snell

“Coach Gran, he’s always on me…I need somebody like that.”

Clevan Thomas

“I don’t regret my decision one bit.”

Derrick Baity

“This has been the hardest six weeks of my life.”

Jamar “Boogie” Watson

“I had to use my dip moves a lot to get around them on the edge.”

Eddie Gran

“We don’t get a sack on the third play of the game, and everything changes.”

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Bobby Petrino has Spring Game Paranoia

As Cardinal fans pack Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for $3 beers and a glimpse of the 2016 Heisman Trophy Winner, their head coach doesn’t want you to see what’s happening on the field.

They are invited to Louisville’s Spring Game, but the media cannot film one second of video from the scrimmage.  For TV stations that need video content, UofL will provide them with “usable footage.”

You can Tweet about the game, you can write about the game, but if you’re a member of the media, you cannot show one single outsider video from the game.

Why?  So Jeff Brohm doesn’t get a peek at the Cardinals.  It’s not like the head coach of Purdue, their season opening opponent, coached under Petrino for six years or anything.  There’s no way for their coaching staff to see video that’s shared by fans in the stands on social media.

In all fairness, most college coaches don’t want to show anything in spring games.  As Eddie Gran said earlier this week, “the meat and potatoes” are finished during earlier practices.  Since most spring games are televised, coaches keep the scheme very basic to prevent future opponents from early scouting.  Since the ACC doesn’t have a network to televise all spring games, Petrino is keeping all cameras away from the field.

Petrino could’ve kept it basic for one quarter and given the TV media something to work with.  Instead, he’s chicken, too scared to let any outside eyes see anything.


Everything Mark Stoops said after the Spring Game

It was a good spring. It was a good spring game, mainly because we stayed healthy.

AJ will be fine. Nothing serious there. It was more of a neck than a head injury. So that’s good. It was a neck strain. He’ll be fine. But what I liked most about the entire spring was we were very physical. We fundamentally needed to get better, you heard me talk about it a lot, at certain positions. I felt like we made giant strides. Today again we were very basic on both sides of the ball. But it was relatively clean football. Physical, but kept guys healthy.

We got a lot of work in this spring, I was very proud of our players, their effort for a long time. We talked last summer about their capacity to handle more. Well they took a lot of coaching for a long time. We have been in spring ball for six weeks, with one week off for spring break. So to keep their attention for that long to be very disciplined, to come in and early in the morning, have lifts, meetings on our off days, and then practice Tuesday, Thursday, Saturday for five weeks, we got a lot of work in.

So I appreciate that effort by our players. We made some strides. We still have a ways to go in certain areas, but I like this team. There’s certainly fewer question marks coming out of spring than in years past. So, I feel like there’s a lot to build on. Our players need to they need a little rest right now, we’re going to be in next week Monday and Tuesday finishing up with some meetings with those guys and some evaluations of their spring and before the coaches hit the road and go on the road recruiting.

So, after that, the players will get a little bit of time off. They need it. Then back to the grind, back to lifting and running, so, they won’t get too much time off. But they put a lot of work in, appreciate their effort and our coaches’ effort.

Q. When you say giant strides, which specific ones did you see?
MARK STOOPS: I just feel like there’s fewer questions across the board. I think that we made strides up front. I think we all know that, I talked about it, that we need to get better and fundamentally play better up front on the defensive line and we have improved a great deal there.

Q. (No microphone.)
MARK STOOPS: Yeah, it is, he’s been very poised. You see he’s effortless at times. And I just like the way he handles himself back there. He throws a very catchable football, he’s very accurate. The more experience he gets, the better he looks.

Q. Are you more happy that he did what he did against a starting defense or frustrated?
MARK STOOPS: No, I wasn’t at all frustrated with that part of it. We need to see some offense. We were very vanilla and we didn’t have the full group of ones over there and hardly did anything out of our third down package.

But, so I thought it was a good game and I wanted to see — fans want to see the ball, you want to see a few points out there. So I felt good across the board.

Q. For people who will be overly excited about the spring game stats, you telling us you teed it up for him a little bit?
MARK STOOPS: I’m not saying I teed it up there a little bit, but it was about fundamentally putting them in bad situations and see who’s going to win.

Q. You say there were fewer questions coming out of spring. What questions do you still have that jump into your mind?
MARK STOOPS: Well, you’re constantly striving to get better across the board. We’re going to put the foot on the gas. After these guys get a little bit of rest, then we got to have a great summer now. It’s a new phase. They got to finish strong academically and then it’s a full steam ahead across the board. So, we have a lot of room for improvement.

(more…)


Saturday’s Top 10 Takeaways from the Blue/White Game

Gunner Hoak is a Spring Game Hero

For the second consecutive spring game, Gunnar Hoak has been the most impressive quarterback on the field.  Elusive under pressure, Hoak completed 16-24 passes for 174 yards a 3 total touchdowns (he rushed in a score from five yards away with time dwindling in the 4th quarter).

Hoak showed showed fans he throws a soft pass that’s easy to catch.  Even though he got away from a few rushing defenders, that’s part of his game he wants to work on.

“I would say that staying in the pocket and getting the ball out is one of my strengths. Something I need to work on that Stephen (Johnson) does well is getting outside of the pocket and hitting that speed,” Hoak said. “I thought I did well. I have to keep getting better through May and come back in June, lift hard, and get ready for camp.”  More of what he said after the game:

What was Wrong with Stephen?

“I was greedy today. The throws that I was trying to make today, I wasn’t trying to do the entire spring,” Johnson said after the game. “I mean, I tried to do a little bit too much.”

After going months without being on the field, he had too much juice on his passes and frequently overthrew his targets.  There’s no need to worry about Johnson, but it’s encouraging to see Hoak apply pressure.

Only One Minor Injury

Regardless of what happens during the spring game, the coaches only have one goal: leave without any major injuries.  They did just that, but running back A.J. Rose was forced to leave the game early.  Stoops said the neck strain was “nothing serious,” but it’s unfortunate his day was cut short.  The injury came at the end of a big play, his second big play in just four touches.

The original plan was to feed Rose the ball for most of the game on the first team.  Eddie Gran said the redshirt freshman was disappointed, but he’ll have his opportunity in the spotlight.

“I felt bad for him because he was very disappointed, but the young man has a chance. He’s come light-years from where he was last year to this year.

Watch the Complete Highlights

Four things to look for:

1. A.J. Rose lowers his shoulder on Darius West, then gets 20+ yards on the first play.

2. On Benny Snell’s touchdown, he was almost stopped by his lineman, Logan Stenberg, but as usual, he kept his feet chopping until he entered the end zone.

3. A Matt Jones sideline cameo.

4. Kayaune Ross’ unbelievable touchdown catch on the fade route.

Recruits at the Game

Normally the east end zone is packed with students.  Last night it looked like it was all recruits and their families.  The early reports from Twitter indicate positive responses from the prospects: “Great day,” and “Great visit,” were trending among the visitors.  Vince Marrow was busy talking to as many people as he could after the game, while Stoops spent some one-on-one time with Trinity’s Rondale Moore.

There were a lot of former and future players at the game.  Future Cats Lynn Bowden and Isaiah Epps made the trip to Lexington.  Danny Trevathan, Jacob Tamme, Boom Williams, Freddie Maggard and Jojo Kemp were just a few former players at Commonwealth Stadium.

How Bout that D-Line?

Stop me if you’ve never heard this before: the first team defense’s leading tackler was a defensive lineman.  Adrian Middleton was a disruptive force in the backfield, finishing the game with 5 solo tackles and a sack. On the White Team, Kengera Daniel had 5 tackles, Kordell Looney and Calvin Taylor each had 3 tackles apiece.

Looney was especially impactful with two tackles for loss, a pass breakup and a QB hurry.  After the game, Stoops praised Looney specifically, along with the entire defensive line.  “We needed to get better and fundamentally play better up front on the defensive line and we have improved a great deal there.”

Secondary Playmakers from 2016

Zy’Aire Hughes started the spring as a wide receiver.  About ten days ago Stoops tried him out on defense to help add depth to the secondary.  It hasn’t taken long for the McCracken County product to figure things out.  With the Blue Team threatening in the red zone, Hughes stepped up and forced a fumble.

Hughes was just one of many from the class of 2016 to make an impact in the secondary.  Jordan Griffin stopped a touchdown with a big hit on Clevan Thomas and finished the game with 3 tackles, a sack and a pass break up.  Henry Clay’s Davonte Robinson added 3 tackles to the stat sheet.

Wide Receiver Standouts

Clevan Thomas (18) after his first Commonwealth Stadium touchdown.

Clevan Thomas (18) after his first Commonwealth Stadium touchdown.

The most impressive performances from Lamar Thomas’ receivers:

  • Kayaune Ross: 3 catches for 58 yards and a touchdown
  • Chuck Walker: 2 receptions for 49 yards (a 30-yarder was waved off as a sack)
  • Clevan Thomas: 3 catches for 28 yards and a touchdown
  • Tavin Richardson: 2 catches for 32 yards
  • Justin Rigg: 2 catches for 32 yards

Why is Charles Walker Now Chuck?

When I asked Lamar Thomas earlier this week, he said it’s because Chuck is much shorter than Charles.  I wasn’t buying it, so I had to confirm with Walker.

“I went by ‘Charles in Charge’ when I was young.  Then Charles when I got here.  LT calls me Chuck because it’s one syllable and it’s easier for him to yell at me.  I go by Chuck now to him I guess, I’m not really sure where that came from.  My mom says my name is Charles.  I really could care less.”

If you’re at home thinking, “Aren’t they both only one syllable?” you’re correct.

The Interior Offensive Line is GREAT

If you stopped watching the ball and just stared at Bunchy Stallings and Logan Stenberg, it was like taking a trip to the IHOP.  PANCAKES EVERYWHERE.  They were great at the point of contact, but it was more impressive seeing them making plays downfield at the second level.  This isn’t limited to Stallings and Stenberg; Drake Jackson, Big George and the rest of the crew consistently moved the line of scrimmage on run plays.

Conversely, the speed pass rush worked a little too well on the outside.  Luckily, there’s plenty of time to fix that before Labor Day weekend.


Five observations from the Blue team’s 31-14 victory over White in the Spring Game

Five observations from the Blue team’s 31-14 victory over White in the Spring Game

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Kentucky Football’s annual intrasquad scrimmage started out relatively slow, but finished with a bang, with the Blue coming out on top 31-14.

Here are my five observations from the Blue team’s victory:

Benny Snell did Benny Snell things…

His stat line of three rushes, 22 yards, and a touchdown, along with three receptions and 20 yards through the air don’t jump off the page, but they don’t need to. Snell was only in the game for two drives, but showed exactly what he’s going to bring to the offense this year.

The sophomore sensation thrived when the ball was put in his hands, regardless of how it got there.

Snell only had two receptions last year, but showed off what he’s capable of in terms of catching passes out of the backfield tonight. After the scrimmage, Snell said he will be catching the ball a lot more this season.

“Definitely. This year I will be catching the ball way more,” said Snell. “Coach Gran has been working that in, and I’m very grateful for that because I want to have more receiving yards than I did last year. I want to better my game overall.”

There were questions about how Snell would be taking on the No. 1 role Boom Williams left for him, but those were answered quickly tonight.

On another note, AJ Rose looked better than advertised. On the first drive, Rose had a 26-yard run, where he trucked Darius West and put the White team into scoring territory. He was banged up in the second quarter (Stoops says he’ll be fine), but it was great seeing the team’s No. 2 perform so well in a live setting.

Siheim King finished with 107 yards and two TDs on 19 attempts, proving he is more than capable as the team’s third back.

There’s a lot to look forward to from the running backs this season.

Gunnar Hoak outplayed Stephen Johnson

No, there is no quarterback controversy. This is still Johnson’s team.

That being said, Gunnar Hoak was phenomenal today. He finished the game 16/24 through the air, 174 yards, and 3 total TDs for a QB rating of 146.3 QBR (1st half) and 181.5 (2nd half). Oh, and it was against UK’s first string defense.

Stephen Johnson finished 8/18 passing, 106 yards, and an INT for a total QBR of 82.8.

After the game, Eddie Gran raved about Hoak’s performance, saying “his confidence has gotten better as the spring went on and he played pretty efficiently tonight.”

Stoops added to that sentiment, saying he was impressed with how poised Hoak was in the scrimmage.

“You see he’s effortless at times. And I just like the way he handles himself back there. He throws a very catchable football. He’s very accurate.”

Johnson, though proud of Hoak for his performance, was disappointed in how he played.

I wish I would have played a lot better than I played tonight,” Johnson said. “I think I got pretty greedy on some of my throws. There were some throws I could’ve easily made but didn’t.”

Johnson will turn it around, but it’s nice to have a capable backup in Hoak pushing him this spring and into fall.

Jamar “Boogie” Watson played out of his mind

Last year, Denzil Ware dominated in the Spring Game with four sacks to lead the Blue defense. This year, it was “Boogie” Watson’s turn to make a statement.

Watson finished with four sacks, three for the White squad and one for the Blue. He had six total tackles on the day, along with a pass breakup at the line of scrimmage.

After the game, Mark Stoops said Watson had a “good feel for the game,” pointing out that the redshirt freshman was one of the team’s standouts this spring.

Other defensive notes:

Freshman Jamin Davis made a massive impact for the White team, recording eight total tackles (five solo) and one tackle for loss.

Kei Beckham recorded an interception against the first string offense.

Kordell Looney was an impressive contributor, recording three tackles, two TFL, and a sack.

Kash Daniel finished with five tackles (three solo.)

Adrian Middleton led the Blue defense with five solo tackles and a sack.

We need to talk about the punting situation…

Sophomore Grant McKinniss had an up and down start to his career, but many blamed his punting woes on lack of experience.

In our first glance at his progress since last season ended, it was much of the same. Inconsistency.

With absolutely no pressure, McKinniss had multiple punts land under 35 yards from scrimmage, with one going just 30 yards. In the fourth quarter, he had one punt sail 50 yards. Spurts of excellence, but far too many head-scratching punts out of the sophomore.

Former Columbia University punter Matthew Panton is coming to Kentucky as a graduate transfer and will arrive on campus after he graduates this spring. Panton, an Australian-style punter, is expected to push McKinniss for the starting job this fall.

For a school that used to be considered “Punter U,” there is a lot of work to be done in that department

There is not as much separation between the first and second team

The 31-14 final score may not be much of an indicator, but UK’s depth is absolutely there. Both sides of the ball made some big plays, but some of the biggest standouts came from the team’s backups.

Backup WR Kayaune Ross led all receivers with five catches, 58 yards, and a touchdown.

Third string RB Siheim King led all backs with 107 yards and two TDs.

Redshirt freshman Gunnar Hoak was the leading QB with 174 yards, and 3 total TDs.

Redshirt freshman “Boogie” Watson had four sacks.

True freshman Clevan Thomas had three receptions for 28 yards and caught a touchdown.

Etc. Etc. Etc.

Massive blowouts in spring are always fun to see, but they aren’t always the best indicators of top-to-bottom talent on the roster. Today’s game was a great example of how the backups are pushing the starters to be the best versions of themselves.

In past years, starters were able to coast in practice because they knew there wasn’t anyone on the roster that could take their spot, and development suffered. Now, there are second and third string guys chomping at the bit to take reps from the seasoned veterans.

We all know what the stars can do, but it was great seeing the lesser-known guys make a statement.


Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR


MUST WATCH: Kayaune Ross Tip-Toe Touchdown

The most impressive play of the day was between two players you’re not used to seeing on Saturdays.

Gunnar Hoak let a fade fly into the corner of the end zone to Kayaune Ross.  The junior college transfer battled Derrick Baity near the sideline.  Some how, some way, Ross was able to stay inbounds and make the catch for the touchdown.  Watch it in this highlight from KY Wildcats TV.