Entering Mark Stoops’ sixth season at the University of Kentucky, the expectations have been raised. After consecutive seven-win seasons, to take the next step UK’s defense must improve in 2018.
That sentiment is unanimously shared throughout the Big Blue Nation. Mark Stoops echoed that this afternoon when asked about program expectations in an appearance on “3 Man Front,” a program co-hosted by Cole Cubelic on 95.5 Jox-FM in Birmingham.
“We have some very good football players with some experience coming back defensively,” Stoops said. “We need to make a big jump there because we have the personnel to do that and I feel like we have some experience. Now we’re getting some decent depth, so I feel like defensively we need to make a big jump as far as being more consistent. I think we’ve shown some flashes and done some really good things at times, but across the board I’d like to see the consistency there.”
In 2017 Kentucky finished 12th in the SEC in total defense (426.9 yards per game) and 13th in passing defense (251.6 yards per game). There are a few reasons why Stoops believes Kentucky’s numbers will be better in 2018, starting up front on the defensive line.
“I feel like we’re in a better position than we have been in some years. Quinton Bohanna at nose is a guy who was just a true freshman a year ago and did some really good things. He’s a big, strong guy in the middle there that I like. I feel like with Josh Paschal — we moved him from an outside linebacker to an inside position playing with his hand in the dirt every snap — he’s a very athletic guy and looks really good inside.
“Another guy, Adrian Middleton, has played a lot football for us, but battling with him is Phil Hoskins. He’s a junior college transfer that was a three-for-three (years of eligibility) a year ago who was coming off a couple shoulders (injuries). He did a couple things good a year ago, but now you’re starting to see him with an offseason getting stronger, more athletic. I like the presence he brings us inside as well, along with T.J. Carter getting another year and another offseason under his belt. So I feel like we have some options inside.”
Not far behind the deeper defensive line is a playmaker that could be a first round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, Josh Allen. Stoops said Allen has used the offseason to build muscle, something I can confirm after spotting Allen at Saturday night’s football camp. All the way up to 260 pounds, Allen is doing all of the right things before a big year.
“I expect him to be if not the top, one of the top outside backers in the country. He’s a difference-maker. He’s a guy that does a lot of things well,” Stoops said. “Josh really is the whole package and we’re really excited about his senior year.”
Mark Stoops talked about more than his defense during the 11-minute interview that you can find here. Highlights:
Who’s the Starting Quarterback? Naturally, Stoops responded with a chuckle and a “we’ll see.”
“We’ll see where it goes. Gunnar and Terry both have some very good qualities, look calm back there and make good decisions. They’re getting better with every opportunity so I don’t feel the need to rush that decision.”
Will Ahmad Wagner Play? The former Iowa basketball player and current 6’7″ UK wide receiver has all the athleticism in the world to become a playmaker on UK’s offense, but Stoops preached patience as he explained how Wagner got to UK.
“We knew Ahmad out of high school recruiting him to play football, and he was a dual-sport guy and decided to go play basketball. When he reached out to us and felt like he wanted to give football a shot, it was worth the scholarship to us because we knew how athletic he was coming out of high school.
“Visiting with him when he came here to see us face-to-face, I just liked what he had to say and the direction he wanted to go. He’s a very, very athletic big man. We’re excited about him and the options we have. We know he’s going to take some time, it’s going to take some work for a while, but we feel like he has big upside.”
Is Rose Ready? After a big spring and a promising summer, Stoops is anxious to see what A.J. Rose brings to the table this fall.
“A.J. was a guy that we felt like has an awful lot of talent. He’s been working hard, but he needed to be more productive. He did that in the spring. He really stepped up and had a great spring. He’s working hard right now this summer, so we’re excited about getting back into camp and seeing what he can do.”
During the 11-minute interview, Stoops also talked about Dorian Baker, Benny Snell and shared some old stories about Frank Gore. Check it out.