The spring game has wrapped up at Kroger Field with the blue team (the first-strring) coming away victorious by a count of 64-10. Kentucky’s first-team offense and defense dominated the night, but there were some key individual performances to take away from Kroger Field.
At the beginning of the seventh season under Mark Stoops, UK’s offense showed growth in the passing game and it’s clear the personnel at the skill spots have the talent and ability to be very explosive. This team has a great chance to be the top scoring group of the Mark Stoops era.
The spring game is setup for the guys behind center to have a lot of success and that is unavoidable. Last night, UK’s defense was in a vanilla coverage and could not really rush the passer. This schemed out football game is teed up for the quarterbacks to have a ton of success. With that said, we saw some growth from Terry Wilson.
The junior from Oklahoma City had the look of a timid quarterback for most of last season. The dual-threat quarterback was hesitant on making tight window throws and many times did not throw the football vertically with confidence. Today it didn’t take long to see that Wilson is feeling himself.
On the game’s opening drive, Wilson hit Lynn Bowden, Jr. on a skinny post for a 42-yard touchdown connection. A couple possessions later he hit Isaiah Epps on a deep post bomb that would’ve been one of the longest plays of the season last year.
The junior was playing with confidence and it appears the passing game has taken some steps forward this spring. Even his backup was able to have some success.
After struggling a bit with the second-team offense, Gunnar Hoak got a drive with the ones and went a perfect 6-for-6 on their way to a touchdown in the second quarter. UK’s quarterbacks looked poised and confident all evening under the lights at Kroger Field. That is a very good sign.
Running Back: B
A.J. Rose received the start with the ones and the redshirt junior got a lion’s share of the carries behind the starting offensive line. The Cleveland native showed off some of his burst early and often at The Kroge.
For the day, Rose finished with 86 yards on 11 carries to go along with a reception out of the backfield. The first-time starter showed some power in the red zone to go along with his home run ability. It also seems clear that he has a clear RB2 entering the summer workouts.
Kavosiey Smoke redshirted last season before he arrived on the scene in the Louisville win with a big touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Alabama native was a significant late recruiting win for Kentucky in the class of 2018 and he’s now shown why he has a chance to make an impact this fall.
The bowling ball of a back busted out for an 87-yard touchdown on his first touch and continued to do some really positive things in the second half. For the day, he finished with 126 yards on three carries and proved to have some big time home run ability. Expect him to get plenty of touches this fall.
Running with the twos was redshirt freshman Christopher Rodriguez, Jr. and he had a rough day. The Georgia native was limited to just 3.4 yards per carry while on the white team and lost a fumble in the first half. At this point, it appears that he could be UK’s best short yardage option, but he has some ground to makeup to pull even with Smoke.
Overall, it was a solid day for this group with plenty of big plays sprinkled in. The big question remaining will be if this group churn out yards and move the chains in important situational scenarios.
Wide Receiver: A
If the quarterbacks on your top offense are completing 88.8 percent of their throws that tells you that the pass catchers on the other end are doing their jobs. Lynn Bowden, Jr. got the party started in the first quarter and finished the day with 66 yards on four grabs. But the story from the spring game is what the surrounding pieces were able to accomplish.
Perhaps the star of the day was redshirt freshman Bryce Oliver who did all of his damage against the first-team defense. The redshirt freshman was a three-star prospect and a late addition to the class of 2018. After being on the punt return team that stuffed a Penn State fake in the first quarter of the Citrus Bowl, Oliver bursted onto the scene in his first spring game with 105 yards on eight grabs.
The Fort Lauderdale, Florida native made consistent, competitive catches with most coming away from his body forcing the young wideout to make extending grabs. The staff has gushed about the young wideout this spring and it’s evident that he will be a big part of the rotation this fall.
On the first-team, Isaiah Epps recorded 97 yards on four grabs and it appears that the junior will UK’s primary deep threat. Wilson hit Epps on a 60-yard bomb near the end of the first quarter. Following that we saw him get involved with some possession receptions.
There is a lot of pressure on Epps and fellow junior Josh Ali entering the 2019 season. The passing game will go on how these two upperclassmen go on the outside. It will be vital for them to become valuable pieces of the offense this season.
Tight End: B
With Keaton Upshaw sitting out the spring game with a nagging hamstring injury, we saw only two scholarship tight ends on the field last night. Justin Rigg has proven to be a quality blocker during his career, but today he flashed some really valuable pass catching ability.
Brenden Bates received some quality reps while walk-on Drew Schlegel recorded a nice gain on a bootleg reception. Upshaw will give this positional group a vertical threat to run up the seam and that will be needed to keep opposing safeties from crashing down in run defense. Rigg is a very quality blocker and they have the depth to give the tight end spot some versatility.
Offensive Line: A
Similar to the quarterback spot, there’s not much pressure on the offensive line in a game like this. Due to the vanilla nature of the defense, Kentucky knew exactly what they were going to get from its opponent on the other side of the line of scrimmage. You still have to execute and that’s exactly what the big guys did at the point of attack.
The most experienced positional group on UK’s team created lanes in their zone blocking schemes and consistently gave Terry Wilson a clean pocket. The depth issue needs to be addressed, but there are not many better starting fives than what Kentucky currently has in John Schlarman’s offensive line room.
You really couldn’t have drawn up a better day for the Kentucky offense. Terry Wilson was sharp and efficient while the offensive line had their way with the opposing front. Both A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke made some big plays while the receivers outside were able to create separation and produce some explosive plays.
It will be year four for the offense under Eddie Gran and they currently have a lot of things working in their favor. They need to develop depth and prove that the wideouts can consistently make plays, but as we sit right now they are in a good spot and most importantly healthy.