A little more than 36,000 were in the Kroger Field stands to watch Kentucky’s 2018 Spring Game. Unremarkable at times, the Cats showed a flashes throughout, enough to provide optimism for the future, starting at running back.
1. Batman Found Robin
When Benny Snell and A.J. Rose signed letters with Kentucky in 2016, the KSR scouts believed Rose would be the first to make an impact, with Snell complementing the elite athlete’s complete skill set. We were terribly wrong, however, last night we finally saw the player that looked like a star in the making.
A big guy with exceptional burst, Rose has always had the physical tools. Last year he did not get the opportunity to use his talents because he could not consistently make the correct move. In one game, he missed a block and surrendered a sack. In another, he had a hole, missed it and was tackled for a loss.
Last night, Rose made all the right moves. His biggest play of the was a beautiful run between the tackles. Eddie Gran likes “one-cut” backs. Rose planted his foot and made four North-South cuts to walk into the end zone.
— Sleeper Athletes (@SleeperAthletes) April 13, 2018
Rose looked like the running back Kentucky has been missing. Even when Boom racked up more than 1,000 yards alongside Benny, the changeup he provided was outside of the tackles. Rose can be a more complete running back — he also caught two passes on top of his 134 rushing yards — if he can build on last night’s performance.
“You never know when somebody is going to put it all together,” Mark Stoops said after the game. “He’s been showing flashes for a long time, but to put it all together and play winning football all the time, he’s been doing that this spring.”
2. Terry has all the Tools
In his first performance in front of fans at Kroger Field, Terry Touchdown did not get into the end zone, but he showed impressive athleticism we have not seen from a Kentucky quarterback in a long time.
To put it bluntly, Wilson has a cannon. On a few occasions, his big arm got the best of him. He admitted after the game that he got a little too excited on a few deep balls, which led to overthrows. Wilson was at his best on intermediate throws, rifling it to the target through traffic.
It was a great travesty that we did not get to see Wilson’s wheels used to their fullest of capabilities. Unable to tackle the quarterbacks, he was ruled down with a simple tap on plays he otherwise would have escaped for big gains. We still got to see Terry’s speed. He has a second gear that caused a few audible gasps from the crowd. That could be commonplace at Kroger Field this fall.
3. Hoak is Exceptional Underneath
Terry Wilson’s raw talent grabbed fans’ attention, but his efficiency was incomparable to Hoak’s. Making the easy play is not as sexy, but it has hurt Kentucky’s passing game in recent years. Gunnar made all of the right throws. He took what the defense gave him and moved the chains.
When Hoak’s offense scored touchdowns, he was excellent. In a drive that was capped off by an A.J. Rose touchdown, he was 4-for-4 for 35 yards. In the second half, Hoak completed 7-of-9 passes for 57 yards. The 11-play drive, the longest of the night, ended with an 8-yard touchdown to Josh Ali in the middle of the end zone.
Some might say the offense “dinked and dunked” or that Gunnar was just a “game manager,” phrases that come with a negative stigma. They should not. More times than not, Hoak stayed in the pocket and delivered difficult passes while under pressure. Instead of taking a five-yard loss, the offense gained six yards.
Hoak knows he has room to grow, but he did not disappoint in the spotlight.
4. Homegrown Talent Shines
Lynn Bowden was the best wide receiver on the field, but a trio of Kentucky products were not far behind.
Former McCracken County quarterback Zy’Aire Hughes made his first appearance as an outside receiver. He could not connect on a few deep ball targets, but still caught four passes and a touchdown for a team-high 56 yards.
“He’s getting better. We’re pleased with Zy’Aire because he has some juice and he has some speed and he can get open,” Stoops said. “He needs to continue to work. There’s a lot of details that go into playing winning football, and he’s working at it, and I appreciate it.”
Brett Slusher earned praises for his special teams efforts from Dean Hood early in the spring, but last night the Beechwood product showed he’s not a bad receiver either. Slusher caught three passes for 50 yards. David Bouvier, a slot receiver from Lexington Catholic, caught four passes for 52 yards, including a 29-yarder, the longest reception of the night. More on Bouvier later.
5. Benny Snell’s War on Referees Continues
BREAKING: Benny Snell just got ejected from the Spring Game. pic.twitter.com/uRXsNaZ5nr
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) April 13, 2018
It was unintentional, but still hilarious.
6. Edwards is Everywhere
The Badger did not play much, but Kentucky’s senior star in the secondary still had plenty of time to make plays. He busted up a pair of screens and picked off a pass in limited minutes.
— Sleeper Athletes (@SleeperAthletes) April 13, 2018
7. Straight Kash Homie
In his first action as Kentucky’s starting Mike linebacker, the Paintsville product did not disappoint. Kash Daniel led all defenders with 8 tackles and he forced a fumble.
“Kash has been solid,” said Stoops. “It looked like he lost leverage or maybe missed one or two from what I saw with the naked eye out there today, and it happens. If you’ve got good playmakers on offense, it’s going to happen to a lot of guys in space, but he’s done a really nice job.
8. O-Line Won in the Trenches…
After a few early pre-snap penalties, the offensive line regained their poise and controlled the line of scrimmage at the point of attack in the run game.
“You’ve got to give it to the offensive line. I think they did a really nice job. We had very little movement in there, but some of the movement we had in there they picked up and it created some of the long runs,” Stoops said. “Our offensive line, you know they do a good job. They can move people, and they pick up a lot of things. They have some experience. They’ve seen a lot of different blitzes, different run pressures, so they’ve done a really nice job.”
Prior to the spring game, Freddie pointed out the interior skill from Drake Jackson, Bunchy Stallings and Logan Stenberg. They lived up to the hype. Their push gave Rose holes, and their ability to reach the second level and shield the linebackers paved the way for big runs.
9. …But the Defensive Line has Improved
The defensive line lost a few battles in the run game, but they made up for it by being disruptive behind the line of scrimmage. Calvin Taylor had 1.5 sacks, a stat-line replicated by Kengera Daniel (who had 4 total tackles), and Josh Paschal showed off his explosiveness with a spectacular pass rush.
“He made us look better. He made the D-Line look better,” Josh Allen said of Paschal following the game. Benny Snell said the defensive line made the biggest improvement this spring. “He’s completely right,” Allen agreed.
10. No Tight Ends Hurt
Judging a spring game performance is always problematic. When you have zero healthy scholarship tight ends, it’s even more difficult, especially in Eddie Gran’s offense. The Cats ran more four wide receiver packages in one night than they’ll run all season.
A few walk-ons did get some play. They caught a few passes, but also dropped one into the hands of Mike Edwards.
Kentucky’s offense struggled to find pass-catching weapons during the spring game. C.J. Conrad can fix that problem, if the quarterbacks get him the ball early and often.
140 days until the football team returns to Kroger Field to take on Central Michigan.