One of the most pleasant surprises of the 2018 season for Kentucky wasn’t Benny Snell recording over 1,400 yards and 16 touchdowns because that was expected. This time last year, we knew Snell was the best running back in program history but what we didn’t know if there was anyone capable to be a quality secondary option to No. 26 in the backfield.
After logging just 15 carries and averaging less than 2.5 yards per pop in his redshirt freshman season, expectations were split on A.J. Rose. The former high school quarterback turned college tailback, the Cleveland native, was ranked a low three-star recruit in the class of 2016 but was suppose to bring a home run factor to the backfield. After losing Boom Williams to the NFL Draft unexpectedly following the 2016 season, the hope was that Rose who could replace that big pop in the lineup.
The entire 2017 season was a struggle for the young back and despite a huge performance in the 2018 spring game, expectations were skeptical for the slashing runner. It didn’t take long for him to catch everyone by surprise.
The tailback scored UK’s first touchdown of the season on a 55-yard sprint at the end of the first quarter against Central Michigan and he seemingly provided explosive runs just like that all season long. With Snell plowing away and providing efficiency all season, Rose provided some burst to the offense.
Rose collected 442 yards on 71 carries and averaged more that six yards per attempt. In opportunity rate (amount of carries that gain at least four yards), Rose posted a very solid 57.8 percent number. In a much larger sample size, Snell had an opportunity rate of 50.9 percent. Where the young tailback separated himself was in the big play department. Nearly 15 percent of Rose’s carries went for at least 10 yards with four attempts going for over 20 yards. When given opportunities, Rose was able to provide the chunk play.
There’s no question that without Snell the offensive strategy must alter. UK no longer has the workhorse back that can log nearly 300 carries in a season and remain effective through 13 games. With a seasoned quarterback and some quality depth in the backfield, the ball is going to be spread around. However, there is still a big need for a reliable RB1.
A.J. Rose is entering his fourth year in the program and after a few years of development he bursted onto the scene in his redshirt sophomore season. It’s now his time to step into a starting role and see if he can become the fourth running back of the Stoops era to join the single season 1,000 yard club. He should get the ample amount of carries to get it done, but his success will be determined on his consistency in short yardage situations.
Snell was remarkable in short distance offense and when UK needed to churn out first downs to run out clock to save a lead there were not many backs better in college football. In these situations, we did not see much of Rose so the book is still out on the redshirt junior. It’s going to be hard for him to be as good as Snell. Rose has to prove he can be a consistent yard churner on third and short in addition to being an effective red zone back.
He will not be alone and unlike the last two seasons, you should see at least three UK running backs receive at least 50 carries. You add that in with the running attempts from Terry Wilson and UK’s ground game will have a committee approach in 2019. Even with the stable of ball carriers, you need a big dog to emerge and lead the herd. A.J. Rose has proven to have the potential and now he needs to show everyone that he can be a reliable number one back in Kentucky’s run first offense.