Five games in, UK is 4-1. Be truthful, raise your hand if you projected that record. In this week’s ESPN SEC Power Rankings, Kentucky is listed at No. 8. I get it: polls and rankings are subjective, but 4-1 is concrete.
Below are UK Football position grades and various rankings:
For the season, Patrick Towles is 96-of-156 good for 61.5 percent, eight passing touchdowns, three rushing touchdowns, and six interceptions.
At times, Towles’ inconsistency has limited UK’s offensive production. 33 percent completion rate against Florida skews season totals, but the Gator defense has proven to be dominant. Other SEC quarterbacks aren’t faring well either.
Overall, the junior has been an offensive catalyst. Kentucky has scored 16 touchdowns. Patrick Towles has directly contributed for 11 of those. For some, this grade will be too high. But his 68 percent total touchdown contribution rate is too high for a C, and his sporadic play doesn’t warrant an A. Strip the name, read above stats and assign a grade. That may help.
Running Back: B-
Through three games, Boom Williams was a top-five SEC running back. His numbers have fallen due to missing the second half against Missouri and not playing against EKU; still, 47 rushes for 351 yards, one touchdown and a 7.3 yards per rush are credible.
JoJo Kemp’s 5.3 yards per rush and two touchdowns have provided situational spark. The power back, Mikel Horton has been effective in screen passes and moving the chains. UK averages 135 yards rushing per game. Take away the 155 lost yards due to sacks, and numbers would be better.
A stat that is not published is blocking efficiency. Blitz pick-up has been improved at times, but lacking at others.
Wide Receiver: A-
Dorian Baker separated himself at the go-to receiver. Other than his 24 catches for an 11.5 average yards per reception and three touchdowns, Baker has punished in downfield blocking.
Garrett Johnson, Blake Bone, and Jeff Badet have also had their flashes of grandeur. Explosion plays are now expected. Combined, the wide receiver corps is deep, fast, and talented. It did have one game (Florida) that it dropped passes at an alarming rate; however, this position’s productivity has only scratched the surface.
Given Mark Stoops’ first-year receiving corps status, talent upgrade alone warrants a passing grade.
Tight End/Fullback: B+ (Blocking); Incomplete (Receiving)
Taco Meat Collins has moved into my upper echelon of UK football player fandom. CJ Conrad has blocked at an SEC senior level and finally had a breakout game against Missouri. Collectively, blocking has been consistent and physical.
But three catches for 55 yards is not what was expected. Simply, tight ends have not been targeted enough to receive a grade.
Offensive Line: C-
Offensive line rotation has been a revolving door of youth. Injuries have also reared their ugly heads. Steady center Jon Toth has anchored and is playing at an All-SEC level. But, the EKU game is too fresh in my mind to grade John Schlarman’s group high.
The Cats are averaging 365 total yards per game. An understandable struggle versus Florida seems more reasonable as the Gators continue to defensively control the conference. Red zone productivity has been excellent. UK is 15-15 inside the 20 and have scored 11 touchdowns in those 15 trips for 73 percent. Allowing 16 sacks for negative 116 yards is a hard statistic to overlook. This group will get better once it settles in on a rotation and heals up during the bye week.
Defensive Line: B
The insertion of CJ Johnson has proven to benefit. Even after missing the Louisiana game due to suspension, Johnson is the team’s second-leading tackler, totaling 37 stops, 3.5 tackles for loss, and two sacks.
Farrington Huguennin has been solid with 22 tackles. Expected strength of the defensive line was nose tackle. Melvin Lewis has racked up 17 tackles, two tackles for loss, and one sack. Regie Meant was improving by the snap, but an early injury versus Missouri has hampered the group’s overall power. At times, UK has gone with only two down defensive linemen which has diminished Melvin Lewis and Matt Elam’s game snaps. Given its level of talent, other than the EKU game, Coach Jimmy Brumbaugh’s unit has overachieved.
Easily the best 2015 surprise. Josh Forrest is playing at an All-SEC level with 49 tackles, three tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, and one interception. His weekly improvement is scary and profitable for his NFL future.
Khalid Henderson effectively filled in for the injured Ryan Flannigan and provided consistency along with 30 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.
In only two games, Ryan Flannigan’s speed and ability to close on opposing ball carriers have enhanced defensive diversity. Denzil Ware’s development is a weekly highlight. Ware’s two-point conversion against South Carolina was a game-saver. This position has endured suspension and injury but remained reliable. Collectively, the linebacker corps has played above fan and media expectation.
Another expected liability, UK’s secondary is limiting opposing offenses to 197 passing yards per game. That number won’t lead conferences statistical categories, but it’s been good enough and much better than expected.
Headline story is the emergence of true freshman Chris Westry. The rookie has excelled. Senior Cody Quinn held onto his starting position after being pushed by several freshmen cornerbacks. JD Harmon has been the group’s playmaker with two interceptions and game-altering tackles.
Safeties have not intercepted a pass, but are leading the secondary in tackles: McWilson with 28, Stamps with 25. The safety pair is stable, which allows DJ Eliot the freedom to dial up creative blitz packages. Nickel backs Blake McClain and Kendall Randolph add an edge. Both are pound for pound two of the better football players on the team.
Special Teams: C
An improvement from 2014’s F. Prior to EKU, Wildcat kickoff coverage team ranked second in the SEC.
Landon Foster’s punting has not been as effective as expected. Mark Stoops inserted his backup against the Colonels.
All-SEC Austin MacGinnis uncharacteristically missed a field goal and PAT in the opener, but has rebounded before an injury kept him out against Eastern Kentucky.
Kick returner Sihiem King has been a spark, and been close to breaking a kickoff return for six. Overall, the Wildcat special teams have been okau, but could be better. MacGinnis’ return will help. In coverage teams, better players running down the field to make tackles increases the group’s status. Punt and punt return teams have not met expectation.
Inconsistency has haunted the Cats throughout its first five football games. However, in four out of five contests, Kentucky has resiliently found a way to win. For the first time in program history, UK’s first five games have been decided by eight points or less. More telling, total points scored for the year: Kentucky 130, opponents 109.
In SEC play, margin of winning is 18.6 to 16.3. In non-conference, 37 to 30. This post could have actually been divided into two segments: Grades vs. SEC opponents and Grades vs. Non-Conference Foes. In conference, much higher. Non-conference, could have seen some Ds and Fs. Ebb and Flow.
Top Five Opposing Player Performances
1. DE Noah Spence, EKU
2. DE Alex MaCalister, Florida
3. DE Charles Harris, Missouri
4. ATH Pharoh Cooper, South Carolina
5. S Brian Poole, Florida
Five Most Difficult Games Remaining
1. @ Georgia
2. @ Mississippi State
SEC Top Five
2. Texas A&M
5. Ole Miss