Week Two of the college football season is in the books and man, that was a fun Saturday. The SEC has one final week to go through before it is officially game week, but Auburn prep is officially starting over at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility after UK’s final scrimmage of fall camp.
This week we learned that the Big Blue Wall is adding depth while KSR’s first high school Game of the Week turned out to be a thriller at Frederick Douglass. We’re breaking it all down on the Monday Huddle.
First Down: O-Line Depth Is Coming Along
In a lot of ways, Kentucky’s Big Blue Wall has been the biggest talking point for the program in the offseason. After setting a school record for rushing yards in a season, the Wildcats returned four starters and three were former blue-chip recruits who have all turned into big time players that will compete for All-SEC honors.
Darian Kinnard, UK – 89.2
Jamaree Salyer, UGA – 81.3
Trey Smith, UT – 78.6
Landon Young, UK – 78.3
Drake Jackson, UK – 78.0
Ben Cleveland, UGA – 77.4
Luke Fortner, UK – 77.0@PFF_College
— Brent Rollins (@PFF_Brent) August 14, 2020
The Wildcats figure to have one of the best offensive lines in the sport, but finding depth in the trenches was one of the biggest goals for fall camp. Kentucky needed to find a new left guard to take over for the departing Logan Stenberg, but it also had to get some players ready for 2021 when there will be a talent exodus.
It seems like redshirt sophomore Kenneth Horsey has locked down the left guard spot and he has a remarkable story. However, redshirt junior Austin Dotson appears to be the biggest surprise of the group. Offensive coordinator Eddie Gran sung his praises this week.
“I felt Austin in that scrimmage. I thought he did some things I hadn’t seen him do,” Gran said. “He really got after it and I was proud for him.”
This is a very important development and it was pointed out that Dotson got the start at left guard in last week’s scrimmage as Horsey was held out for an unknown injury. Both players were low three-star recruits coming out of high school and it appears that they are ready to contribute after some expected development time.
Throw in redshirt junior Naasir Watkins into the mix as a swing tackle who can backup both Young and Kinnard and you have eight guys ready to go right now. Not only is that good for this season, but it means good things for 2021.
Second Down: Matt Ruffolo Time
Let’s face it, the kicking game was not good last season. While Max Duffy set the world on fire by becoming the best punter in college football, Kentucky really had no threat in the field goal department for the second season in a row. To make matters worse, the Wildcats missed four extra point attempts as Chance Poore and walk-on Matt Ruffolo platooned at placekicker.
Ruffolo ended the season as UK’s primary kicker, but this was a very open competition entering the offseason. With no spring ball, we didn’t get a glimpse of the kickers in the spring game and updates have been limited in practice reports. However, Mark Stoops gave us a glimpse in his first coach’s show of the season last Monday when he insinuated that Ruffolo is in the driver’s seat.
“He really did a nice job,” Stoops said. “Actually missed his first field goal of the day, then hit five straight. His last one was 51 or 52 yards and it was solid. It was right down the middle and a long one. That was good to see.”
Ruffolo was 4 0f 5 on field goals last season with a 50-yard make in the win over Arkansas. He’s proven to have the leg and hopefully now the coaching staff will have more confidence in the Ohio native.
Third Down: Jack Expectations Raised
One of the biggest personnel moves for the Kentucky defense this season happened when the staff finally decided to slide redshirt junior Josh Paschal to the defensive line full-time. It was a move many of us thought would eventually happen, but UK was able to do it because of what they now have at the Jack position. Both J.J. Weaver and Jordan Wright were pretty big recruiting wins for the program and each appears to have some NFL potential.
Wright is a redshirt junior from Fort Lauderdale who was a top-500 prospect coming out of Dillard High. After a couple of years waiting in the wings while Josh Allen balled out, he finally got his first shot at playing time and produced as a rotational piece (27 tackles, 6 tackles for loss, 3 sacks). It seems like position coach and defensive coordinator Brad White is content with his progress.
“He made plays for us last year, and now coming in as a redshirt junior, we’re really expecting him to take that next step,” said White. “And he’s really sort of enhanced his toolbox as a player.”
Wright is competing with redshirt freshman J.J. Weaver at the Jack spot which is essentially a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. The young player has his coordinator’s attention.
“J.J. is ready to take a step. That’s what you’re looking for, especially how lucky we were to get to him game reps last year and still have that redshirt,” said White. “I’m really excited about the potential that he has in him and how much more there’s still to tap into.”
White has gushed about the pass rush and Stoops insinuated that Weaver is a player that won’t be in the program very long due to the NFL expected to come calling. At one of the most important defensive positions on the field, UK has two solid options that figure to give opposing tackles fits this season.
Fourth Down: Vito Tisdale and Mike Edwards
Perhaps the most talked about true freshman has been Bowling Green alum Vito Tisdale and the high three-star prospect has been putting in work all of training camp.
Bang em when I see em ?? pic.twitter.com/Nv4btfpDDy
— V7?? (@vitotisdale7) September 12, 2020
The rangy safety has people talking and it is starting to seem like he is going to get some snaps at nickel this season when UK goes to its subpackages to get more defensive backs on the field. The 6-foot-1, 201-pound rookie has plenty of size for the position and had a bunch of power programs (Alabama, LSU, Oklahoma) interested in adding him to their programs. So far he is passing all of the checkpoints and has Mark Stoops comparing him to a program great.
“He’s wearing No. 7 and I don’t want to put that on him yet, but he reminds me of the other guy that wore 7 for us. That’s a pretty big compliment,” said Stoops.
Of course that No. 7 is Mike Edwards who was a four-year starter that finished his career with 300-plus tackles and was a three-time All-SEC selection. The guy who turned into a rookie starter for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is proving to be a quality pro and it’s clear that it is a very high comparison for the head coach to throw out. Not sure Edwards agrees with it, however.
Tell them for me, because I done told ‘em enough. “STOP” https://t.co/9lZFvVCXMp
— Mike Edwards (@M__Edwards7) September 8, 2020
It’s pretty apparent at this point that Tisdale will be one of the 11 on the field when UK goes dime and there is a chance that the true frosh could be starting at nickel. Expectations are high as UK is moving the talented newcomer around at a handful of different positions. After struggling a bit at nickel in 2019, the defense appears to have a future star in Tisdale.
We announced a special project here at KSR a few weeks ago and that was that we would be covering a high school football game once a week and making it our Kroger KSR Game of the Week. This past weekend, we went over to The Farm at Frederick Douglass to see the Broncos host the Trojans of North Hardin. In a game littered with future Power Five players and multiple UK commits, North Hardin running back La’Vell Wright emerged as the top dog.
Wright made a bunch of clutch plays on the game-winning drive and our own Troy Howell had the recap for what was an instant classic to get the Kentucky high school football season started. Next week our team will be headed to the Mountains for another game with some very high stakes.
After a successful first week in Lexington, next week the KRoger KSR Game of the Week heads East
Belfry vs Pikeville
Two state champs going Head to Head. pic.twitter.com/x49LAN5WCu
— Matt Jones (@KySportsRadio) September 13, 2020
Here at the Monday Huddle moving forward, we will be releasing our latest rankings for high school football in the state of Kentucky. Despite having six overall classes, this ranking will not be separated. This is just who we think are the best 15 teams in the state. There is still a lot of football left to be played.
- Trinity (1-0)
- Male (0-0)
- North Hardin (1-0)
- Johnson Central (1-0)
- Manual (0-0)
- Bowling Green (1-0)
- Boyle County (1-0)
- Frederick Douglass (0-1)
- Covington Catholic (1-0)
- South Warren (1-0)
- St. Xavier (0-1)
- Ownesboro (1-0)
- Somerset (1-0)
- Belfry (1-0)
- Pikeville (1-0) tied with LCA (1-0)
The Week Ahead at KSR
The last scrimmage of fall camp means that it is time for game prep. The Wildcats, after focusing on fundamentals and improving as a team, will now be locked in on Auburn for the next two weeks before teeing it up at Jordan-Hare Stadium on September 26th. Hopefully, that means the coaches will give us some insights this week on what they think of Gus Malzahn’s Tigers.
Nick Roush and myself will be recording another episode of 11 Personnel on Tuesday night to recap a crazy weekend of college football and help you get ready for one more Saturday without the SEC. We’ll touch on Matt Campbell’s star getting dimmed by Louisiana and look ahead to spreads in Week 3. As always, we’ll have practice reports available for your here all week and just maybe we’ll find out that the Big Ten is going to actually play this fall.
? Daily testing possible?
? Potential vote — to play as soon as mid/late October?
? What’s changed over the past 33 days?
— The Athletic (@TheAthletic) September 13, 2020