The first week of ball practice is in the books and it appears that UK heads into the last full week of August unscathed and that is some good news. South Carolina can’t say the same after potentially losing their best offensive player to a torn ACL. This week on the Monday Huddle, it’s time to focus on the feedback we got from the coaches in addition to reactions to the schedule the league office released on Monday.
We learned on Saturday that three players tested positive for COVID-19 this week, but Mark Stoops gave off the impression that it’s nothing to worry about right now. However, it’s something we will all be monitoring moving forward. As far as good news, the early returns on wide receiver and the class of 2020 seem to be very good and that is very pleasant news.
Now let’s step into Volume II on the Monday Huddle as the Wildcats are just 33 days away from taking on Auburn for just the third time since 2009.
First Down: Bryce Oliver’s Importance
In last year’s spring game, a redshirt freshman named Bryce Oliver stole the show with eight grabs for 105 yards and a touchdown on a 100 percent catch rate. He made plays all over the field and had many people very excited about his potential entering 2019. He built on that momentum in the season opener with a very nice catch for a score on a slot fade.
However, the passing game disappeared last year as we all know and Oliver finished the season with just six catchers for 111 yards. The former low three-star prospect from South Florida is impressing folks early and he could be considered the favorite to take over an outside wide receiver spot with Josh Ali moving to the slot on a more full-time basis.
This week we heard both Mark Stoops and Eddie Gran chime in on Oliver’s importance in the offense. The head coach commented on his ability to be an outside threat stating that, “We need Bryce to emerge”. Gran also has some big expectations for the guy he was a lead recruiter on, “It’s going to come down to consistency. He has all the tools.”
The questions still loom large at wideout, but the staff is hopeful that No. 85 can provide some answers.
Second Down: Kentucky Got a Good Draw
The fine folks at the SEC offices in Birmingham released the full 10-game gauntlet to us this past Monday and Paul Finebaum let us know UK would be making a trip to the Plains to start things off. What followed was a very favorable first month of the season with the chance to gobble up some wins before back-to-back road trips to Tuscaloosa and Gainesville to end November.
— Southeastern Conference (@SEC) August 17, 2020
However, you couldn’t ask for a much better layout if you’re Kentucky. You get divisional opponents Georgia and Tennessee in sandwich spots while a tough road trip to Auburn is followed by winnable home games against Ole Miss and Mississippi State. There’s no denying it is a gauntlet, but it should break well for a Kentucky team that is as good as any in program history on paper.
We did all of y’all a favor and broke down each game and predicted how the full season would shakeout. Kentucky producing the second winning conference record in three years with a win over Georgia for the first time in over a decade would certainly be considered a success in Lexington.
Third Down: Class of 2020 Shines
Thanks in part to the momentum created during a double-digit win season in 2018, the Wildcats were able to get hot on the recruiting trailing by pulling in the highest ranked class in program history for 2020. UK went to 11 different states and reeled in seven blue-chip prospects to go along with 11 high three-star players for a monster talent influx.
We are starting to see that payoff, but the early buzz hasn’t been about the highest ranked player to come to Lexington since Micah Johnson.
— Nick Roush (@RoushKSR) August 21, 2020
Bowling Green product Vito Tisdale seemed to be the star in the first week of training camp as he recorded two interceptions in Thursday’s practice. The high three-star prospect saw a late recruiting movement after he was a consensus top-200 prospect before his senior season, but he is making some plays early. “It kind of surprised everybody but the thing is before practice, he told me he was going to get two interceptions today,” redshirt junior cornerback Cedrick Dort said, “so I’m very proud of him.”
Individually, we heard Eddie Gran say positive things about new wideouts Izayah Cummings, Mike Drennen II and Earnest Sanders IV. Beau Allen has not disappointed at quarterback with Mark Stoops claiming the freshman is “exactly who we thought he was”. As expected, the new haul at defensive line is passing the look test according to defensive coordinator Brad White.
“It’s a talented group. When the four of them all walk out, you’re like, WOW. That doesn’t look like a true freshman class. They have really good girth to them, good size. Big people are still big in the fourth quarter and that’s sort of our mantra. But like anything, when you walk in and you’re a true freshman, there’s a learning curve. You’re not just the biggest one anymore. There’s a lot of big bodies out there. We’re lucky enough to go against one of the best O-lines in the country every single day, so it makes us better up front. The competition is great.”
They are not pumping the brakes.
.@UKCoachStoops on the freshmen class, "I'm not going to hold those guys back. If they can help us they're going to be out there playing."
Full press conference: https://t.co/gK3fZwWNgA pic.twitter.com/5xXfgXXwBA
— UK Sports Network (@UKSportsNetwork) August 22, 2020
Fourth Down: Pushing Quinton Bohanna
One of the main reasons expectations are so high for Kentucky this season is what they have in the trenches. Everyone knows about the Big Blue Wall, but confidence is high for the defensive line despite losing 10.5 sacks, 5 non-sack tackles for loss, 3 forced fumbles and 4 pass break-ups combined from departing seniors T.J. Carter and Calvin Taylor Jr. The optimism is high for this group because of the return of senior nose Quinton Bohanna.
The Memphis area native has most certainly outplayed his low three-star ranking and Phil Steele had him listed as a second team preseason All-SEC selection. However, his defensive coordinator needs more from the anchor of the defense.
“Quinton and I have had quite a few talks because I have very lofty expectations for what he can be for us. I will not shy away from that and he doesn’t want me to shy away from the fact that we need more out of him and I expect more. It’s not about being a one-play or a two-play a game that looks good in a highlight film. It has to be consistent down in and down out.”
What White is asking for is up to your own individual interpretation. From where I sit, it certainly seems like the staff wants more than 18 tackles in 13 games. Yes, Bohanna is asked to serve as the anchor and to command double-teams so that UK’s inside linebackers can roam free. However, more playmaking from this spot would be an added bonus for the defense and we’ve seen Bohanna do it in the past just in very small doses. I think they want more havoc caused by the nose position this fall.
The Week Ahead At KSR
As always, Nick Roush will have his virtual boots on the ground to keep us updated on everything when UK has their multiple media availability opportunities this week. UK is going up to four practices this week and the pads will be on. On Saturday, we should have a scrimmage report as the depth chart will start to become finalized. If you’re not already, be sure you’re checking out the Virtual Preseason Notebook.
This week, I’ll be diving into some numbers and producing some betting trends you need to be aware of this season. For any of you parlay players out there, this will be some much needed info that will hopefully give you an edge when making your picks. A new episode of 11 Personnel will be dropping soon as we talk out what we’ve from practice and what is being said at other training camps around the SEC. The season is getting closer by the day.
Will UK crack the preseason top 25 for the first time 1978 when it is released at noon?