Well, cocktail hour is over and the appetizers have been gobbled up. The orders have been placed and the waiter is bringing out the big daddy steak. After three weeks of college football, the SEC is set to strap it up this Saturday and now it feels like college football is starting.
This week at the Monday Huddle we are here to get you ready for the big nooner on Saturday when UK heads to the Plains for the first time since 2009 to face Auburn in a series they trail by a count of 26-6-1. It’ll be just the second time Kentucky has played Auburn under Mark Stoops and the last three games between the two programs have been decided by one-possession. It’s time to buckle up and get ready for some smash mouth football.
First Down: Stoops Talks and Two-Deep
Tomorrow our own Nick Roush will be virtually present as Mark Stoops addresses the media for his first game week press conference of the 2020 season. Just prior to getting behind the mic, Kentucky will release their first depth chart of the season as the game notes are released and we’ll finally get to see how some of the position battles shook out.
We took a stab at it ourselves to predict what the two-deep will look like. We should not expect too many surprises as the Wildcats return 16 starters and know exactly who they are as a football team. The biggest updates outside of that will come from Stoops about game planning for Auburn and exactly what the current state of COVID-19 is within the program.
We have seen many game postponements throughout the first couple of weeks and Auburn has had a ton of issues throughout their fall camp. Last week Stoops stated that one of his position groups was stretched thin due to coronavirus and the hope is most everyone will be ready to play on Saturday.
Second Down: Know the Foe
This part of the Monday Huddle will serve as your introductory to the upcoming opponent. The Scouting Report post that drops on Thursday will get much, much more in-depth but we want to help get you ready for the ballgame on Saturday by telling you everything you need to know right now.
Gus Malzahn is entering year eight at Auburn and owns a .667 winning percentage in 93 games with two SEC West titles and a national championship game appearance in his first season. The former offensive savant that was really the first SEC coach to cash in on up-tempo offense has dealt with a bunch of issues lately. Former Arkansas head coach Chad Morris is calling plays this year and he is Auburn’s fourth different offensive play-caller in the last five seasons. That instability has shown up on the field as the Tigers have just one top-25 offensive efficiency finish in that run and that was with a team that lost five games. The hope is Morris can tap into the talent of former five-star quarterback Bo Nix.
Notable QBs with a sub-65.0 grade last season:
?? Bo Nix, Auburn
?? Ryan Hilinski, South Carolina
?? JT Daniels, USC (2018, injured) pic.twitter.com/QbPc0hRXPW
— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 3, 2020
To a lot of people’s surprise, this has become a defensive program and under defensive coordinator Kevin Steele the Tigers have been lights out. The Tigers have finished in the top-20 in efficiency every year he’s been here and the last three seasons we saw them finish in the top-six. Steele is one of the best coordinators in college football and he’s paid like it. However, Auburn lost a bunch of star power from the defensive line and the secondary. They will be looking for a lot of answers when they take the field on Saturday.
Per the folks at Circa Sports, Auburn opened as a 10-point favorite with a total 47.5. That’s a project final score around 29-19. A slugfest is expected and UK has played well as a dog in similar spots in the past.
College Football ?
Week 4 Opening Lines pic.twitter.com/YzSttGsOTC
— Circa Sports (@CircaSports) September 20, 2020
Third Down: Big Blue Wall vs. Rebuilt Front
This has been the offseason of Kentucky’s offensive line. The Wildcats return four starters from last year’s group and many, many people expect John Schlarman’s unit to be one of the best offensive lines in college football this season. The Wildcats have a Rimington Trophy candidate at center and two blue-chip tackles that will be draft picks in the 2021 NFL Draft. Add in an experienced right guard and all the pieces are there for this to be a dominant group. Now they have to go prove it.
Auburn lost six players to the NFL Draft off of the 2019 roster and four of those guys were line of scrimmage players. There were three top-50 picks and each of them were on the defensive side of the ball. The top two picks were on the defensive line. Derrick Brown and Marlon Davidson combined for 103 tackles, 13.5 non-sack tackles for loss, 11.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and three pass break-ups. Plus, Derrick Brown had one of the best what-if moments in the football season last year.
Auburn will still have two former top-200 recruits starting on it’s hybrid front thanks to their Buck position acting as both a defensive end and outside linebacker. Big Kat Bryant (yes, you read that right) will be lined up there and expectations are high. There is still talent, but that gaping hole is going to be very difficult to replace.
UK’s offensive line will enter the game with a pretty substantial on paper advantage at the line of scrimmage and they need to cash in on that within the white lines. The Wildcats cannot win this game unless their offensive line controls the game.
Fourth Down: Expectations for Terry Wilson
Saturday will be the return of UK’s QB1 and it will be Terry Wilson’s first football game in over a year. Expectations around the program and the Big Blue Nation are very high for the senior. All reports out of camp have been positive, but now it’s about to get real. Wilson will be set to take his first hit in over a year and in his last two debuts we have seen Jekyll and Hyde.
2018 vs. Central Michigan: 11/18, 61.1%, 78 yards, 4.3 yards per attempt, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions
2019 vs. Toledo: 19/26, 73.1%, 246 yards, 9.5 yards per attempt, 2 touchdowns, 0 interceptions
In the openers, we have seen the best and the worst of Wilson and that was against two teams that both finished near the bottom in the MAC. It will be a different story going up against an inexperienced, but talented Auburn defense this weekend. Kentucky doesn’t need him to be a superstar, but he will need to be better than a game manager.
UK will ride its offensive line and running backs, but some playmaking will be needed from their senior quarterback. Wilson will have to make some throws and trust his legs to move the chains on timely third downs. Oh, and ball security. Kentucky will only go as far as their quarterback can take them and Saturday will be the first big test.
Another KSR Game of the Week presented by Kroger is in the books and we had a thriller in the Mountains. Belfry and Pikeville is one of the best rivalries in the state and they treated us to another thriller.
— Troy Howell (@teeroyhowell) September 19, 2020
For the first time since 2000, Pikeville knocked off Belfry for the second time in a row as the Panthers are looking to repeat in class 2A. Meanwhile, the famous run only offense at Belfry threw a touchdown pass to everyone’s surprise as the game went back and forth. The Pirates suffered a tough loss, but they are a legit contender in 3A and it would be a surprise if they didn’t make it to Kroger Field for the state championship.
For Week Three, KSR will be heading to Northern Kentucky where No. 15 Simon Kenton will be hosting No. 2 Johnson Central in a 6A vs. 4A matchup. Here is how we have the state looking heading into a big week.
- Johnson Central
- North Hardin
- Boyle County
- Bowling Green
- Frederick Douglass
- South Warren
- St. Xavier
- Covington Catholic
- Simon Kenton
Meanwhile, UK quarterback commit Kaiya Sheron had a very big night leading Somerset as he threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns on just 21 throws in a blowout victory over Williamsburg.
The Week Ahead at KSR
Nick Roush will be present at UK’s virtual luncheon later today when Stoops speaks with the media. Once we get our hands on it, the depth chart will be live for you to see at KSR and I’m sure there will be plenty of reactions. We’ll have boots on the ground at each practice session on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday as we hear from both coordinators and a few players. Multiple podcasts we’ll be dropped and a packed Scouting Report will be yours to consume on Thursday afternoon.
SEC football is coming.