In the past four years, Mark Stoops has drastically upgraded Wildcat facilities and recruiting. While starting at a dangerously low level of quality personnel, Stoops now has a roster filled with players that he brought to Lexington; however, victories are the final material in his program’s building block process. Will 2016 be the year that Kentucky returns to postseason play?
By the Numbers
— Returning Starters Offense: 9
2015: Kentucky finished 9th in SEC Total Offense by averaging 372 total yards and 24.7 points per game.
— Returning Offense Defense: 6
Last season, UK finished 12th in SEC Total Defense by allowing 394 yards and 27.4 points per game.
— 2015 Record: 5-7
Three Best Players
— Center Jon Toth is a two-time Rimington Trophy Watch List selection and recently was added to the Outland Trophy Watch List as well. The four-year starter finished 2015 ranking 2nd in SEC interior linemen efficiency.
On this upcoming season getting over the hump:
“Yes, of course. That is the difference between this year and last year. All of our guys have really matured, taking it upon themselves to do the little things that coaches normally have to ask us to do. Doing the extra work, getting in the weight room, watching the extra film, deleting those mistakes you have seen from us before, winning those close games. Guys don’t want that same feeling guys have had before, going 5-7, going 5-7, being so close and not being able to finish. Guys have taken it upon themselves, when coaches have given us breaks, to go home and come back early. Just come and be at the facilities, doing things that coaches didn’t ask them to do. Guys really don’t want that same feeling. Going 5-7 and being so close and getting over that hump.”
— CB Chris Westry burst on the scene and started all 12 games. At 6’4 190 pounds, Westry is an intimidating force on the perimeter. Totals from 2015: 36 tackles, 1 quarterback sack, 0.5 tackles for loss, 8 pass breakups, 2 interceptions, and 1 QB hurry.
— RB Boom Williams’ electric 75-yard touchdown run came on the first play of the season. Last fall, Boom rushed for 924 yards while averaging 7.1 yards per carry.
How to Beat Kentucky
With glaring concerns on its defensive line coupled with an inexperienced group of linebackers, running the football straight at the Cats is the most appropriate course of action. UK managed only 17 QB sacks in 2015 to go along with 53 tackles for loss. With very little probability of applying pressure to quarterbacks, routes should have extended time to develop. This process counters its defensive strength which lies within its secondary. Cornerbacks Chris Westry and Derrick Baity are young, but are considered to be future professionals. Unique length and height separates the CB duo from other SEC defensive backfields. Westry is listed at 6’4, 190 pounds and Baity 6’3, 190. Kentucky’s linebackers are young and mostly unproven. This only adds to front seven woes.
Offensively, the Cats return 9 starters. Even after an uninspired 2015 season, QB Drew Barker has been given the keys to the program. Excessive pressure could rattle the first year starter. Talented at receiver, however drops have greatly plagued production. UK’s offensive line will feature a fluid lineup with its strength being within the middle of the line-of-scrimmage. Edge blitzing hampered the Cats production in 2015 and could be UK’s Achilles Heel in 2016.
Stopping explosive running back Boom Williams could lead to frustration. Early run-blitz or twists that result in negative yardage could have lingering effect. To beat UK, the defensive game plan is simple: attack, attack, attack.