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SECMD18: Kentucky Embraces Underdog Role, Details Defensive Improvements and Benny Snell Stars

The Kentucky football team brought the confidence of an SEC title contender to the 2018 edition of SEC Media Days, even though few believe they can accomplish the feat.

“My personal expectations this year is to get this team to play in the SEC Championship Game,” C.J. Conrad said.

“We feel really confident as a team.  Josh is one of the best defensive ends in this conference.  Benny is one of the best running backs in this country.  We’re a talented team and we feel really confident in the work we put in this summer.”

Kentucky returns a ton of talent on both sides of the football, yet when predictions for the league’s final standings are released later this week, the Cats will likely be in the bottom half of the SEC.  Some will use it as motivation, but it doesn’t bother Josh Allen.

“We’re used to this.  We’re a team full of underdogs.  We have an underdog story and we’re going to carry that to the end.  We can be ranked whatever number they have us now; that doesn’t mean anything to us.  We’re going to perform on and off the field.  We’re going to play like we’re the No. 1 team in the country until we get it.”

Kentucky has steadily climbed the SEC ladder in each year under Mark Stoops.  In 2017 the Cats had their second consecutive seven-win season, but came up short against Florida, Ole Miss and Northwestern.  They’ve been close, but that’s not good enough.

“We expect more,” Mark Stoops said at the Main Room podium. “We’ve been close. We’ve done some good things. I’m proud of the work that we’ve done, that we look forward to making a big jump this year. We return some players with experience. We returned some talent. We returned some players that decided to forego the NFL and come back to do more, to play with a chip on their shoulder, to win some football games.

We’re tired of being close.”

Defensive Development

Stoops brought a defensive mindset to Kentucky, but his defense did not reflect that sentiment in 2017.  The Kentucky defense finished in the bottom half of the SEC in every major statistical category.

“It’s definitely an area where we need to improve,” Stoops said. “We played good at times, but that’s not good enough. We need to be consistent across the board.”

The good news: Kentucky ranks first in the SEC in returning defensive production.

“We have some players, not only with some experience, but we actually have some players with some talent. As I said, there’s several guys that will play in the NFL and decided to come back, and we need their leadership. We need to be better.”

To take steps forward, it all starts up front.

Great defenses in this league are dominated by defensive lineman, and we are getting much better. I feel much more solid about where we’ve been. We had a freshman last year play at nose guard that I have high hopes for that I’m excited about in Quinton Bohanna. Josh Paschal moved from outside linebacker to inside. He’s a guy you give him a biscuit, and he can get to 300 pounds, but he’s athletic enough to play on the edge. I really love the way he’s playing the game. He’s very athletic, very twitchy. He makes plays.”

Along with Bohanna and Paschal, Stoops singled out Adrian Middleton, T.J. Carter and JUCO transfer Phil Hoskins as players who will solidify Kentucky’s front seven.

“The Epitome of Development”

Stoops rarely, if ever, gets praised for developing talent.  Today he stood beside a guy who has done it by the book, Josh Allen.

“He’s the epitome of development,” said Stoops. “He comes into our program as a two-star recruit, 200 pounds. Now he’s a solid 260 and projected as first-round draft pick. We’re excited about Josh.”

Allen isn’t the only one experiencing gains.  Conrad revealed he’s the largest he’s ever been in his life.  The tight end will play at 255 pounds this fall.

Emerging Leaders

In years past, there might be one or two guys who are given the title of leader by the peers and coaches.  Now there’s a couple of guys in each position group.

Conrad believes cornerback Derrick Baity has matured immensely over the last year.  Alongside him on the offensive line, George Asafo-Adjei is playing like a four-year starter.  Allen believes Josh Paschal is in the process of transforming into one of the nation’s best defensive lineman.  Most importantly, when the defense lost its captain, Kash Daniel has seamlessly filled Courtney Love’s shoes.

He’s becoming the vocal leader of the defense, which he should be, and he’s taking it to heart.” Allen said.  “Kash is unbelievable. He’s learned so much and he’s gained so much confidence out there.  He’s more comfortable.  He can move better.  He’s doing a lot of stuff that we need.”

Swaggy Benny Snell is “Ecstatic”

Kentucky’s All-SEC running back was a man on a mission.  Before he left Atlanta, he wanted everyone to know that Benny Snell is the best running back in the SEC.  He said it once, then doubled down and continued to reiterate that statement throughout the day.

Snell couldn’t contain himself after his season ended prematurely in a Music City Bowl ejection.  He isn’t mad about it.  In fact, he’s done an excellent job of turning that negative into a positive.

It was a blessing in disguise.  Me being kicked out, more people know who I am now because of that,” he said.

Snell is also using the ejection as motivation for the upcoming season.


Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

24 Comments for SECMD18: Kentucky Embraces Underdog Role, Details Defensive Improvements and Benny Snell Stars

  1. Jonathan40330
    7:37 pm July 16, 2018 Permalink

    Kentucky embraces underdog role? Do they really have any other choice? UK will continue being the underdog until we have unity, especially on the defensive side of the ball, and a quarterback that can consistently throw for at least 250 YPG to complement a reliable run game. Given UK’s statistics nationally last season in regards to its offense, I applaud them for being able to make a bowl game.

    • foamfinger
      11:34 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

      I think the emergence of Bohanna is going to be huge, along with Paschal having a year under his belt. There should be some solid contributors coming off of a redshirt year on the D line, which is where we’ve really struggled in the interior. If Bohanna can at least disrupt the middle and put some pressure on the QB, that could fix most of the deficiencies on defense. Our secondary statistically is terrible because we don’t pressure the QB enough and because our offense can’t stay on the field long enough to give them rest. If we can force more 3 and outs, we should be pretty solid.

  2. Luether
    9:53 pm July 16, 2018 Permalink

    My sources say 6 – 6…

  3. unbridled
    10:43 pm July 16, 2018 Permalink

    Might as well embrace it because there is no other option.

  4. UKinIN
    11:55 pm July 16, 2018 Permalink

    Until UK has the offense and defense to go undefeated at home, they will not be a true contender in the SEC. The only statistic that matters is home won-loss record. If playing at UK means your road team is in for a loss, then UK and Stoops will be making real strides.

  5. CoachCat
    11:58 pm July 16, 2018 Permalink

    How about they embrace defense and tackling

    • Jiminy Crickets
      8:25 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

      I think time erases all memory. This defense was one of the worst in the nation last year. We gave up yards and scores like a $20 hooker. On offense our OL is not expected to be great, our WRs are considered one of the worst in the league, and our QB couldn’t win the BACKUP competition in Oregon and then averaged 55% pass completions in JUCO. We better hope Snell is great this year, because we will ride is back again this year.
      Add in the strength of schedule and we’ll be lucky to win 6 games. We’ve been hearing SEC championship game for 5 years, coaches putting up Playoff brackets in locker room. Truth is, until we win our home games, and stop getting ass raped on the road, we’ll continue to be a fringe toilet bowl team every year

    • Jiminy Crickets
      8:43 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

      Sorry, didn’t mean to respond directly to you.

    • Greatcatfan
      2:35 pm July 17, 2018 Permalink

      Actually jiminy he was expected to compete for the main job but at the time his immaturity didn’t want to have to compete.

  6. Dysfunction
    12:45 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

    Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me forty times, I’m obviously a lifelong Cat.

  7. Sergeant
    3:45 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

    They will be fun to watch this year.

    • unbridled
      4:07 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

      Define fun?

    • Sergeant
      8:03 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

      Nothing to lose team that has some weapons.

    • JD
      9:17 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

      They are fun to watch every year. I hate it when they lose and I want to hit something, but it’s UK football and I enjoy it.

    • Greatcatfan
      2:37 pm July 17, 2018 Permalink

      Chest pains are a riot.

  8. henderblue
    7:50 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

    The game is won in the trenches in the SEC. We have some talent at certain positions. But our offensive and defensive lines is where we need to be special

    • foamfinger
      11:36 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

      I think Bohanna is going to help out a huge amount on defense if he not only eats up blockers, but can disrupt the QB and slow down RBs. It will make our secondary look a whole lot better because they weren’t getting a lot of help from the front seven or offense the last few years.

  9. zoupman
    8:01 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

    Josh Allen is certainly the real deal, but it’s a huge drop off if he goes down. Sure hoping for a good season. Time will tell.

  10. Jiminy Crickets
    8:41 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

    Last year we started season holding SMU, EKU and USC under 20pts/game. But over last 10, we gave up and AVERAGE of 32 points per game. We allowed opposing QBs passing percentage to average over 60%. And we allowed an average of over 400 yards/game.

  11. timer2
    8:53 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

    Stoops has done a good job, but we just don’t have enough good players to be able to line up and go toe to toe with the best in the SEC. For us to win the big games, Stoops has to outcoach the other guy.

  12. Jiminy Crickets
    8:59 am July 17, 2018 Permalink

    CJ Conrad is good, I get it, but in TWO years he’s caught 16 balls for 286 yards.

    • jaws2
      12:39 pm July 17, 2018 Permalink

      Yeah well, it’s tough to catchem’ when they don’t throw it to ya! He gets covered like a blanket every play because teams realized we had little deep threat offense. Conrad will play at the next level unless he gets injured.

    • Greatcatfan
      2:41 pm July 17, 2018 Permalink

      You also have to consider he’s one of the best blocking tes that has that much athleticism, can run his routes and consistently catch.

    • satcheluk
      4:28 pm July 18, 2018 Permalink

      He’s also had 4 surgeries. Tough to excel when you’re so injured, but he continued to play.