We’re over a week removed from the 2019 edition of spring practice wrapping at Kroger Field and now all that awaits us is three-plus long months until the toe meets the leather on Labor Day weekend.
With eight home games on the schedule and experience on the line of scrimmage in addition to quarterback, the expectations are pretty high entering the fall.
Kentucky is fresh off a 10-win season and Mark Stoops is telling anyone that will listen that this program is not going to take a step back in year seven. There is still a lot for this team to prove before the season begins at the end of August, but there were also some important takeaway to bring home from the spring game.
After some DVR malfunctions, here at KSR we were finally able to view the tape and see exactly how the cake was baked at Kroger Field. There were a lot of good developments and some specific personnel pieces that went unreported.
The biggest thing to take away from the game was just the comfortability level of junior quarterback Terry Wilson. Going up against against a reserve defense, the Oklahoma City native looked calm and poised. It was easy to tell he was confident in his knowledge of the offense and it seems like his vertical accuracy has come a long way.
For the day, Wilson completed 83.3 percent of his 12 passes and tossed for two touchdowns on a 15.9 yards per attempt average. These are robust numbers, but they are not the most important things to remember. Wilson was on target multiple times to different targets in vertical routes. Being able to challenge opposing secondaries vertically will be vital for this offense to take a step forward in 2019.
In the running game, A.J. Rose enters 2019 at the top of the depth chart and the redshirt junior showed a nice blend of power and speed at Kroger Field. In a reserve role last season, Rose rushed for 442 yards on a 6.2 yards per carry average and had flashed some home run ability shown by 14.1 percent of his runs going for at least 10 yards. In the spring, it was obvious that the big play burst was still there.
The team’s top back put up 86 yards on 11 carries in the scrimmage with three touchdowns. Rose will provide the big runs, but he must prove he can consistently collect positive gains when the big play is not there. In the red zone, he flashed that ability by getting north/south and finding away to get into the endzone. However, he’s going to need some help.
Kavosiey Smoke was a late addition to the class of 2018 and after redshirting this past season we finally caught a glimpse of what the three-star prospect brings to the table. The wrap out of high school was that Smoke was a bowling ball type runner who had a some burst to extend runs into 20-plus yard gains. We definitely saw that.
On his first touch of the day, Smoke showed off some wiggle and burst on his way to an 80-plus yards touchdown sprint. He finished the game with 132 yards on five carries to go along with a reception out of the backfield. It’s no secret that UK will be going to a committee type approach at running back this upcoming season. Expect UK to use their backs in a multitude of ways.
On the broadcast, Matt Stinchcomb mentioned that the staff said that Smoke had the best hands on the team and it appears that the goal is to get the running backs heavily involved in the passing game.
For the first time since 2010, Kentucky will enter the season with a bonafide star at wide receiver. Lynn Bowden, Jr. became one of the best slot receivers in the SEC last season and this year he will have a great chance to receive first-team all-conference honors. We all know how good he is and will be, but the success of UK’s passing game will depend on the other wideouts.
On the outside, we saw some good things in the game. Both Isaiah Epps and Ahmad Wagner made catches in the vertical pass game while Josh Ali served as a good possession option. But it was Bryce Oliver who stole the show.
The redshirt freshman and high school teammate of UK linebacker Jordan Wright and corner Stanley Garner was the game MVP. The outside receiver played for both the blue and white teams on his way to 105 yards on eight grabs. He consistently got open against UK’s top secondary players and was able to create separation in addition to making multiple contested catches. He was a bright spot and should received plenty of chances to make a splash this fall.
On the line of scrimmage, it went as expected for UK’s starters. Mason Wolfe rotated for Luke Fortner at right guard, but other than that we saw the ones play most of the game. Landon Young looked very good in his first game back at The Kroge while it’s clear that both Drake Jackson and Logan Stenberg will be in position for All-SEC honors. It was a bit of surprise to see Naasir Watkins playing primarily with the twos after playing a good amount as a redshirt freshman. We also got a look at the future of the offensive line.
Quintin Wilson started at center for the white team and it appears that the redshirt freshman from Cincinnati is in line to take over in the middle whenever Drake Jackson leaves. Redshirt sophomore Austin Dotson received work at both right guard and right tackle. The mammoth 6-foot-6 and 331-pound offensive lineman is a guy the staff probably wants to crack the rotation this season. In his first public action, 6-foot-9, 367-pound redshirt freshman Nick Lewis was used at left tackle and he’s a mountain of a man.
One of those eye-popping reminders of the size of UK redshirt freshman OT Nick Lewis when see him working against a 6-3, 285-pound Josh Paschal… ? pic.twitter.com/N51zHGrFvS
— Jeff Drummond (@JDrumUK) April 13, 2019
It’s hard to fairly evaluate the tight end position because we have yet to see redshirt freshman Keaton Upshaw in action. After being forced to redshirt due to a knee injury last season, Upshaw has gotten plenty of love from the coaches this spring and will be UK’s best receiving option at this spot. However, he was held out of the spring game for precautionary reasons. Justin Rigg continues to be Mr. Reliable and we saw that he can make catches in space in addition to blocking. Brenden Bates is built more in the Rigg role and could be used fairly often in some jumbo packages UK will utilize in short yardage situations. Walk-on Drew Schlegel figures to play the fullback/H-back spot UK often used C.J. Conrad in. The senior is going to be a very important part of the offense.
Beautiful stuff from H-back Drew Schlegel clearing out the Will backer so Smoke can crib this run. https://t.co/m24iO6UNm4
— Adam Luckett (@AdamLuckettBOS) April 13, 2019
Overall, it was a very satisfying performance we saw from UK’s offense at the 2019 spring game. Terry Wilson looked improved, the running backs made explosive plays, and the the ones on the offensive line dominated at the point of attack. Kentucky even received some very solid play from their wideouts.
With Benny Snell no longer on the roster, Kentucky is going to have to open up the playbook this fall. In the spring game we saw Eddie Gran use multiple 3-plus wide receiver sets in addition to use many twins (two wideouts to one side) and trips (three wideouts to one side) formations. That could be something we should expect to see more of.
The Wildcats have an experienced quarterback with true dual-threat ability to go with a very efficient playmaker operating out of the slot. That’s combined with an experience offensive line to go along with some explosive players at running back. On, paper this group should put some points on the board and could be the the program’s best big play offense in quite some time.