The Blue Team won 31-20. Drew Barker was named the starting quarterback. There were no significant injuries. I got to say it was a good day.
On Saturday, Mark Stoops trotted out his most talented and deepest roster to date. As players intermixed between the Blue and White Team, collective results varied. As we discussed last night, individual achievement within the framework of a team environment was the major means for evaluation. But to make it fun, let’s dive into both sides of the football and assign position group grades.
Other than a second half reverse, Eddie Gran called an ultra-conservative and simplistic game. However, it didn’t take long to recognize his emphasis on the power run. Kentucky is considerably improved on this side of the football.
Drew Barker (12-18 156 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT) was steady, comfortable, confident, and in command of the offense. Minus the off-target back shoulder fade interception, the sophomore was steady. Stephen Johnson (6-13 135 yards, 1 TD) showcased his elusiveness on the run and extended drives through the air. True freshman Gunnar Hoak finished 4-5 with a touchdown. The kid’s a gamer.
Barker’s holistic resurgence is to be commended. Overall, QB Coach Darrin Hinshaw’s imprint was obvious. UK passers were poised in the pocket while utilizing upgraded mechanics.
Running Back: A-
Just as Darrin Hinshaw influenced quarterback performance, Eddie Gran has revived a talented, but at times mystifying collection of running backs. Sihiem King’s development was noticeable as the sophomore had eleven carries for 95 yards and a touchdown. The ever-reliable JoJo Kemp averaged nearly ten yards per carry. Mikel Horton will have a role. Add Boom Williams who did not participate along with two highly touted freshmen and you have a position group that is reminiscent of the Jerry Claiborne teams that annually produced NFL rushers.
Offensive Line: B-
I should have broken this group into two segments: Interior and exterior offensive linemen. For both the Blue and White Team, guards and centers dominated the line of scrimmage. Center Jon Toth did Jon Toth things. The senior is the best center in the Southeastern Conference. Ramsey Meyers and Nick Haynes were consistent, but the story was the white team big fellas. George Asafo-Adjei was excellent, as were Logan Stenberg, Bunchy Stallings, and Drake Jackson. At times, the first team defensive line was no match for the second teamers.
Kentucky measures as the second largest offensive line in the Southeastern Conference. Cole Mosier and that big body more than held his ground at left tackle. Senior Kyle Meadows surrendered an early sack, but recovered to post a better finish. Tate Leavitt and Mason Wolfe played their first “game” in Commonwealth Stadium. It showed. While both will improve, finding the third offensive tackle is highly imperative. Landon Young enrolls in June. Possibly, Logan Stenberg moves outside. Regardless of how or who, tackle depth is an offseason priority.
Dorian Baker and Blake Bone did not participate. Dakota Holtzclaw played with an injured wrist and Charles Walker caught passes with a cast on his arm. Ryan Timmons validated coaches’ claims that he’s rediscovered his signing day reputation by snagging three passes for 99 yards and a touchdown. Jeff Badet flew; three catches 107 yards with a touchdown. Garrett Johnson will take off in September. Walk-ons David Bouvier and Kynan Smith registered receptions. Redshirt freshmen Jabari Greenwood and Tavin Richardson showed flashes. Unfortunately, drops continued, but given the injured limbs of the pass catchers, I gave them a miniscule break. No pun intended.
Tight End: A
Wearing a semi-cast on his hand, Greg Hart caught a pass and physically blocked. Hart’s a tough guy; I like tough guys. CJ Conrad reminded the BBN why they are excited about his talents by catching three passes, including a crowded touchdown. With Eddie Gran playing his cards close to the vest, it’s unknown if multiple TE sets will be featured. With the addition of Darryl Long, the TE position is deep and skilled.
Cornerbacks are elite and provide a safety net for defensive deficiencies. Safeties are physical and forceful tacklers. Linebackers pleasantly surprised. But, as expected the defensive line needs work and improvement. Collectively, DJ Eliot’s defense is more athletic than in 2015.
Defensive Line: C
On the first White Team offensive play, Bunchy Stallings and George Asafo-Adjei double-teamed Matt Elam and moved the NT three yards out of his run-lane responsibility. Regie Meant factored, but at times was consumed by backup offensive linemen. Courtney Miggins appeared more comfortable than in the past but did not register on the stat sheet. Kengera Daniel impressed and actively pursued the quarterback. While limited defensive scheme can inhibit production, one-on-one matchups mostly favored the offense. Defensive line is the top area of concern going into the 2016 season.
A low grade was assigned for the inside linebacker’s first portion of the scrimmage performance. However, Jordan Jones and Courtney Love progressively improved with each series. With 15 tackles, four quarterback sacks and five tackles for loss, Denzil Ware was the star of the game. Josh Allen battled through an early-spring practice shoulder injury. I expect him to be another pass rush specialist that can also play in space. Di’Niro Laster played three linebacker positions. Kobie Walker registered a sack. Like Jordan Jones, Eli Brown improved with every snap. Overall, I was pleasantly surprised.
Defensive Back: A
Chris Westry and Derrick Baity are special. Both toyed with receivers and will be difficult matchups. In the post-game show, Mark Stoops said that Mike Edwards is possibly the best player on his football team. Edwards did not participate. Freshman Marcus Walker was welcomed to the SEC by JoJo Kemp but is promising. Darius West and Marcus McWilson are physical tacklers while Nickel’s Blake McClain and Kendall Randolph can play multiple positions. Steve Clinkscale’s group is the most talented collection of defensive backs I’ve seen in Lexington in many years. To compensate for the lack of defensive line pass rush, UK has the talent to lock up receivers in man-to-man coverage. This will allow pass rushers additional time to influence quarterbacks.
What does all this mean?
Not a whole heck of a lot. I’ve watched eight spring games. All were plain, a little boring, and not indicative of pending fall performance. Simply stated, Kentucky is better. Two concerns remain: identifying the third offensive tackle and interior defensive line play. I left Commonwealth Stadium encouraged.