Kentucky’s annual Blue/White game is officially one week away, which means it’s time to take a closer look at how next year’s football team is shaping up at this point in the season. KSR’s Nick Roush has plenty of football info from every spring practice here, but there’s only so much we can learn from watching limited practices and hearing from the coaches and select players.
Next Friday, on the other hand, will give media members and the BBN a more realistic picture of next year’s season. Here are three of the central questions we should look for answers to during the scrimmage.
How much better is Terry Wilson?
We’ve repeatedly heard about the impressive jump made by Kentucky’s quarterback during the off-season, but just how much better has Wilson gotten as a QB? He’s gotten positive reviews from his coaches so far, with offensive coordinator Eddie Gran saying Wilson still has a “long way to go” but is “definitely making improvements.” The biggest difference?
“He just looks more comfortable back there. He’s not moving around and stepping up when you’ve got stuff coming; he’s sitting there,” Gran said. “He’s able to make some plays a little bit quicker and making decisions quicker.”
A quicker trigger could be a massive improvement for Wilson, who often struggled to get the ball out of his hands last season. With a year of growth, experience and practice, Kentucky should see a more confident and decisive Wilson come first kickoff.
What will the offense really look like?
Even with a big jump from Terry Wilson, the offense will have plenty of adjustments to get used to after losing their key contributor, Benny Snell. Kentucky heavily relied on the run game last year, but that probably won’t be the case this season without Snell. Sure, they’ll have A.J. Rose, Chris Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke – who have all reportedly looked solid so far – but the trio has very little real-game experience.
Last season, Snell picked up 1,449 rushing yards. Rose had 442 yards (13 games), Smoke had 45 (two games) and Rodriguez had 43 (three games). This trio will have to pick it up big time this season – watch out for their performances in the Blue/White game.
Lynn Bowden, obviously, will be expected to play a huge role in Kentucky’s offense. A Bowden-Touchdown Terry combination has proven effective already, but how will they do with the added pressure of being the team’s first option? For Wilson, there’s no more relying on a pass-off to Snell or a connection with CJ Conrad. Bowden’s said he’s ready for it, and he’s got the haircut to prove it.
“I’m just working on my image,” Bowden said. “I really didn’t feel like I was presenting myself good for the fans with my hair, so I’m just trying something new.”
Something else new? Most of Kentucky’s upcoming wide receivers. It’s been a fairly inconsistent position during the Stoops era (and beyond), but is this the year the Wildcats find their passing groove?
Josh Ali is the one to watch in that department. He’s earned plenty of screen time during the spring training highlight videos released by UK but, again, can he perform under pressure? Last season, Ali totaled 10 catches for 115 yards. He was the Wildcats’ No. 5 receiver – other than Bowden (who was No. 1 by more than 400 yards), Ali’s the only other one left from that list.
Also keep your eye on redshirt freshman tight end Keaton Upshaw, who has been earning praise so far this spring.
Who takes over on defense?
This one’s really important, as the Cats lost most of their key defensive guys last season. They were, of course, talented on the field – more than a handful of them will likely find their names on an NFL roster in the coming months – but they were also well-versed on how to lead a team off the field. Without outspoken, experienced leaders like Josh Allen and Mike Edwards, other Wildcats will be left in charge of the locker room.
Kash Daniel is a frontrunner for the position, but guys like Boogie Watson and Quinton Bohanna have also earned pre-season praise. In fact, Stoops said he believes the middle of his defensive line is the best he’s ever had at Kentucky, specifically thanks to Bohanna.
There won’t be a Josh Allen-esque player rushing the passers from the outside, but Kentucky will look to fill that void in other ways. The Wildcats survived games last year thanks to stellar defensive performances – will they be able to recreate that magic this year, even with a new defensive coordinator and a defensive roster that looks vastly different from last year’s? As with all of these questions, don’t put all of your eggs in the Blue/White game’s basket, but do expect to learn a lot more about the current state of Kentucky’s new defense.
We’ll get the answers to these questions (and more!) during the scrimmage seven days from now. The team will suit up at 6 p.m. on April 12, and you can get your tickets here.