When you lose a 2nd Team All-American and 1st Team All-SEC performer you are supposed to take a step back. Guys like Benny Snell, who rushed for 1449 yards and 16 touchdowns, are definitely not easy to replace. His dominant season a year ago landed him not only in the UK Football record books, but also on that national radar, and eventually with the Pittsburgh Steelers as the 122nd pick of the 2019 NFL Draft. His absence will definitely be felt regardless of on-field play because of his personality and the way he resonated with the fan base as the face of this new era of Kentucky Football.
By no means is the point of this article to say that A.J. Rose will become what Benny Snell was last season. That would be disrespectful to Benny, and even more so, unfair to A.J. Rose. However, when you look at our team landscape this season, as well as our opponents, it is fair to expect a lot of production from the ground game.
As a Redshirt Sophomore, Rose collected nearly 500 yards rushing on just 86 carriers. His 6.2 yards per carry would have been Top 10 in the SEC if he had gotten just a couple more carriers a game to qualify. He has big play potential as showcased by a 55-yard TD run, as well as his electrifying 75-yard scamper to the house against Louisville. His talent was flashed throughout the season a year ago, and now as the featured running back there is no reason to think he won’t eclipse the 1000-yard mark by likely doubling his carriers.
The biggest reason for optimism, though, about the running game isn’t the talent of A.J. Rose. This offensive line is going to be nasty. Landon Young, at 6’7” 324lbs, is back from injury and ready to build off of two strong years of experience. The former top high school recruit will protect Terry’s blindside along with veteran Logan Stenberg. The Senior is a stud and comes into his final season with 26 consecutive starts. In the middle we have Drake Jackson, another All-SEC level performer with 20 straight starts under his belt. On the right side of the line there is less experience, but still plenty of size and talent. 6’6” 304lbs Junior Luke Fortner is a physical Guard who has gotten reps over the last couple of seasons and Tackle Darian Kinnard is a former 4-star recruit that started 2 of the last 3 games a season ago. All told, this Offensive Line group has the chance to not only be one of the best in the SEC, but also the country.
When you take a look at the schedule, things don’t look too bad either. Only 3 teams were in the Top 50 in defensive rushing yards per game a season ago; the best of which, Mississippi State, gave up 270 yards and 4 TDs to the ‘Cats. Eight of Kentucky’s opponents gave up over 150 rushing yards per game, with 4 of those giving up at least 194 yards per game. Obviously, rosters and scheme can change, but this at least gives another reason for optimism about our rushing attack this fall.
Filling the shoes of Benny Snell will likely be impossible, and that shouldn’t really even be the goal. However, with a Running Back as talented as A.J. Rose, along with a very good, experience offensive line and a favorable schedule there is reason to believe that the transition will be smoother than one may think.