Kentucky’s offense has Benny Snell. Kentucky’s defense has Josh Allen. Yes, there are obviously other major contributors, and guys like AJ Rose, Mike Edwards, Kash Daniel and Jordan Jones deserve recognition and respect. But, at the end of the day, Kentucky leans most heavily on its greatest strengths: No. 26 and No. 41.
The Wildcats can feel safe with their run game. No, the Texas A&M game wasn’t pretty, but Snell has fought his way to nearly the top of the Cats’ all-time leading rushers, and his eight rushing touchdowns are the most by any player in the SEC. It’s the passing game that is a different story.
UK’s passing offense is ranked as No. 14 – or dead last – in the SEC and No. 122 out of 129 across the country. And while that’s obviously disheartening, it’s not necessarily one player’s fault. In fact, there simply isn’t that “one” player.
Lynn Bowden is the obvious option for the Cats’ most consistent catcher – he has 27 catches for 273 yards (10.3 yards per catch) and two touchdowns this season. He’s had explosive moments and could be developed into a great receiver if the circumstances present themselves, but he’ll need to work to make that happen. He needs Terry Wilson to get him the ball, he needs good blocks and, perhaps most importantly, he needs to control his hot-headed tendencies. His inexperience creates inconsistencies and his youth can create drama.
On the other end of the spectrum, Kentucky fans have been waiting for (and looking forward to) senior CJ Conrad’s breakout season for what feels like decades. He’s shown moments of brilliance – the pass he caught against Mississippi State was nothing short of perfection – but for whatever reason, he has not been utilized as much as we all hoped he would be. Whether that’s a Terry Wilson issue, an Eddie Gran issue or the team simply needing his talents elsewhere, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is he’s averaging less than three catches per game and has zero touchdowns on the season.
Dorian Baker was another player the team was happy to have back this season. After two years of injury, the hype around Baker had finally returned and the BBN was ready to see him in action. And yes, like Conrad, Baker has had a few memorable catches throughout the season, but he simply hasn’t been that consistent force the offense needs him to be. So far this year, Baker has nine receptions for a total of 100 yards and zero touchdowns.
Tavin Richardson, Ahmad Wagner, Zy’Aire Hughes, Josh Ali and Isiah Epps are all familiar names around the football program, but none of these players have emerged as the team’s main receiver this season. Next year, the Cats will be without Conrad, Baker and David Bouvier, so one of the younger guys will have to step up. Wouldn’t it be beneficial to start going to that guy, whoever he may be, now?
Even if the Cats aren’t able to find that one go-to guy, that could work in their favor. If opponent defenses aren’t sure where the Cats are going or who they’re going to, more options open up. The only issue? Someone has to be able to catch it.
Whether or not you believe the Cats are exercising all of their options on offense, it’s undeniable Kentucky must find a more consistent receiver in order to improve their passing game. Who do you think it should be?