Has Mark Stoops built the Kentucky program into a position where it can sustain success?
This season should provide the perfect opportunity to answer that question.
Two of Kentucky’s all-time greats exhausted their eligibility after last season, so a drop from the 10 wins the Wildcats recorded last season seems likely to follow. At least that has been the pattern for Kentucky football.
Stoops enters his sixth season having taken the program to heights it hadn’t reached since 1977, but in addition to national defensive player of the year Josh Allen and all-time Kentucky rusher Benny Snell, 12 other starters are gone from the team that finished 10-3 and defeated Penn State in the Citrus Bowl. The previous four seasons Kentucky finished 5-7, 5-7, 7-6 and 7-6.
Here’s a curious statistic from last season: Kentucky ranked 103rd in total offense last season (of 129 teams) and 116th in passing. The run game was much better, but still ranked only 40th. You may ask how a team can win 10 games with that kind of output on offense. Ball control and a stout defense are big parts of the answer. The Wildcats ranked 23rd in total defense last season.
Again, 14 starters are gone from last season’s team, seven on offense and seven on defense. Now it’s time to build around a new group.
Players to watch
Quinton Bohanna and Kash Daniel. These are the two key starters of four returning from last season’s top-25 defense. The defense carried the team last season, and rusher stalwart Snell is gone, so it’s reasonable to think that the defense will need to carry the day again this season.
Bohanna is a 6-foot-4, 361-pound nose guard who takes up plenty of space in the middle of the line and ties up blockers. He recorded 17 tackles (eight solo) to go with one sack and four tackles for loss. That’s not bad for a man that big playing directly over the center. Daniel is a 6-1, 226-pound linebacker who led the team in tackles last season (84 total, 42 solo) and recorded one sack and 7.5 tackles for loss.
Terry Wilson. With Snell gone, the passing game likely needs to improve from that 116th ranking last season, so as usual, the pressure falls on the quarterback. Wilson is a junior from Oklahoma City. He signed with Oregon out of high school and redshirted as a freshman before transferring to a junior college. After one season there he left for Kentucky, where he replaced Stephen Johnson.
Lynn Bowden. A 6-foot-1, 206-pound junior, Bowden enters the preseason as Wilson’s primary target. The Wilson-to-Bowden connection could determine how much the offense improves from 2018.
Before the Wildcats face the Bulldogs
Kentucky will play four SEC games before facing Georgia. The week before going to Athens, the Wildcats will face Arkansas on Homecoming weekend. The first three SEC game are at home against Florida, at Mississippi State and at South Carolina.
The last time against Georgia
Georgia has won nine consecutive games in the series, with the most recent loss to Kentucky coming in 2009 in Athens. The Bulldogs lead the series 58-12-2. Last season, Georgia went shopping on Kroger Field in Lexington and won 34-17. The Bulldogs rushed for 331 yards on 50 carries, with D’Andre Swift gaining 156 of the yards.
A note of trivia: Entering the 2019 season, Kentucky is 44-200-5 against ranked teams.
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