The Breakdown – Kentucky Edition
Getting to Know the Wildcats:
Head Coach: Mark Stoops
Offensive Coordinator: Eddie Gran
Defensive Coordinator: Matt House
It’s been a season of “almosts” for the UK football program. They almost beat Florida and almost beat Ole Miss. They were almost 9-2 headed into this weekend. On the other hand, they almost lost to Eastern Kentucky and almost lost to Eastern Michigan. They were almost 5-6 headed into this weekend. They have done some good things this season like finally getting the Tennessee monkey off their backs and finishing at .500 in league play in back to back seasons for the first time since 1998-99.
Another season, another offensive coordinator for Kentucky. This time its former Cincinnati OC, Eddie Gran. Leading Gran’s offense this season is Senior Quarterback, Stephen Johnson. Johnson (6’2”, 185lbs) has posted a 12-8 record during his time as Kentucky’s starting QB. This season Johnson has posted a 62% completion percentage going 162-261 for 1,938 yards and 10 touchdowns. Johnson is also the Wildcat’s second leading rusher with 87 carries for 352 yards.
Eddie Gran has developed a reputation as a running back guru so it’s no surprise that Junior Running Back Benny Snell Jr. is having the type of season that he’s having. Snell burst on the season last year and is continuing to plow over people in 2017. He is the first player in UK history with back to back 1,000-yard rushing seasons. This season Snell has just over 1,100 yards and 16 touchdowns, averaging 100.6 yards per game. In the last four games Snell has been unstoppable accounting for 566 yards and 10 touchdowns.
At Wide Receiver Kentucky returns a wealth of experienced play makers starting with Senior Garrett “Juice” Johnson. Johnson leads the Wildcat’s this season with 46 receptions for 500 yards and two touchdowns. He is 4th on Kentucky’s all time receiving yards list with 2,050 yards and has caught at least one pass in 22 consecutive games.
Tavin Richardson has had a solid Sophomore campaign, snagging 19 receptions for 241 yards and a score while averaging 12.7 yards per catch.
Junior Tight End, CJ Conrad leads the Wildcat’s in touchdown receptions with 4 this season. At 6’5”, 245lbs, Conrad provides a big target for Stephen Johnson. He is also a great blocker.
At Offensive Line, Kentucky has struggled with consistency this season. Stoops challenged the unit ahead of the Wildcats game against Tennessee and they seemed to respond well.
Overall Kentucky ranks 64th in rushing offense, 94th in passing offense and 105th in total offense.
Following the departure of former DC D.J Elliot to Colorado, Mark Stoops made the decision to promote Special Teams coach, Matt House to the position. House had previously been the DC at both Pittsburgh and Florida International. House brings a multiple scheme to Kentucky and has had some solid players to work with in his first season at the helm. The Wildcats returned eight of their top ten tacklers from a season ago including Defensive End/Outside Linebacker, Denzil Ware. Ware (6’2”, 245lbs) has 41 tackles this season including 9 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. Ware is one of Kentucky’s best pass rushers and has shown a great ability to get into the back field and disrupt the opposing offense.
Joining Ware in the opponent’s backfield this season has been Strongside Linebacker, Josh Allen. Allen (6’5”, 230lbs) is 6th in the SEC in sacks this season and tied for 14th in tackles for loss.
At Middle Linebacker, Courtney Love returned for his Senior season and is currently the Wildcat’s second leading tackler with 67, including 3 tackles for loss. Love also has 2 pass breakups to his credit.
In the Secondary, Kentucky has several sound tacklers starting with Strong Safety, Mike Edwards. Edwards is the Wildcat’s leading tackler this season with 80 total, while also recording 4 interceptions and 5 pass breakups. Edwards is also tied for first in the SEC in interceptions.
Fellow Junior Darius West is the teams third leading tackler from his Free Safety position. West has done a little bit of everything this season, recording 72 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 2 pass breakups, 2 forced fumbles and an interception.
A main focus for Kentucky this season has been stopping the run. Last year the Wildcats allowed 228.2 yards per game on the ground. This season it’s been much different. The Cats rank 42nd in rush defense, holding teams to just 145.5 yards per game. Even with the improvement against the run Kentucky still ranks 82nd in total defense, mainly because their pass defense has been one of the worst in college football this season. The Cats rank 115th out of 129 division one teams in passing yards allowed, giving up about 267.8 yards per game.
Louisville vs. Kentucky
The Cards and Cats will meet on the gridiron for the 30th time on Saturday in Lexington. Kentucky leads the all-time series 15-14 but trails at home 9-8. The Wildcats will be seeking their first win over the Cardinals in Lexington since 2009. Both teams enter this game with a record of 7-4 but its easy to see that the two squads are headed in different directions. Kentucky has lost 2 of their last 4 games, including a 42-13 thumping at the hands of Georgia last weekend. Louisville has been a different team since their bye week, going 2-0 and producing two dominant defensive performances while the offense continues to roll.
For Louisville to get the win on Saturday a few key things need to happen. It all starts with the Defense. The Cards need to continue their inspired play of late. Kentucky likes to mix up their offensive formations, so Louisville will need to be disciplined and respond and react quickly. Louisville will also need to do a solid job of stopping the run and be prepared on the back end to defend the deep ball. Something they failed to do last season.
On offense the game plan is simple. Let Lamar be Lamar. To do that, the Cardinals do need to work to establish the run early with Malik and Dae Williams. That will make it easier and more effective to call QB run plays for Lamar. The offensive line will need to do a great job of keeping Lamar upright. Kentucky likes to blitz either from the edges or by bringing the Safeties. The Cardinals also need to exploit the UK pass defense by using their big, physical receivers like Dez Fitzpatrick, Seth Dawkins and Jaylen Smith. I look for the Cards to really open up the play book on Saturday and try to punch UK in the mouth early.
Vegas currently lists Louisville as a 10-point favorite with the over/under set at 68.
Cards Win, 42-21.
Who’s Got the Edge?
Defense: Toss Up
Special Teams: Toss Up
Impact Player(S): Benny Snell (UK), Lamar Jackson (UofL)
Player(S) to Watch: Courtney Love (UK), Drew Bailey (UofL)