August 18, 2018 7:35:41 AM
In a way, this is a classic Mark Stoops Kentucky team: enough pieces to make you sweat playing them every now and then, but not quite all the pieces to threaten the top class with consistency.
The Wildcats are awesome on the line of scrimmage and they have an awesome running back to use their work. Everything around that.....?
That running back is Benny Snell Jr., who at this point has a name that means something. The man has run for 1,000 yards and at least 13 touchdowns in each of the last two seasons, entering his junior season 2,424 yards and 32 touchdowns. It's worth noting that he got fat on the Peter Sirmon defense (19 carries, 128 yards and a score) but struggled bad against last year's defense (seven carries for 18 yards).
The offensive line doesn't return a bunch of starters in the traditional sense, but there's a bunch of starting experience back at all five spots: Drake Jackson at center, Bunchy Stallings and Logan Stenberg at guard and George Asafo-Adjei and Landon Young at tackle.
Even the flank of that line of scrimmage is strong with tight end C.J. Conrad returning. The rest of the pass catchers....we'll have to see.
Like MSU, Kentucky was less than prolific in the receiving department last season and the proof is in the top returning receiver: Tavin Richardson, he of 27 catches for 371 yards and one touchdown. Only one other returning Wildcat had more than 200 receiving yards last year. Kentucky went hard on the wide receiver position in the recruiting class, so if UK is going to have multiple real threats, it will need one of those guys to break out in the first three games before MSU comes to town.
The question of the preseason in Lexington is who will be running this offense: Gunnar Hoak or Terry Wilson? Wilson got to Kentucky by way of a Kansas junior college after starting his career at Oregon; Hoak has been in the program for years. Hoak is the traditional pocket passer; Wilson is known for his mobility. The idea of Wilson and Snell running the option is mighty deadly, but Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran has many a pass-heavy offenses in his background, so I imagine Hoak fits some of those ideas pretty well. This is up in the air; you might have to see Kentucky's games against Central Michigan and Florida to see what Kentucky does here.
If there is going to be a year where the whole Defensive Head Coach Has Bad Defense thing, this almost has to be it.
It starts with the secondary, where everyone is back. Cornerback Derrick Baity is back after nine PBUs and two interceptions last year; Chris Westry and Lonnie Johnson provide capable options at the other cornerback spot. Darius West was third on last year's team in tackles, and he's back at safety alongside fellow senior Mike Edwards, the team's leading tackler and leader with four interceptions.
There is even some pass-rush help in front of them at the outside linebacker spots in Josh Allen and Jordan Jones, two more seniors. Allen was the pass rusher, seven sacks, and Jones was the run stopper, 7.5 tackles for a loss to go with three quarterback hurries. Middle linebacker is a void to fill, and really with only one experienced option there: Kash Daniel.
There is even more void to fill on the defensive line. Courtney Love and Denzil Ward are tough players to replace, but they're not diving into the unknown to do so: sophomore Joshua Paschal and senior Adrian Middleton did some solid things in limited playing time last year. The interior is where this defense will look for a fresh name and need one in a bad way. Who? Anyone's guess.
A senior kicker and a senior punter forces the Wildcats into a complete restart. The good news is, freshman Lynn Bowden did what Kentucky hoped he would do and show up as a multipurpose threat immediately. He returned a bunch of kicks last year and he's back.
Teams that pull upsets at home tend to create turnovers. This team should be able to do that with its linebacker pass rush weapons and an experienced secondary.
Teams that pull upsets at home tend to create big plays. They have an offensive line capable of opening big seams and a home-run running back able to capitalize on those chances.
I'm not hinting at predicting Kentucky to win this game. I still find MSU to be much more talented and expect MSU to win this game with relative ease, but it does need to be known that Kentucky has some pieces to make one game or two dangerous.
Follow Dispatch sports writer Brett Hudson on Twitter @Brett_Hudson