By Alex Forkner
As Saturday’s kick-off draws near, so much is unknown.
How will the team look in its first game under head coach Mark Stoops? Who is UK’s starting quarterback? Will Western Kentucky head coach Bobby Petrino enter the stadium by motorcycle, popping wheelies past the 50-yard line?
All these questions will soon be answered. Another is, how will that gaggle of greenhorns UK will line up at receiver look in this new offense?
The Cats’ depth chart at wideout lists a junior, two sophomores, three freshmen and a junior college transfer. The number of career touchdown catches among that group? Zero.
“If we get a touchdown catch, right, that’ll be the first one of anybody we have on the team,” Stoops said. “So that’ll be a new experience for us, so we better know to turn the ball and give it to the official there.”
As for celebrating that hypothetical first TD catch, Stoops is treating the endzone like the town from “Footloose,” pre-Kevin Bacon: No dancing.
Who could be the guy to grab it, anyway? Elder statesman Demarco Robinson has snagged 33 catches for 314 yards in two seasons. He’s arguably the fastest guy on the team and has enough big play capability that it’s somewhat shocking he hasn’t yet found pay dirt.
Sophomores Daryl Collins and A.J. Legree combined for 29 catches and 284 yards last season. Both had some impressive catches over the middle, but both had some drops, too.
The returning guys’ lack of numbers probably speak more to the ever-in-flux quarterback situation that plagued the team these past two years. That said, the lack of balls they’ve seen thrown their way makes them less experienced than their years.
Then there are newcomers Javess Blue, Jeff Badet, Ryan Timmons and Alex Montgomery, all seeing their first major college action.
At Butler Community College in El Dorado, Kan., Blue caught 92 passes for 1,650 yards and 15 touchdowns in two seasons. If he can bypass the adjustment period many JuCo transfers face, he should be a reliable target in Neal Brown’s offense.
Badet caught 63 passes for 881 yards and 10 touchdowns during his senior season at Freedom High School in Orlando.
In Florida, Montgomery is a local legend, hauling in nine catches for 199 yards — a state record — and three touchdowns in the 8A state championship game.
Timmons racked up 2,310 yards of offense and 41 touchdowns in his senior season at Franklin County High School, operating in the same system UK will now run.
There is talent in this group. They’re fresh-faced, but Brown likes what he’s seen so far.
“I don’t think there’s any hiding, I don’t think I’m telling something Western doesn’t know: We’re going to be young. We’re going to have several new guys roll out there,” Brown said. “But I’m pleased with their development. They’re getting better. There’s some days they make me want to pull my hair out sometimes, but overall they’ve been a fun group to coach, they’ve been really diligent and I think they’ve made steady improvement as we’ve gone on.”
Expect to see a lot of rotation among the guys mentioned above and even more from the sideline on Saturday. Brown’s Air Raid demands a lot of snaps at a high pace, and this early in the season, conditioning isn’t always at its best. Dudes will be gassed.
“It’s always good to play a bunch of guys early so you can have fresh legs second half of the season,” receivers coach Tommy Mainord said. “You’ll wear out some legs if you don’t watch it, so we need help early in the season. You got to rotate in and rotate out and be smart about it as a coaching staff and not wear guys out.”
Expect a heavy reliance on the run game against WKU to help ease the growing pains of this young receiving corps. But when the time comes for a throw to the sticks to nab a crucial first down or a well-timed deep shot, who’s going to be that go-to guy?
“With so little experience I think we’re at a point to where, let’s see who becomes that guy naturally on Saturdays,” Mainord said. “We’ve got several guys who are candidates, but let’s see what happens Saturday night.
“I’m as anxious as you guys with this group, because they’re eager, they’re ready … I’m interested to see who jumps out at us.”