Cats look to replicate last year’s success with mix of stars and question marks


Kentucky football open practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, at the Joe Craft Football Training Facility in Lexington, Kentucky. Photo by Jordan Prather | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

After a successful 10-3 season and VRBO Citrus Bowl victory last year, a new football season is already on the horizon for the Kentucky Wildcats and head coach Mark Stoops.

The Cats will try to replicate last year’s success after losing 16 seniors and younger players like Benny Snell Jr. Both sides of the ball were dealt formidable blows, particularly the defense who lost standout edge rusher Josh Allen and backfield standouts like Mike Edwards and Lonnie Johnson.

Despite the challenge, the Cats will try to fill those holes with a combination of new, inexperienced players and returning veterans. On a defense that might look relatively different to fans, they should expect a familiar face leading the way.

Senior inside linebacker Kash Daniel will be one of several returners making up for Allen’s and Jordan Jones’ absence. He played in all 13 games last year and finished with 84 tackles, half of them solo tackles, and 7.5 of them for a loss with a sack. Surrounding Daniel will be a handful of returning inside backers like Jamin Davis, Chris Oats and DeAndre Square.

Expect to see senior big men T.J. Carter and Calvin Taylor provide an imposing presence up front. Joining the two from behind will be returning outside linebacker Jamar “Boogie” Watson who made some noise last year with five sacks. Freshman faces like J.J. Weaver, Shawn’Kel Knight-Goff and Jared Casey top off the depth.

While the front seems more established, the backfield remains up in the air. After losing five defensive backs to graduation, the team got hit with Davonte Robinson’s season-ending surgery. Jordan Griffin has been named a starting safety and will have opportunities to step up. New faces like MJ Devonshire and Brandon Eichols alongside returner Tyrell Ajian among others should help fill that big hole.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Terry Wilson looks to build off last season’s success. Wilson threw for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns while completing 67 percent of his passes. He also showed off his legs, rushing for 547 yards and four touchdowns. Behind Wilson will be running backs AJ Rose, Kavosiey Smoke, Chris Rodriguez and Travis Tisdale.

Rose played in all 13 games last season as a junior behind Snell, rushing for 479 yards and five touchdowns. With Rose now looking to fill Snell’s big shoes, the backfield has more room for Smoke and Rodriguez. Smoke saw action in two games while Rodriguez saw just one last season.

Lynn Bowden Jr. is expected to head a deep corps of wideouts after a standout season last year. Bowden finished with 67 receptions, 745 receiving yards and five touchdowns, leading the team in those respective categories. He’ll be joined by inexperienced, returning players like Allen Dailey Jr, Josh Ali, Ahmad Wagner, Isaiah Epps and Bryce Oliver.

Justin Rigg will fill the big shoes left by C.J. Conrad at tight end. Despite blocking most of last season, he still appeared in all 13 games. Rigg will be joined by returning tackle Landon Young’s leadership on the offensive line. Young missed all of last season due to a left knee injury.

On special teams, Max Duffy and Grant McKinnis are expected to handle punts. Chance Poore and Matt Ruffalo will replace Miles Butler at kicker. Bowden will continue to return kicks and punts after returning two punts for touchdowns last year.