What to expect from offense, defense, special teams

Linebacker Jordan Jones #34 of the Kentucky Wildcats looks on during the first half of the TaxSlayer Bowl against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets at EverBank Field on Saturday, December 31, 2016 in Jacksonville, Florida. Photo by Michael Reaves | Staff.

Kernel Sports Staff


2017 rankings: 103rd FBS, 9th SEC

Key losses: QB Stephen Johnson (graduated), WR Garrett Johnson (graduated), OL Kyle Meadows (graduated).

Key returners: RB Benny Snell (Junior, First-Team Preseason All-SEC), TE C.J. Conrad (Senior, Third-Team Preseason All-SEC), C Drake Jackson (Sophomore).

Kentucky football’s offense looks to improve upon last year’s 7-6 season, and in order to do that, the team will rely on the offense to produce more yards and points.

Terry Wilson won the quarterback battle over Gunnar Hoak, and he will start week one with a variety of weapons on the field with him. Wilson is known to be a dynamic athlete who can do as much damage throwing as he can running the ball.

Benny Snell is arguably the best weapon Wilson has in his arsenal. An All-SEC First Team member last year, Snell led the Cats in rushing with 1,333 yards and 19 touchdowns, the highest totals in the SEC during the regular season.

Junior wideout Tavin Richardson and senior tight end C.J. Conrad come into this season as the leaders of the receiving corps. The duo combined for 43 receptions, 657 yards and five touchdowns last season.

Rising sophomore Lynn Bowden could also see a breakout season this year after playing in all 13 games last season and catching 17 passes for 210 yards.

The pass and run protectors on offense include veterans like local product Drake Jackson at center and senior Bunchy Stallings at guard/center. Both players helped the pave the way for Snell’s back-to-back 1,000+ yard seasons and Stephen Johnson’s 2,712 all-purpose yards last year.


2017 rankings: 91st FBS, 11th SEC

Key losses: LB Courtney Love (graduated), OLB Denzil Ware (transfer to Jacksonville St.)

Key returners: OLB Josh Allen (Senior, Second-Team Preseason All-SEC), safety Mike Edwards (Senior, Second-Team Preseason All-SEC), LB Jordan Jones (Senior)

The Kentucky defense comes into the new season looking to improve on a campaign where they gave up more than 420 yards per game. More than 250 of those yards came through the air, landing their passing defense among the worst in the SEC (13th).

Nine starters from last year’s team are back, which bodes well for the improvement they’re seeking. A healthy Jordan Jones pairing with Josh Allen gives the Cats a deadly duo off the edge, while junior Kash Daniel and freshman DeAndre Square– who was getting a lot of hype throughout the spring– are tasked to replace Courtney Love’s production at middle linebacker.

The secondary returns all of their key contributors from a season ago, who should benefit from more experience and time in the classroom.

The defensive line suffered a big loss when popular breakout candidate Josh Paschal was diagnosed with malignant melanoma after offseason surgery. In his stead, Jamar “Boogie” Watson, T.J. Carter and Kengera Daniel will have to step up. This could also thrust 2018 top recruit Marquan McCall – a top-rated guard who switched sides of the ball after arriving in Lexington – into a larger role.

Expectations are higher than usual this year for Kentucky football. Defensive consistency is the key to meeting them and improving the win total for a fourth straight season.

Special Teams

Key losses: K Austin MacGinnis (graduated), P Matt Panton (graduated), PR Charles Walker (graduated).

Key returnees/additions: KR Lynn Bowden (sophomore), P Max Duffy (sophomore).

UK’s special teams will be missing a crucial player this season in now-graduated and Kentucky all-time leading scorer Austin MacGinnis. Special teams coordinator Dean Hood brings his 31-year college coaching expertise and is sure to be a big factor the Cats when it come to personnel. In 2017, Hood’s special teams blocked three kicks, two of which were crucial plays for the Cats.

Former walk-on turned scholarship athlete Miles Butler won the kicker battle in camp freshman Chance Poore. Butler, a senior, saw some kicking action in 2015 and went 4-for-4 in field goals.

Kentucky welcomes a new Australian starting punter, Matt Panton. The Aussie played one season as a graduate transfer from Columbia University. Fellow Australian Max Duffy arrived in the United States as an early enrollee in January. He has yet to punt in college, but was rated the No. 1 punting prospect in the Class of 2018 by Ray Guy’s ProKicker.com.

Expect kick and punt return specialist Lynn Bowden to be a huge playmaker for the Cats again this season. Last year as a freshman, Bowden set Kentucky records for most kickoff return yards in a season with 869, along with most kickoff returns with 37.