Moving pieces and new faces: What to expect from Kentucky’s offense


Jack Weaver

Kentucky running back Kavosiey Smoke (0) runs the ball for a touchdown during the Kentucky vs. Tennessee football game on Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. Tennessee won 45-42. Photo by Jack Weaver | Kentucky Kernel

Katelyn Perkins, Reporter

The 2022 college football season is rapidly approaching, with less than one week away until the Wildcats return to Kroger Field.

As the excitement builds, only time will tell how well the Cats’ offense will perform, which underwent several changes during the offseason.

First and foremost, UK brought in a new offensive coordinator after previous OC Liam Coen was hired by the LA Rams. With Coen gone, the Cats’ offense was taken over by Rich Scangarello, who had previously been the quarterback coach for the San Francisco 49ers for five years.

Although he was most recently in the NFL, Scangarello also boasts experience at the collegiate level, previously serving as the offensive coordinator for Northern Arizona University from 2012-2014. At NAU, Scangarello’s offense led the team with a 60.7 completion percentage and was ranked 27th in the nation for points scored per game.

With the experience he already has as an OC and his expertise in the world of quarterbacks, Scangarello will likely have a huge impact on this Wildcat team.

The Cats’ offense also brings back some vital pieces from last season, including starting quarterback Will Levis.

Levis finished last season ranked top 10 in various categories in the SEC, including being ranked fourth in offensive touchdowns, fifth in passing completions and eighth in passing average per game.

He not only enters this upcoming season being watched for his unusual eating habits, but also for being named to the Davey O’Brien Award watch list, which looks at the best collegiate quarterback alongside other nationally recognized awards such as the Walter Camp Player of the Year award.

Another key returning piece for the Wildcat offense to watch this season is star running back Chris Rodriguez Jr.

Rodriguez returned to Kentucky after an important junior season where he led the SEC in rushing yards and was named part of the All-SEC first-team.

Unfortunately for Rodriguez and Wildcat fans alike, this offseason saw the running back charged with a DUI. After being charged, UK decided to suspend Rodriguez for the first three games of the season for the DUI and another unnamed legal issue.

This decision already has many Kentucky fans worried over what the outcomes could be of those three games, namely a critical matchup on the road against Florida.

Questions have also arisen surrounding who will have to step up in this offense to fill the shoes left by Rodriguez, and whether or not the backup could even take the starter’s job once he is eligible to return.

Kavosiey Smoke, a senior running back, is coming off of an impressive junior season and will most likely replace Rodriguez in the three games he is absent, having already been named as the starter in game one against Miami Ohio. Smoke currently ranks 30th on UK’s all-time rushing yards list, having over 1,300 career rushing yards.

Another running back that may step up for this Kentucky offense is Sam Houston State transfer Ramon Jefferson.

At Sam Houston State, Jefferson was named as a FCS All-American following his senior season with the team. After averaging over 70 yards per game with the Bearkats, fans and coaches are likely hoping that he may be able to replicate his production in Lexington.

The running back position is not the only one that may feel the absence of a star as the offense lost star wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson to the 2022 NFL Draft.

Robinson broke the all-time receiving yards record at UK, finishing his career with a Second-Team All-SEC selection. Although his exit will be a tough loss for Kentucky, it also brings in a strong class of transfers along with freshman wideouts.

Tayvion Robinson, a transfer from Virginia Tech, will look to fill the hole left by Wan’Dale Robinson, having started all 12 games his junior year and leading Virginia Tech in both receptions and touchdowns.

His punt return average also ranked fifth in the country by the end of the 2022 season.

Along with Tayvion Robinson, the Cats also bring in what some believe to be their most talented group of freshmen, including four-star wide receivers Dane Key and Barion Brown.

Key is no stranger to the Wildcat offense, having grown up around the University of Kentucky. In high school he was awarded the Paul Hornung Kentucky Player of the Year Award along with recognition as one of the top 40 wide receivers in the nation for the class of 2022.

Following the team’s scrimmage in the spring, Scangarello commented that he believes Key has what it takes to take his game to the NFL one day.

Key is far from the only freshman who has been raved about before even playing a snap in a college game, as Brown also comes to Kentucky after being ranked the No. 2 wide receiver nationally in the class of 2022.

Brown was also a consensus five-star prospect out of Tennessee by the end of his high school career, finishing his senior year with over 850 receiving yards and 10 touchdowns. He is known to be extremely quick and agile with the ball, with the star also having run track in high school.

With many new pieces mixing with some returning stars, the only question now is whether or not all of the new pieces will be able to mesh with a new system under a new offensive coordinator.