Location: Lexington, KY
2017 Record: 7-6 (4-4, 3rd in SEC East)
Head Coach: Mark Stoops, 6th season (26-36, .419)
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Oh, Kentucky football. Why you no love me? You were so close to beating Florida and actually close to winning as many as 9 games in 2017. Apart from the Florida debacle, you were in it vs. Ole Miss and the loss vs. Northwestern (24-23) in the Music City Bowl was absolutely influenced by a horrible call that saw Benny Snell get tossed in the 2nd quarter because he “pushed” an officials arm. That wouldn’t be the only horrible call of last year’s post-season. Believe me. On the bright side, you beat “honk if you beat” Tennessee, and whatever voodoo you possess over South Carolina, keep it up!
Why This Game Matters: Besides being an all important SEC East matchup, it’s a road game in Lexington and there’s a good chance it could be at night. Early November can be a bit chilly up on the Bluegrass, and every now and then the ball bounces a bit funny up there. Plus, the potential for a let-down (channeling Larry here) after the Florida game is always a possibility. Plus, Kentucky is known for headhunters.
Alpha Cat of the Offense: Benny Snell is the only ‘Cat to have rushed for 1000+ yards in consecutive seasons and he will be leaned upon heavily. The junior tailback is a tough runner (1333 yds/19 td in 2017) between the tackles and has edge speed as well. He’ll be making a living in The League next year. Gunnar Hoak will probably start at QB when the dust settles in the August camp competition. Hoak has been in the system for 2 seasons and seems to have a leg up on JC transfer Terry Wilson. Wilson is a running threat and will certainly have some specially designed packages inserted to utilize his skills.
Dorian Baker, who missed all of 2017 with an ankle injury, returns and heads up a largely inconsistent corps of receivers that will have to step up to take the pressure off of an untested QB and a potentially over-worked running back. Tavin Richardson returns as well; last year’s leading receiver. C.J. Conrad is an excellent tight end and will resume his career after missing significant playing time because of injury in ‘17. He is a legitimate All-SEC candidate.
Kentucky’s offensive line lacks experience, but does have a couple of spots with 4-star pedigree. Remember E.J. Price? The once mercurial and brief Georgia commit? He’s now at UK via Southern Cal and should be in the rotation. Kentucky has a lot of talent on the offensive line that’ll have to figure things out quickly.
Defensive Dudes: UK returns ten starters from a defense that generally labored late in games last year. The Wildcats have always had good to occasionally great linebackers. In 2018, the 2nd line of defense will feature Jordan Jones and Josh Allen. Josh Paschal, a former defensive lineman, will also figure into the linebacker mix. Nose tackle Quinton Bohanna will anchor the line.
The secondary got torched at times, but safety Mike Edwards is a player, leading the team in tackles with 96. Kentucky returns 8 starters on defense and will look to rise from their 92nd national rank in 2017. They have to get a better pass rush, but that’ll be moot if they can’t stop the better running backs in a Conference chock-full of ‘em.
Season Outlook: Kentucky has 4 SEC road games this year, starting with Florida in week 2, Texas A&M in week 6, Mizzou and Tennessee in the back half of the season. The home slate is tougher: Mississippi State, South Carolina, Vandy and Georgia in early November. If the defense tightens up, 7 wins is probably their ceiling. However, breaking a new quarterback (or two) despite having the excellent Benny Snell and a capable offensive line ain’t exactly ideal. I’m thinking 6-6 is more likely.
What will happen on November 3? It’ll be late in the year and probably at night when Georgia travels to Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. By this time of the year, depth matters. Georgia has it and Kentucky doesn’t. Dawgs 42, Cats 17.