Kentucky football preview for 2016, including keys to success for the Wildcats, best players and season prediction.
What You Need To Know About The Kentucky Offense
The offense was supposed to hit its stride last season, but it never happened with an awful year scoring more than 27 points just three times and struggling throughout the year to find anything that consistently worked well. Enter new offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, who’s going to try cranking up more of a pro-style attack that’ll spread the ball around a little more. For a team that was 114th in the nation in passing efficiency, that’s a plus.
Nine starters return on offense, but the one key part missing is QB Patrick Towles, who took his talents to Boston College. That means it’s Drew Barker time, and he needs to be fantastic to make the O start to go – and he’s got the talent to do it.
The ground game gets back leading rusher Boom Williams leading a deep and dangerous group. There should be enough of a good rotation – to go along with Barker’s mobility – to crank up the mediocre ground game working behind a line that gets back three starters.
The receiving corps should shine in the revamped attack with four junior starters coming back and everyone who caught a pass last season returning – with the exception of the one grab made by Towles.
Biggest Key To The Kentucky Offense
The passing attack has to be far, far more efficient and effective. There’s no excuse to not be better considering the experience at receiver and the help at running back, but the hope has been for more pop for the last few years and it hasn’t happened. The line gave up 30 sacks last season, but it should be a wee bit stronger after breaking in several young blockers last season. Towles and Barker combined to throw ten touchdown passes and 16 interceptions without enough impact plays, and now it’s up to Barker to be a star.
What You Need To Know About The Kentucky Defense
After a decent year, the Wildcats have some retooling to do with six of the top seven tacklers needing to be replaced. Five starters are gone with the front seven taking the biggest hit.
The rise this offseason of hybrid pass rusher Denzil Ware on the outside should make things better early on, and there’s upside in the interior with a promising group of tackles ready to solidify the run D – at least that’s the hope around massive NT Matt Elam.
The linebacking corps has to undergo the biggest overhaul with leading tackler Josh Forrest done along with most of the other top producers, and now comes the youth movement. In all, six underclassmen are expected to start on the front seven.
The secondary returns the veterans with big-tackler Marcus McWilson back at one safety spot and Chris Westry and Derrick Baity forming a solid corner tandem to anchor the defensive backfield. For a pass defense that allowed under 200 yards per game, this has to be the strength until everyone else gets their feet wet.
Biggest Key To The Kentucky Defense
The pass rush has to emerge from the start. This might not be the most experienced front seven, but it’s got decent athleticism to turn loose. The mistakes will come, but they have to overcome them with enough big plays to get by. Unfortunately, the D that only came up with 17 sacks last season loses has to replace players who came up with 10.5 of them. Ten of the team’s sacks came in the first five games, and four of them came later against Charlotte. That means just three sacks were generated in six other games – that can’t happen again.
Kentucky Will Be Far Better If …
The offense starts to put the pressure on. Too often the Kentucky defense had to try holding on for dear life when the offense failed to generate enough productive drives. The Wildcats failed to score more than 27 points nine times, losing seven of the games including three by five points or fewer. At some point the offense has to come up with something opposing defense have to fear.
Best Kentucky Offensive Player
QB Drew Barker, Soph. – At least this is the hope. He’s got the talent, he’s got the size, and he’s got the upside and talent to be the leader and star the Kentucky offense needs. Not only does he have the pro-style skills to stretch the field as a passer, but he can run a little, too. He’ll have his down moments as he still figures out what he’s doing, but as the season goes on, he has to be the franchise player the entire program builds around.
Best Kentucky Defensive Player
DE Denzil Ware, Soph. – A flash of lightning at times this offseason, he’s a hybrid pass rusher who was a big-time recruit for the program and is starting to look like the superstar who could take over the defense. He showed off a little bit of his potential in his decent first season, but now he’s going to be turned loose. Consider it a shock if he doesn’t lead the team in sacks.
Key Player To A Successful Season
NT Matt Elam, Jr. – The key player to the season is Barker – forget about any sort of success if he doesn’t turn into the team’s signature star. Other than the starting quarterback, the Wildcats need more production out of the run defense. That starts with a 6-7, 360-pound mass of humanity for the interior. Last year he made 23 tackles, but for a defense that got run over way too easily, he’s going to have to be more of an anchor.
The Kentucky Season Will Be A Success If …
The Wildcats go to a bowl. 2010 was the last trip to the post-season, and 2009 was the last winning campaign, but after gagging away the last two years and chances to go bowling, UK has to get a 13th game. It’s not going to be easy, and it’ll take several key SEC home wins, but it’s a six-victory-or-bust season or there could be a new regime taking over next offseason.
Sept. 24 vs. South Carolina – Beating Southern Miss isn’t going to be easy in the opener, but there are winnable games against New Mexico State, Vanderbilt and Austin Peay to potentially build up a nice base of wins. UK beat South Carolina on the road last year and has won the last two matchups. Make it three in a row, and the Wildcats should have at least four wins before the midseason.
2015 Kentucky Fun Stats
– Sacks: Opponents 30 for 191 yards – Kentucky 17 for 110 yards
– First Quarter Scoring: Kentucky 96 – Opponents 73
– Scoring Over The Other 3 Quarters: Opponents 256 – Kentucky 193