Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the Kentucky season with what you need to know and keys to the season.
Kentucky Wildcats Preview
Head Coach: Mark Stoops, 10th year at Kentucky, 59-53
2021 Preview: Overall: 10-3, Conference: 5-3
Keys To The Season | Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Kentucky Top 10 Players | Kentucky Schedule & Analysis
Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022
Are we allowed to call Kentucky a football school now?
That might be a little much, but with two ten-win seasons in the last four, four straight bowl wins, and a terrific run of success in the by-far best conference in college football, head coach Mark Stoops has created something special.
No, Kentucky isn’t Georgia or Alabama or an SEC program that’s rising up into national championship status like Texas A&M appears to be, but it’s not as crazy far off as it might seem.
The Wildcats are cranking out enough NFL talent to matter, they’re beating the teams they’re supposed to – one loss to Mississippi State last year aside – and they just don’t buckle, especially in bowl games.
It’s not always pretty, and a lot of what they do defies logic and reason when it comes to SEC success, but it’s working.
Of course Kentucky is going to want more, and the expectations are now at a reasonably high level, but there’s a consistency now, and it’s all about to continue even with a whole slew of starters gone off both sides of the ball.
Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022: Offense
The offense finished eighth in the SEC, averaged a decent 32 points per game, and it was relatively efficient throwing the ball and good at running when it got into a groove. There were too many turnovers, but few teams were better on third downs, and overall there was a good balance.
At least five starters are expected to be back in the mix, and – in place of new LA am OC Liam Coen – new offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello is looking to do even more with the passing game, but …
The offensive line will be under fire right away. Last year’s bunch was decent in sacks allowed and did an okay job of keeping defenses out of the backfield for tackles for loss, but star NFL-caliber tackles Dare Rosenthal and Darian Kinnard are gone, and Luke Fortner is done at center. The transfer portal is providing some help around veteran Kenneth Horsey at one guard – Auburn’s Tashawn Manning is going to be a problem for run defenses – and they all have a fantastic back to block for.
Chris Rodriguez is one of the toughest backs in the country. He ran for close to 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns as the workhouse for the attack, Kavosiey Smoke averaged five yards per crack, and young options are in the rotation.
Former Penn State QB transfer Will Levis has found a home. He threw for over 2,800 yards with 24 touchdowns last season, ran for nine scores, and gave the program it hasn’t had in a long, long time. The last UK quarterback to throw for over 20 touchdowns was … ? Mike Hartline with 23 in 2010. Now the receivers have to rise up.
Wan’Dale Robinson is off being a New York Giant after his 104-catch season, and 41-catch No. 2 target Josh Ali is done. However, DeMarcus Harris is a veteran and he’ll get help around him from the transfer portal. Tayvion Robinson is coming in from Virginia Tech, and Javon Baker will see instant time after leaving Alabama.
Kentucky Wildcats Preview 2022: Defense
The defense allowed just 340 yards per game, was great against the run, and it overcame its problems on third downs to allow just 22 points per game. Like the offense, though, a bulk of the key parts are done. And also like the offense, there’s just enough coming back to be fine with a little time.
Excellent pass rushing end Josh Paschal is done, but leading sacker JJ Weaver is back in the rotation at the JACK linebacker position, leading tackler Jacquez Jones – coming off an 85-tackle season – returns for one more year in the middle of the corps. Throw in veteran De’Andre Square on the outside, and Kentucky’s linebackers are a major plus.
There’s bulk inside with 336-pound Justin Rogers about to take over a bigger role on the nose next to 318-pound Octavious Oxendine. All that’s missing is more time.
The secondary has a playmaking corner in Carrington Valentine – he didn’t make any picks, but he came up with 61 stops – but losing Cedric Dort to Wisconsin isn’t a plus. The safeties will be solid – Tyrell Ajian has been around the block a few times and should be a leader in the defensive backfield.