Scouting the Opponent: Kentucky Wildcats

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Scouting the Opponent: Kentucky Wildcats

Jermaine Johnson (11) sacks Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. - Georgia vs. Kentucky 2019 - Second Quarter - October 19, 2019
Jermaine Johnson (11) sacks Kentucky quarterback Lynn Bowden Jr. – Georgia vs. Kentucky 2019 – Second Quarter – October 19, 2019

Although spring football practice is on hold due to concerns over the spread of COVID-19 and the current global pandemic, the Georgia football rosters are still set for the fall. Coming off a 12-2 season, the Bulldogs head into the 2020 season with high expectations. Bulldawg Illustrated is analyzing each opponent in a twelve part series that will continue for the next several weeks.

After playing Tennessee on the road on Nov. 14, Georgia will travel to Lexington to take on Kentucky the following Saturday. Despite not finishing in the AP Top 25, the Wildcats capped off a successful 2019 season by beating Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl. The past two seasons, Mark Stoops has led the Wildcats to a 10-3 and 8-5 record, respectively. Now, entering his eighth season, he has some big holes to fill after losing several key players. The Wildcats will look to pull off another winning season in the fall, but it will be tough as competition in the SEC East heats up. 

Kentucky Wildcats

Head Coach: Mark Stoops

2019 record: 8-5, 3-5 SEC; Beat Virginia Tech in Belk Bowl 37-30

Key Returnees: quarterback Terry Wilson, running backs Asim Rose and Kavosiey Smoke, offensive tackle Nassir Watkins, nose tackle Quinton Bohanna, cornerback Yusuf Corker. 

Key Losses: quarterback/wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr., wide receiver Ahmad Wagner, offensive lineman Logan Stenberg, defensive lineman Calvin Taylor and T.J. Carter.

1. Terry Wilson’s durability 

Before Lynn Bowden Jr. surfaced, Terry Wilson was the starter for the Wildcats’ offense. Wilson had a stellar year after transferring from a junior college, throwing for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns in 2018, but last season he played in just two games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Wilson wasn’t expected to participate in spring practice, but it’s worth watching his recovery process because of how talented he is. 

‘Terry Wilson is limited. He won’t go through spring, he’s done some throwing and getting his leg stronger and the rehab and all those things,” Stoops tolds reporters back in March

In his absence, Sawyer Smith is a viable candidate for the starting job if Wilson isn’t fully recovered by the start of next season. As a sophomore last fall, Smith only completed 57 of 127 passes for four touchdowns and five interceptions. If Smith wants the starting role he will have to work on his accuracy and patience in the offseason. 

Smith isn’t the only one that will be getting a chance because Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood could turn some heads if his NCAA waiver is approved to play next season. Gatewood rushed for 176 yards on 32 carries with three touchdowns, and completed five of eight passes for 54 yards and two scores in eight career games for the Tigers.

2. Finding talent on offense

Let’s just go ahead and say it, Lynn Bowden Jr. was most of Kentucky’s offense last season. At quarterback, he completed 35 of 74 passes for 403 yards (second most on team) and three scores. He led the team in rushing with 185 carries for 1,468 yards and 13 touchdowns. Last, he led the team in receiving with 30 receptions for 348 yards and one score. It will be hard to replace that much production, but the Wildcats have a few players that provide some hope. 

At the running back position, both Asim Rose and Kavosiey Smoke return, who together combined for 1,505 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns last season. They both also averaged more than 5.5 yards per carry in 2019. Either of them will have the opportunity to take over the starting role, but also watch out for rising redshirt sophomore Chris Rodriguez. Rodriguez rushed for 533 yards on 71 carries (7.5 yards per carry) and six touchdowns. 

At wideout, Kentucky also loses second-leading receiver Ahmad Wagner, who has exhausted his eligibility. The Wildcats only return three receivers from last season who caught at least passes last season. It seems like rising senior Josh Ali is slated to have a big role in the offense next year, and also watch out for Isaiah Epps. Epps missed all of last season with a foot injury, but could easily climb the depth charts if he can remain healthy. 

3) The 2020 Recruiting Class

A good thing for Kentucky is that more than half of their 2020 recruiting class enrolled in classes earlier this semester. These players got a chance to get their feet wet with workouts, but the current pandemic affects them as much as any other early enrollee in the country. Kentucky’s 2020 class finished ranked No. 23 nationally, and features some gems. 

Most notably, is defensive tackle Justin Rogers and quarterback Beau Allen. Rogers is regarded as the No. 7 player at his position, per 247 Sports. He is a big, physical force that should be able to battle for playing time come fall. Allen played at nearby Lexington Catholic and was the No. 18 pro-style quarterback in the 2020 class. He will compete with aforementioned Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood at the position, but might have an edge since he arrived in Lexington back in January.

Other names to look for include a couple of four-star prospects in outside linebacker Sam Anaele and defensive back Joel Williams. Anale has the size and speed to make a direct impact, but will have to battle others at his position. Williams is a little undersized, but more than likely will add weight before the start of fall camp. Running back JuTahn McClain and wide receiver Kalil Branham are also two guys that could help immediately at their respective positions on offense. 

Charlie Woerner (89) and Michael Barnett (94) Georgia vs. Kentucky 2019 - Third Quarter - October 19, 2019
Charlie Woerner (89) and Michael Barnett (94) Georgia vs. Kentucky 2019 – Third Quarter – October 19, 2019

4) Offensive and defensive lines

Heading into the 2020 season, Kentucky will have some interesting storylines around the offensive and defensive lines. 

On the offensive line, they will have to replace left guard Logan Stenberg, who was All-SEC last season. Stenberg will be a highly rated prospect entering the NFL Draft, but he’s really the only player the Wildcats lose. Expect backups Quintin Wilson and Kenneth Horsey to be his likely replacements, but don’t count out tackle Nassir Watkins. Drake Jackson returns and might be one of the better centers in the conference. Expect Landon Young to be a very versatile aspect of the Wildcats’ offensive line as well as Darian Kinnard. It’s no secret that offensive line coach John Schlarman has put together one of the best returning units in the SEC. 

The defensive line for Kentucky will see a little bit of turnover as the team loses two of its three starters from a season ago in Calvin Taylor and T.J. Carter. It all starts in the middle with nose tackle Quinton Bohanna, who will return for his senior season. Bohanna has 25 starts in his three-year career with the Wildcats, and played as a true freshman in 2017. Besides Bohanna, backups Marquan McCall and Kordell Looney are options to take over those two other spots. Although, freshman Octavious Oxendine could force his way up the depth chart. 

5) Yusuf Corker’s continuing development 

Last season, Corker emerged as the biggest surprise on Kentucky’s defense. As a sophomore, Corker led the team with 74 tackles, and now Stoops and defensive coordinator Brad White will expect him to continue his dominance in the fall. Even though Corker had a great 2020 season, he still can improve on some things in the offseason. He will be asked to create more “havoc” as he only had 0.5 tackles for loss, one interceoption, two fumble recoveries, and four pass break ups last season. 

Corker will be the leader of the secondary next season, but there are a few other names to watch. LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph will finally get his chance to shine after sitting out a year. As a freshman, he played in 11 games for the Tigers back in 2018. 

Early Prediction: Georgia wins 31-14

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Currently an intern for BI, and a junior journalism major at the University of Georgia.