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JOE COX: Kentucky QB Battle Highlights Up-and-Down Spring with Both Reason for Optimism, Cause for C


Friday night in Lexington’s Kroger Field and announced crowd of 36,090 watched the Kentucky offense defeat the defense in the yearly Blue/White game by a 45-32 count. As is the case most years, there’s both reason for optimism and for pessimism about the upcoming 2018 season. Here were a few things that impressed us….and that concerned.


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Sophomore running back A.J. Rose was the star of the evening, racking up 134 rushing yards on just 11 carries, and reading his offensive line like a star. If Rose can continue to show the explosiveness of senior Siheim King on the corner and a little of star junior Benny Snell’s between the tackles magic, he could end up as a significant Wildcat not just in 2018, but in later years once Snell will be patrolling the green pastures of the NFL.

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The same sunny glow did not surround Wildcat pass catchers, who had a fairly dismal day. Sophomore Lynn Bowden did catch seven passes, but he totaled just 42 yards on those grabs. Sophomore Zy’Aire Hughes looked like a potential impact player, but he did struggle with deep passes—as did the entire group. Admittedly, Dorion Baker and C.J. Conrad were sitting the game out, but if UK looks as bad on the deep ball in 2018 as they did in the Blue/White game… well, defenses will stack the box from the word “go.”

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Sophomore QBs Gunnar Hoak and Terry Wilson each showed significant strengths in the game. Hoak looked poised in the pocket, and connected on numerous intermediate passes, an area which was a weakness for UK in the last two seasons. Wilson was at his best in the open field, where the “touch the QB down” rules kept him from shining, but his multiple talents were obvious.

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Neither quarterback grabbed a firm hold on the job. Hoak sometimes held the ball too long in the pocket. Wilson forced some deep throws which weren’t even close, and short-armed a couple of easy throws. In both cases, poor receiver play did little to help either passer. The old axiom is that if you have two QBs, you have no QB. Most around the UK program will hope for one passer or the other to gain a clear advantage before fall camp.

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Kentucky’s front seven looked like an SEC football team. Kash Daniel had a game high eight tackles, and ably filled the shoes of the departed Courtney Love. Interior linemen like Calvin Taylor, Kengera Daniel, and Josh Paschal all looked like SEC contributors....

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But they looked like contributors because they were playing touch football against the QBs. If you’ve watched Kentucky football for any length of time, you recognize the difference between getting a hand on an SEC quarterback and taking him to the ground. Can these young Wildcats do a better job of going from Point A to Point B than many of their predecessors? The season may hinge on the answer.

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Punter Max Duffy looked like a solid starter, averaging 44 yards per kick. Placekicker Miles Butler is expected to give up the starting kicker job come fall, but he was sharp as well, nailing a 43-yard field goal and connecting on all extra points....

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The specialists were kicking on an empty field, facing no rush, and in Duffy’s case, not needing to consider a dangerous return specialist. They all looked good, but then, of course they would under those circumstances.

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Kentucky’s veteran defense looked solid, rarely allowing big plays and showing tons of athletic potential. It looked like a group that will significantly improve the statistics of the last two years, and if it does so, it might improve the win total as well.

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Kentucky’s offensive identity was largely enveloped in QB Stephen Johnson. Without him, it looks like a rudderless ship. Receiver must step up, and whoever ends up playing quarterback, he’ll have to be steady in a hurry. Because the schedule is unforgiving, and a surprising stumble could halt Kentucky’s recent momentum.

Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written six books. His most recent, "The Immaculate Inning," was released in February and can be ordered on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at jrcox004@gmail.com.


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