The University of Kentucky's annual Blue-White game yesterday was a good event that had moments of quality football. While I'm afraid I won't be offering much unique insight, I did note several observations that are categorized below by offense, defense, recruiting, and general atmosphere. It's hard to judge how the team looked because they were competing against back-ups so take them all with a grain of salt. I'm also working from memory here.
Overall, I feel comfortable saying the team did look better in areas, but it was troubling how little improvement there was elsewhere. The team that played yesterday will probably win 4 or 5 games this season.
- One play encapsulates, for me, why Patrick Towles should be named the starter. In one particular play a receiver was running an "out" pattern towards the sideline when Towles threw a rope from the opposite hash mark on the money. It was a play that displayed his arm strength which gives him the edge over Drew Barker and Reese Phillips. Since he started, I suspect Towles was the mystery quarterback Neal Brown hinted he wanted to see separate himself from the pack. I wouldn't be surprised if after watching the game tape this weekend the coaches name Towles the starter heading into summer workouts. He's earned it.
- Drew Barker looked a bit nervous - probably because he's young and playing in front of 35,000 people. On his TD pass to Demarco Robinson towards the end of the game he hesitated and threw the ball late. Luckily Robinson was so far open it didn't matter, but it shows that while Barker appears to make good reads, and throw good balls, he is processing the game slower right now than either Towles or Phillips. Which is completely understandable! I think Barker ends up redshirting after watching yesterday's game.
- Ryan Timmons was the best player on either side of the ball yesterday. Timmons has always had speed, solid route-running, and good hands but he has gotten much stronger. It was apparent in his physique but also on the field where he ran through arm tackles all afternoon. He's the team's best, and maybe only, play-maker at receiver and will be heavily relied upon this season.
- The White Dogs were as advertised. Jojo Kemp has gotten better, and I'm not convinced Braylon Heard is better than him after yesterday. Josh Clemons also looks like his old self. I want to focus on Mikel Horton though. We knew he was a big, physical back but I was shocked by how fast he gets to the line of scrimmage. He also displayed his ability to make catches out of the backfield on throws that weren't well thrown. He's going to be a good one, folks.
- The running game will be important this season. If the backs can keep the offense ahead of the chains that will relieve the pressure on the passing game. Additionally, if defenses have to commit another defender to stopping the run, that should make more openings passing the ball. This offense will need that given the current state of the quarterbacks, receivers, and tight ends.
- The offensive line does seemed improve from last season. In my opinion, right tackle Jordan Swindle was the best lineman on the field yesterday. Even the second string got the better of the first string defense line.
- The receivers and tight ends weren't that impressive yesterday outside of Timmons. Now part of that is due to probable starters Javess Blue and Alexander Montgomery sitting out as well as key back-up Jeff Badet. Additionally, Thaddeus Snodgrass was banged up. Steven "son of Sting" Borden also did not have a stellar performance. The receivers looked decent against the back-up secondary, but weren't consistently impressive against the first team secondary. I'm glad Demarco Robinson had a good game and that he's gotten his act together off the field, but his numbers were somewhat padded yesterday going against the second string. Athletically, this group is not on par with the best in the SEC, but they hurt themselves further by dropping too many balls. A friend said they looked to be run blocking better which is a definite positive.
- The offense was kept pretty simple yesterday. I was surprised to see them keep the read option plays with Jalen Whitlow's transfer. There was a mix of shotgun and under the center plays. I don't think the offense will look dramatically different schematically than last season based on yesterday's scrimmage.
- The tempo was a bit quicker but it wasn't at Texas Tech speed, and probably won't be this season. Barring injuries this offense will probably be ranked somewhere in the middle of the SEC this season. Overachieving will hinge on the performances of the pass-catchers. The offense will be better this season, but how much better is the key issue.
- I was not impressed with the rush defense. The interior of the defensive line and the linebackers allowed the back-up offense to gain too many yards running the ball. The white jerseys got great push consistently. I was hoping to see more out of Regie Meant, but I need to keep in mind that he's only a redshirt freshman.
- JUCO transfer Corey Johnson had at least two tackles for loss, and I was left with the impression he helped his stock yesterday.
- Za'Darius Smith had a pretty good game, but Bud Dupree was surprisingly quiet. I was hoping for more from him going against redshirt freshman Larry Meadows.
- Jason Hatcher continues to impress me. Right now the coaches appear to harness him to just rush the passer, and we'll see if he continues to evolve to being a more complete defense end/linebacker. I'm optimistic he'll be able to.
- JUCO transfer AJ Stamps was the best defensive player on the field yesterday, and it was fairly obvious why the coaches are so excited about him. In addition to shutting down the receivers in his area, he was the hardest hitter of the first team defense.
- The linebackers aren't going to be great this season. They can certainly improve, and I'm sure they will to at least some extent, but they were outclassed by the running backs yesterday. Our running backs are good but still not something you like to see. I'm sure the coaches are hoping that JUCO transfer Ryan Flannigan will be the answer, but that is a gamble.
- Freshman Dorian Hendrix played pretty well at the middle linebacker position on the second team defense. I watched Hendrix play quite a bit in high school, and I'm impressed he's made the transition this quickly. He probably won't contribute much this season, but he has a bright future ahead of him.
- Overall, the defense also kept things very vanilla. They weren't scheming or blitzing really which of course affected their performance. They mostly ran a base 4-3 with Cover 2 coverage, but did throw in a little 3-4 and man coverage at times. I'm not sure how much 3-4 the team will run this season given the difficulties they already seem to have stopping the run. I do think it gets more of their athletes on the field, and may be useful in obvious passing situations.
- Based on what I saw yesterday, this defense will probably be towards the bottom of the SEC again this season. The coaches are stressing creating turnovers this year, and if the team is able to get more of those it will help erase what will probably be high rushing numbers.
- It appeared to me that there were approximately 50 recruits in attendance. It looked to be a lot of Kentucky kids that UK may offer walk-on spots to, or were just kids at programs that UK is looking to build relationships with. There were a few out-of-state 2015 recruits present that I identified, and also a rather large contingent of the 2014 signees.
- Of the 2015 recruits I identified the three with the most "star power" were Damien Harris, Luke Hiers, and Darius Fullwood. If any player rivaled Matt Elam for celebrity it was Harris yesterday. Harris also appears to really like funnel-cake (how's that for unique insight?).
- Fullwood was there with his high school teammate and 2014 signee Kobie Walker. His build looks very similar to Denzel Ware and Jason Hatcher's when he was in high school.
- Hiers was very impressive physically. While not tall he looked very broad, and most of it seemed like good weight. He's a prototypical interior lineman and only a junior in high school.
- Of the 2014 signees present I personally saw Matt Elam, Denzel Ware, Josh Krok, Jarrett LaRubbio, Mike Edwards, Kobie Walker, Lloyd Tubman, and Tymere Dubose. Tubman and Walker have great frames, but are both skinny - especially Tubman. I believe both will redshirt. Dubose, if I identified him correctly, also looks set for a redshirt season. He looked to be carrying some youthful baby fat.
- But my God, Krok is a frost giant. Not only every bit of 6'6'' but very muscular. If he has good feet and is coachable I can definitely see him making a NFL roster one day. Ware was also more muscular than I had anticipated, and LaRubbio was also impressive physically.
- Elam appeared to enjoy the attention he was receiving, and took a ton of pictures with fans. He seems to have a very friendly attitude. Physically, he does appear to look like he's lost a bit of weight. Given their performance yesterday he may compete for playing time this year at defensive tackle. Then again he could redshirt. Nothing would surprise me at this point with Elam.
- UK did a great job sandwiching the Blue-White game in with baseball and softball games. It made for an eventful day that gave the fans already present a lot to do. Construction on the stadium is ongoing and progressing.
- UK utilized it's jumbo screens well. They aired a video package of the ongoing CWS refurbishment, interviewed Avery Williamson about the NFL draft, and also aired the highlight tapes of the 2014 signing class. Smart, smart, and smart.
- The music played was also better than it usually is. While the music was more of the hip-hop variety than the past it was the safe, generic, radio-friendly kind. I doubt many of the recruits would name those songs "hip" but they were also all "family safe". I think this is the right compromise, and would make for a nice framework for the future.
- Scheduling the spring game late was also smart. It avoided having to compete with Keeneland, and it also keeps the players busy for the entire spring semester. Winter workouts start in January and by having spring practice later they stay in the weightroom lifting another month. Now the players are heading into finals week, and will start reporting back for summer workouts in early June. The alternative would be breaking in early to mid April and entering a dead period the last few weeks of spring semester.