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Grading Kentucky Football through the first 3 weeks

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Kentucky has played well in all three phases thus far, but improvements are needed to contend in the SEC.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

Very few people across the country predicted UK would be 3-0 heading into their matchup against Mississippi State. As the team prepares for Saturday’s game, let’s assign grades for each unit so far.

Kentucky’s Offense: B-

Of course, the fan in me wants to give everyone an A+ since they’re 3-0, but I’ll try to be objective for each. Kentucky’s running game has looked fantastic to start the season. It’s the inconsistency in the passing game that brings this down to a B- for me.

In the first half of each game they’ve played so far, Kentucky’s offense has started slow. This was especially true against Central Michigan, where the offense suffered 3 turnovers. They’ve responded well in each of their wins, but the rest of the schedule will not be as forgiving.

The offensive line play is where I have been the most impressed. Not to undermine Benny Snell at all, because he’s obviously a beast, but we already knew what Snell was capable of doing.

After once again losing their left tackle before the season, the entire line has stepped up immensely. Given how underwhelming Florida’s defensive line looked, I believe they will have a much tougher task this week stopping the rush from Mississippi State.

While it shouldn’t be surprising, it’s been somewhat of a struggle at quarterback so far. That’s expected when starting brand new quarterback for the first time. Kentucky will only continue to improve, as Terry Wilson grows more comfortable in the offense.

Wilson has been everything fans could have hoped for thus far, but expectations weren’t particularly high for a junior college recruit with no real Division I experience coming into the season. He’s looked great at times, especially in the second half against Florida, but he’s also committed too many turnovers and failed to connect on a number of deep throws.

But despite the issues, Wilson has exceeded expectations thus far, and he likes like a star in the making. Now, it’s just a matter of finding more consistency, which will be critical to Kentucky’s success the rest of the season as the schedule gets tougher.

Kentucky’s Defense: A-

There aren’t a whole lot of negative things you could say about Kentucky’s defense. The Central Michigan score is not indicative of how UK’s defense performed in that game. The majority of those points were off UK turnovers on their own side of the field. Against Florida, the defense won the game for UK. Last game, Murray State couldn’t move the ball against the starters at all.

All the stars coming into this year have excelled already. The secondary is also vastly improved over their lackluster season a year ago. Lonnie Johnson and Darius West have made big strides since last season, and Mike Edwards is still playing at a high level.

Now, they haven’t faced the toughest opponents to say the least. Central Michigan is in the conversation as the worst team in college football this year, and Murray State is an FCS team. Florida’s offense is better than it has been in recent years, but it’s not close to the prolific offenses Kentucky will face later on in their schedule.

This week, Kentucky is tasked with containing Mississippi State QB Nick Fitzgerald. Florida utilized Felipe Franks as a runner somewhat successfully against Kentucky. They cannot allow Fitzgerald to run freely. Even after his catastrophic ankle injury last season, Fitzgerald excels as a runner in space. At 6’5 and 230 pounds, he’s tough to bring down.

We’ll get to see how great Kentucky’s defense truly is against Mississippi State.

Kentucky’s Special Teams: A

Dean Hood landed another Australian punting gem in Max Duffy. The number one 2018 punting prospect according to ProKicker.com has lived up to the hype this year. He’s currently averaging 45.7 yards per attempt. The ability to consistently flip field position on a punt is completely underrated and looked over by most. Paired with a solid defense, a punter like Duffy brings a supreme advantage to preventing opposing offenses from scoring.

Replacing the production by Austin MacGinnis is an impossible task, but Miles Butler is a suitable fill in. He’s knocked down his two field goal attempts this year, both against Murray State. With Butler, Kentucky won’t be able to attempt the 50+ yarders like they did with MacGinnis. Still, Butler has shown he’s reliable up until this point.

It hasn’t been completely perfect for UK’s special teams though. They’ve been trying out a few different players to replace Charles Walker as their primary punt returner. David Bouvier has taken the majority of the punt returns, with a couple taken by Lynn Bowden Jr. The only real miscue has been Bouvier’s muffed punt against Central Michigan, but he hasn’t really found much success as a returner either.

Overall, Kentucky has looked extremely positive. Beating Mississippi State to continue the undefeated season will be a tough task. Kentucky’s shown it has the talent to compete though. It would definitely be an upset, but it’s entirely a winnable game for the Cats.