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UK’s offensive line is off to a strong start in 2019

After being hyped up to be one of, if not UK’s best unit in 2019, the offensive line got off to a strong start with a great outing vs. Toledo.

Jason Marcum - Sea of Blue

With a cloud of uncertainty surrounding this year’s UK football team, Saturday’s home opener against Toledo proved to be a valuable eye test for Wildcat fans that openly wondered what a post-Benny Snell offense would look like in 2019.

The answer became crystal clear when UK’s offensive line continually won the line of scrimmage and set the tone for an offense that finished with 422 total yards. Quarterback Terry Wilson threw for 246 yards (19/26) and two touchdowns, but most importantly, the junior signal caller was only sacked one time and had ample time to get set in the pocket and find secondary receivers.

The rushing game was also solid, as A.J. Rose, Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez led a ground attack that rushed for 176 yards and three touchdowns.

But it was the UK o-line that paved the way for a convincing start to the 2019 season.

Led by Drake Jackson, Logan Stenberg, Landon Young, Luke Fortner and Darian Kinnard, UK’s offensive line is considered one of the best in the SEC and was rated by Pro Football Focus as the third best in all of college football in Week 1 with a rating of 93.8. Only Rutgers (94.5) and Temple (93.9) were better up front.

Those numbers drew high praise from UK coach Mark Stoops, who says offensive line coach John Schlarman is already getting ready for a solid Eastern Michigan team that’s had previous success against the Wildcats.

“Pass protection-wise very good,” said Stoops. “In the run game the same. I thought they did some really good things, there’s obviously some things that we need to clean up.”

UK’s offensive line is led by Stenberg, a senior, who was recently selected as a team captain. The three-year starter enters the 2019 season as a preseason Second-Team All-American by Sporting News and is expected to be drafted in the 2020 NFL Draft.

The Wildcats also have some local flavor up front with Jackson and Young, both Kentucky natives, returning to give the offensive much needed experience up front. Young, who missed all of the 2018 season with a knee injury, last played on December 29, 2017, in a loss to Northwestern in the Music City Bowl.

“It’s a good feeling,” said Young on returning to the field in the season opener. “I came out and I was a little bit nervous just because it’s been a full season since I’ve played, but I got out there and got those nerves out of me the first drive and just kept on progressing from there. It’s a little different feeling being on the field compared to practice so it’s just sort of that experience getting it back under your belt sort of thing.”

The o-line’s performance was a big reason why Wilson had one of the best games of his career, highlighted by a 177.9 passer rating, the second-best of his career.

The gang will need another big performance this week as Eastern Michigan rolls into Kroger Field for a 7:30 p.m. matchup on Saturday night. The Eagles beat Coastal Carolina 30-23 in its season opener on Saturday as the defense pressured the quarterback into four interceptions.