College football is back as Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats will play their first game this Saturday night against Miami (OH).
Stoops is preparing to set a program record for coaching longevity (10 seasons) and wins (61), as well as lead the Wildcats to their second consecutive 10-win season for the first time in program history.
Before kickoff let’s take a step back and look at some questions that Kentucky will need to answer as we head into the season.
Can the offense improve despite roster and coaching turnover?
Will Levis may still be behind center, but the offensive personnel is going to look quite different this season.
The Wildcats lost their top three receiving options from last season and the 3,000 yards of offensive production that they were responsible for. On top of that, offensive coordinator Liam Coen left to return to the Super Bowl champion Los Angeles Rams, and offensive line coach Eric Wolford left for Alabama - albeit the latter looks to be positive in hindsight.
As replacements, Rich Scangarello and Zach Yenser were brought in from the San Francisco 49ers - one of the best offenses in the NFL in 2021 - and both seem to be good hires.
Scangarello, a former offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos, has been heralded for his football intelligence and Stoops believes there will be a seamless transition with the pro-style offense. As for Yenser, he learned under the late John Schlarman and will look to live up to the reputation of Big Blue Wall and protect Levis and Chris Rodriquez.
How will they replace Chris Rodriguez Jr.’s production?
Going into this season, Chris Rodriguez had the opportunity to become the all-time leading rusher in Kentucky football history. However, it has since been announced that Rodriguez will miss a number of games - with a definite number of games yet to be announced - pushing that goal out of reach and
In 2021, Rodriguez went for 1,378 yards on 225 attempts (106 yards per game), accounting for more than half of Kentucky’s total rushing yards. That is a lot of production to replace.
Fortunately, Kentucky is “three to four deep” as Mark Stoops said on Monday. The Wildcats return Michael Drennen, JuTahn McClain, Kavosiey Smoke, and La’Vell Wright, who accounted for just 716 yards on 131 attempts. In addition, Kentucky added Ramon Jefferson, an FCS All-American.
Recent reports expect Rodriquez to miss three to four games, which will keep him out against Florida in week two. Kentucky will need someone to step up in order to beat Florida at the Swamp.
Which receivers will step up?
In seasons past, the question has been, “will the receivers step up?”. This season, the question is, which receivers will step up?
It will be no easy task to replace Wan’Dale Robinson and the historic season he had. While there isn’t an individual talent like Wan’Dale, the Wildcats have the potential to be better as a group with an overhauled receiving room.
If the offseason and fall camp were true indications, the Kentucky receiving core will be led by Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson and freshmen Barion Brown and Dane Key. Kentucky also returns veteran DeMarcus Harris and redshirt freshman Chris Lewis who have both shown flashes and impressed this offseason. Not to mention Jordan Anthony, who is one of the fastest U20 sprinters in the country.
Last season, Wan’Dale was THE target, as there was one other receiver who had 500-plus yards and that was Josh Ali. This season, the Wildcats could have a more spread attack.
Can Kentucky capitalize on home games?
Kentucky has eight home games on the schedule, giving them the opportunity for another impressive season.
When you look closer, there are several games that are anticipated to be close and the home field advantage will be needed: South Carolina Gamecocks (10/8), Mississippi State Bulldogs (10/15), and Georgia Bulldogs (11/19).
In college football, home-field advantage can decide a game. If Kentucky wants to improve on last season’s record, they must capitalize at home.
Can Kentucky Beat Georgia?
In the Stoops era, the Wildcats have finished second in the SEC East twice – 2018 and 2021 – but in both seasons they still were at a lower level than Georgia losing
Kentucky could have another impressive year even with a loss to Georgia, but if they want to make a statement and take the next big step, Kentucky has to beat Georgia. It will be no easy feat to beat a playoff favorite, but that is the goal as echoed by the players and the coaching staff.
With Will Levis behind center, a mix of experienced and young exciting talent, and a sold-out crowd at Kroger Field, the opportunity is there.