1) Quarterback Play
Gone is Stephen Johnson, the Wildcat quarterback who led Kentucky to 2 straight bowl games in 2016 and 2017. While Johnson was a great warrior and advocate for the university, he had noticeable flaws in his game. Those weaknesses flared in 2017, when it was made known after the season that he was dealing with torn ligaments in his knee (which made his play even more remarkable).
Insert first year starter, Sophomore Gunnar Hoak or first year starter, Sophomore Terry Wilson. Their strengths are completely different from each other. Gunnar is a more accurate QB in the intermediate passing game. Terry is an athletic freak who has a huge arm and fast legs, his main problem being accuracy.
Kentucky’s ceiling is higher with Wilson, who has highlight play ability. Kentucky’s floor is higher with Hoak, who is a more consistent passer. Who will Coach Stoops give the reigns to in 2018?
2) Can Benny Snell stay healthy with another enormous workload?
The past 2 seasons, Benny Snell has been lucky to avoid the injury bug, carrying the ball 186 times in 2016 and 262 times in 2017. There’s no doubt that Benny is a monster and Kentucky’s best running back of all-time.
If Benny wants to make a name for himself in the 2019 NFL Draft, he’s going to need some help. Sihiem King was Snell’s complimentary back in 2017, but he’s not an every-down back. He’s best used as a scat back in passing 3rd down situations. AJ Rose had a very impressive spring game and has drawn raving reviews from UK coaches the past few months. If he has truly made big strides, that would be huge for Kentucky. He’s got the build to handle an SEC workload, now he just has to limit mental mistakes.
If Rose/King can combine for 20 carries a game, it would be very relieving for Benny and scary for Kentucky opponents. Nobody has seen a fully charged Benny Snell for an entire game, let alone an entire season…
3) Will the wide receivers produce consistently?
Sure-handed receivers Garrett Johnson and Charles Walker are now in NFL rookie camps for the Bears and Lions. The Wildcats are going to need someone to step up to be the new QB’s safety blanket. Tavin Richardson and Lynn Bowden have shown flashes, but not consistency.
Richardson is a huge possession receiver who has shown potential to be a go-to receiver, and Wildcat fans should hope that he builds off of his impressive bowl game performance.
While smaller in stature than Richardson, Bowden has all-world playmaking ability. His progress will all depend on QB play. Coaches have said that he’s turning into a great “pure receiver”, now the Cats must get the ball to him consistently without using as many gimmicks as they did in 2017.
4) How much will Kentucky’s defense improve?
Kentucky will field a veteran defense in 2018 for the first time in Stoops’ tenure. LB Josh Allen, LB Denzel Ware and Safety Mike Edwards passed up being drafted this year to team up one last time with potential 2019 draftees Derrick Baity, Jordan Jones and darkhorses Chris Westry and Lonnie Johnson.
The secondary is as deep as ever, with Davonte Robinson, Jordan Griffin and Tyrell Ajian pushing for playing time. The key to the secondary, however, is getting Chris Westry to get back to his freshman season form. Being able to rotate Westry, Baity and Johnson without any drop off would be huge for the Kentucky secondary’s production.
The Wildcat defensive line should also make strides. The line features Adrian Middleton, TJ Carter, Josh Paschal and Kordell Looney, who have each gotten plenty of game reps. Paschal’s move inside should bode well for the Cats, as he is the first underclassmen with an SEC build that they’ve had in the trenches in years.
At linebacker, Kentucky will need Jordan Jones to step up and give them the same production he did as a sophomore. The senior linebacker took a step backwards last season and must strive to keep his emotions in check during the game.
5) Can Kash Daniel anchor the middle of the defense?
At middle linebacker, the Cats will have to replace the production of Courtney Love, who is now pursuing an NFL career. Kash Daniel is the lead man in the MLB race as of now. Daniel’s and Love’s games are similar. Both are stout run-stopping thumpers. Kash has been consistently solid on special teams in his first two years in Lexington.
Now, he’ll have to step up his game as the anchor of the Wildcat defense. He needs to make strides in making reads and in coverage, but he has the heart and determination to do so.