UK Football

A+, C-, F: Kentucky football players grade themselves at midseason

It’s tough to assess this Kentucky football team five games into the season.

An encouraging start to the 2019 campaign was upended by Terry Wilson’s year-ending knee injury. The uplifting debut of Sawyer Smith and the continuation thereof in his first start was buried by a sagging offense and his own injuries that contributed to that sag. A defense that entered the season with questions aplenty answered some of them, but attained injuries of its own and dealt with other distractions (see: Anklegate) that prompted more questions to pile up.

How do the players feel about their first five weeks of the season, given the cards they’ve been dealt?

“I’d say C-minus,” running back A.J. Rose said Tuesday. “There’s areas in the offense and defense that we all gotta get better at and I feel like having this time off, this little week off, everybody’s been around each other and is becoming a team. We’re ready to play now and we want to play for each other.

“I feel like after this second half, the grade will bump up a bit.”

Kavosiey Smoke, a redshirt freshman who along with Rose has accounted for most of the team’s rushing yardage this season, doesn’t think UK has performed at its highest possible level at any point this year.

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“The second half of the season, we’re going to bring it out,” Smoke said. “We’re going to show everybody that Kentucky’s really, really good.”

Getting the offense into a consistent rhythm would put Kentucky in better position to win games, let alone get it closer to whatever this roster’s peak is. The Wildcats among Southeastern Conference teams are 13th in points per game (23.4, ahead of only Vanderbilt) and 12th in yards per game (377.6).

Smith’s bruises haven’t helped but play-calling could improve, too. Co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran says he needs to be more patient, particularly when it comes to sticking with the rushing attack. The Cats’ struggles on third down — they’re 23-of-67 on the season and 3-for-27 in their last two games — are a product of multiple breakdowns across the board.

“Protect, throw, catch and do the fundamentals right,” Gran said. “Us as coaches (need to) put ’em in better positions. It’s a combination of everything. It’s absolutely every facet, and it starts right here.”

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Jordan Griffin’s nagging knee injury prompted the insertion of younger, inexperienced players in big-time spots on the road in UK’s last two games. He’s expected to be at or near full strength this weekend.

Griffin didn’t want to outright give a grade, “but we’re definitely not happy though,” he said Wednesday.

“I definitely feel like we can do a much better job,” Griffin said. “That’s something I’ve got to challenge (of) myself, first and foremost, and challenge my teammates, and continue to grow. That’s the only thing we possibly can do.”

Lynn Bowden thinks UK has been all over the place in terms of its report card.

“At times I’d probably give us an A-plus and other times I’d probably just give us an F,” Bowden said. “Right now we’re just in the middle of finding ourselves. But I know we’re gonna get back to our ways.”

Saturday

Arkansas at Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m.

TV: SEC Network

Records: Arkansas 2-3 (0-2 SEC), Kentucky 2-3 (0-3)

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Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.
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