UK Recruiting

Few of UK’s 2019 recruits found the field Saturday. ‘That’s kind of how you want it.’

Kentucky football celebrates season-opening victory over Toledo

The University of Kentucky football team celebrated its 38-24 victory over Toledo at Kroger Field on August 31, 2019.
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The University of Kentucky football team celebrated its 38-24 victory over Toledo at Kroger Field on August 31, 2019.

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The 22-player recruiting class that Kentucky brought in this year didn’t make much of an impact on the Wildcats’ season opener Saturday afternoon.

As Mark Stoops sees it, that’s a good thing.

“I mean, that’s kind of how you want it,” the UK head coach said when asked about the lack of incoming freshmen in the Cats’ 38-24 victory. “I did address that with the young guys in there. That’s what I told them: ‘Talk to the older guys. They’ve all been through it.’ As you get better, as your program gets better, you don’t rely on those guys as much, but they can certainly help.

“There are a lot of guys in that zone where we’re not going to play them unless we need to. Goes to that four-game (redshirt) rule. We felt like the plan was going into it not to play guys unless we had to, because you don’t know what the injuries are going to be like or how they’re going to progress. … We just want them to keep developing, and we’ll see where it goes.”

A relatively new NCAA rule allows college football players to appear in up to four games and still retain a redshirt season. UK went that route with several highly touted newcomers last season — meaning those players are still considered freshmen this season — and most of its 2019 recruits will still have four games to play without burning a year of eligibility after watching Saturday’s contest from the sideline.

Only three of the Wildcats’ first-year freshmen showed up on the unofficial participation chart immediately after Saturday’s game. (That chart will be updated following postgame review). None of the five UK recruits ranked highest by the 247Sports composite — defensive backs Moses Douglass and MJ Devonshire or linebackers JJ Weaver, Jared Casey and KD McDaniel — appeared in Saturday’s game.

Freshman defensive back Taj Dodson — the No. 6 player in the 2019 class, according to those rankings — came into the game after sophomore safety Yusuf Corker was briefly sidelined in the third quarter. Dodson played throughout the second half and recorded one tackle in his UK debut.

Freshman wide receiver DeMarcus Harris also played, though he was not targeted with any pass attempts. Freshman linebacker Tra Wilkins played on special teams. And that was it.

Dodson, Harris and Wilkins were all early enrollees and went through spring camp at UK.

Two other newcomers — junior-college transfers Brandin Echols and Quandre Mosely — played in Saturday’s game, and Echols made the biggest impact of the first-year Kentucky players.

UK players and coaches participate in the Cat Walk before the season opener against Toledo at Kroger Field in Lexington.

The 5-foot-11 defensive back came into the game in the second quarter and broke up a pass on third down that led to a Toledo punt. Echols finished the game with three of Kentucky’s five pass breakups and also added a tackle.

“It felt good,” he said. “At first I was kind of nervous. I’ve been nervous — all of last night, I barely got sleep. But I finally got in, took me a minute to get in the game. After I did, I felt like myself again and started making plays like I’m supposed to.”

Kentucky outside linebacker Josh Paschal, who missed most of the 2018 season after being diagnosed with skin cancer, recorded a sack and forced a fumble in UK’s 38-24 win over Toledo on Saturday at Kroger Field.

Echols missed some time in fall camp with a hamstring injury, and he acknowledged after Saturday’s game that he wasn’t anticipating that many snaps in the season opener.

UK defensive coordinator, Brad White, liked Echols’ approach to his first game as a Wildcat.

“He played with a lot of confidence today, which was good to see,” White said. “Fall camp has been a little bit up and down for him. He played confident. We’ll see what the film looks like, but the (pass breakups) — he was aggressive on some of those slant-and-glance routes. Guys are going to catch balls, but if they’re going to play aggressive and play with a swagger and intensity, that’s all we can ask for.”

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Next game

Eastern Michigan at Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: ESPNU or SEC Network alternate channel

Records: Kentucky 1-0, Eastern Michigan 1-0

Ben Roberts covers UK basketball, football and other sports for the Lexington Herald-Leader and has specialized in UK basketball recruiting for the past several years. He also maintains the Next Cats recruiting blog, which features the latest news on the Wildcats’ recruiting efforts.
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