John Clay

Five questions on Kentucky football at the halfway point of the season

Benny Snell: It’s unbelievable that UK football isn’t ranked

The fact Kentucky is 5-1 and not in the AP Top 25 isn’t sitting well with running back Benny Snell.
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The fact Kentucky is 5-1 and not in the AP Top 25 isn’t sitting well with running back Benny Snell.

This being the exact mid-point of the Kentucky football season, let’s play five questions:

1. Who are UK’s Most Valuable Players of the first half?

Instead of narrowing our choice to one, let’s break it down into offense and defense. For offense, let’s go with quarterback Stephen Johnson. For defense, the choice is defensive end/outside linebacker Josh Allen.

Johnson has solidified his role as not just the leader of the offense, but the leader of the team. His calm, cool, level-headed presence is a constant and his skill set has improved. His completion percentage is up. His turnovers are down. Last Saturday, when UK found itself in a shootout with Missouri, Johnson delivered, completing 22 of 36 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception.

On the opposite side of the football, Allen is having a breakout season. The junior from Montclair, N.J, is tied for third in the nation in sacks. From the first game at Southern Miss, he has teamed with fellow edge rusher Denzil Ware to give UK a formidable pass rush. He’s also played better in space, meaning head coach Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator Matt House don’t always have to sub when they want to rush three and drop eight defenders.

2. What has been the biggest surprise of the first half?

Special teams. And for that we must thank the infamous fight(s) two summers ago between Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky players. In the process of sorting things out, Stoops got to know then-EKU coach Dean Hood. The two clicked and, one year after Hood was fired, Stoops brought him on his staff as outside linebackers and special teams coach.

Through six games, UK’s special teams have been excellent, from net punting to the return game to blocking kicks. Before this season, chances are you had never heard of Charles Moushey, a former pole vaulter. Now you know him as the guy who flies down the field and downs punts at the opponents’ 1-yard line.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops credited special teams coordinator Dean Hood with the fake punt call that resulted in Kash Daniels picking up a key first down in the fourth quarter.

3. What has been the biggest disappointment of the first half?

Probably the offensive line. The graduations of center Jon Toth and utility man Ramsey Meyers, plus the loss of starting tackle Cole Mosier to an ACL tear in training camp have all been tough to overcome. Maybe tougher than expected. The basic process of snapping the football has been a problem. There is hope, however. Redshirt freshman Drake Jackson appears to have improved things at center. And the UK offense had its most productive game of the season against Missouri.

After win over Eastern Michigan, Kentucky offensive line coach John Schlarman said is guys need to play better.

4. Where exactly is this team at the halfway point?

This is just the third time in the past 30 years that UK has been 5-1 after six games. (Two previous occasions were 2007 and 2014.) With one exception, the Cats have won the games they were supposed to win and lost the one game it was supposed to lose. The lone upset, the 23-13 win at South Carolina, is the team’s best win to date. Florida is the best team the Cats have faced thus far and, after leading 27-14, Kentucky dropped a 28-27 gut punch. UK’s five victories have come by a combined 38 points. On the other hand, the Cats are two points away from being 6-0.

5. How does the second half shape up?

The degree of difficulty definitely increases. Of the six remaining games, five are conference games. Three of those (Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Georgia) are on the road. The good news is that from here on out, only a win over Georgia in Athens appears a bridge too far. Tennessee appears beatable. Vanderbilt has not played well the last few weeks. As North Carolina State proved last week, Louisville is vulnerable. And UK won at U of L a year ago.

By no means does this mean UK will win five of its last six. A split, however, yields an 8-4 record. And that’s setting the bar low.

Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson says we are going to see more of true freshman receiver Lynn Bowden.

Redshirt freshman center Drake Jackson has been getting more playing time the past couple of games as Kentucky tries to fine tune its offensive line.

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran says UK is settling for too many field goals in the Red Zone, i.e. inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Kentucky football 2017

Date

Opponent

UK

Opp

Dec

Rec

SEC

9/2/17

@Southern Miss

24

17

W

1-0

9/9/17

Eastern Kentucky

27

16

W

2-0

9/16/17

@South Carolina

23

13

W

3-0

1-0

9/23/17

Florida

27

28

L

3-1

1-1

9/30/17

Eastern Michigan

24

20

W

4-1

10/7/17

Missouri

40

34

W

5-1

2-1

10/21/17

@Miss State

10/28/17

Tennessee

11/4/17

Ole Miss

11/11/17

@Vanderbilt

11/18/17

@Georgia

11/25/17

Louisville

UK offense game-by-game

Opponent

Rush

Yds

Avg

TD

Com

Att

Yds

TD

INT

Plays

Yds

YPP

@Southern Miss

35

78

2.23

1

11

20

176

1

0

55

254

4.62

Eastern Ky

39

207

5.31

2

16

24

229

1

0

63

436

6.92

@S Carolina

47

184

3.91

2

16

26

169

0

1

73

353

4.84

Florida

32

120

3.75

0

18

27

220

3

0

59

340

5.76

E Michigan

37

53

1.43

1

18

27

175

2

0

64

228

3.56

Missouri

39

188

4.82

2

22

37

298

2

1

76

486

6.39

UK defense game-by-game

Opponent

Rush

Yds

Avg

TD

Com

Att

Yds

TD

INT

Plays

Yds

YPP

@Southern Mis

38

55

1.45

0

22

40

364

2

0

78

364

4.67

Eastern Ky

20

62

3.10

1

31

43

256

1

1

63

318

5.05

@S Carolina

20

54

2.70

0

24

37

304

0

2

57

358

6.28

Florida

36

186

5.17

2

17

27

209

2

1

63

395

6.27

E Michigan

27

13

0.48

1

27

47

299

2

2

74

312

4.22

Missouri

33

213

6.45

1

22

43

355

3

0

76

568

7.47

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