Ten key Kentucky football Cats for the season’s second half, which starts Saturday at Mississippi State:
Stephen Johnson: The former junior college transfer quarterback has come out of nowhere to become the team’s leader. And he keeps on keeping on. Completion percentage: up. Turnovers: down. These final six regular-season games of his college career, Johnson can leave a lasting mark.
Jordan Jones: Almost forgot about the preseason All-SEC linebacker, didn’t you? Jones has missed the last four games with a shoulder injury. Now he’s back. And the aggressive, all-over-the-field junior could be a major factor for a defense that will face some major stress tests down the stretch.
Benny Snell: The sophomore bulldozer is the type of back who grows stronger as the game progresses. Is he the type of back who grows stronger as the season progresses? When offensive coordinator Eddie Gran goes to his grunt game to chew up the clock and give UK’s defense a rest, the answer needs to be yes.
Garrett Johnson: Hello? Has anyone out there noticed “Juice” is having a standout senior season? Johnson has made 27 grabs for 333 yards and two scores. More than that, the fleet Floridian has made many a clutch third-down catch that, through guts and guile and what seems like elbow grease, he has turned into a key first down.
Drake Jackson: The redshirt freshman has leapfrogged up the depth chart to provide stability to a shaky offensive line. The center can actually snap the ball to the quarterback or running back (wildcat) without it first rolling along the ground or sailing into the stratosphere. As Gran might say, that is making simple better.
Josh Allen: The junior edge rusher claims he doesn’t look at his sack totals in the weekly stats. Says he’ll wait till the end of the season and check the final tally. That could be true. Last time I checked, however, the New Jersey native was the SEC’s top pass rusher. That’s right, the SEC’s top pass rusher.
Derrick Baity: Could have gone with most anyone in the Big Blue secondary, but we settled on the junior cornerback who seems a spokesman for the guys on the back end. In the last game, Missouri threw over the top and often with six-point results against UK’s last line of defense. It’s up to the corners, led by juniors Baity and Chris Westry, to get that stuff stopped. And now.
Austin MacGinnis: Last year, mighty Mac torpedoed Mississippi State with a 51-yard field goal at the final horn and Louisville with a 47-yard field goal 12 seconds before the final horn. Between now and Thanksgiving, the MBA candidate might again be asked to be the late-game MVP. History shows he hasn’t been one to flinch.
Lynn Bowden: I know, I know, we keep harping on the freshman receiver from Youngstown. He got here late. He had to learn a new position. The offensive staff is being patient with his development. Then again, slowly but surely — a juke that makes a tackler miss here; a razor-sharp change-of-direction there — you can see what all the recruiting enthusiasts were so excited about back when he signed. We’ve said it before, we’ll say it again. Sooner or later, it’s going to be Bowden Time.
Mark Stoops: He might not be a player, but he’s THE player. His Cats have won seven of their last nine games, including three straight true road games heading into Saturday’s swing down to Starkville. And yes, Stoops’ 2014 troops began 5-1 only to end 5-7. This edition is made of sturdier stuff, however. So far, it keeps finding ways to win. Remember, UK hasn’t had a winning conference season since 1977. Not that this team will finally fill that hole in the program’s résumé, but it has picked up the shovel.
Kentucky at Mississippi St.
4 p.m. (SEC Network)
Kentucky football 2017