John Clay

To return a football favor, the Kentucky football offense must start fast

How did Terry Wilson think he played in UK’s second scrimmage?

Kentucky football quarterback Terry Wilson talks to the media after his team’s second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. The Wildcats open the season on Aug. 31, 2019 against visiting Toledo at Kroger Field.
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Kentucky football quarterback Terry Wilson talks to the media after his team’s second scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. The Wildcats open the season on Aug. 31, 2019 against visiting Toledo at Kroger Field.

One thing we think we know for sure about the quickly approaching Kentucky football season: The offense can’t stumble out of the gate.

It just can’t. Not when Mark Stoops’ defense is so wet behind the ears. Not when he’s trying to cook up a secondary from scratch and maybe the best outside linebacker in school history has moved on to the NFL. Not when he has a first-time coordinator calling the signals.

Yes, we know, Kentucky ranked 104th nationally in total offense a year ago. Yes, we know, the school’s all-time leading rusher, Mr. Snell Yeah himself, Benny Snell, is now trying to run through NFL tackles with the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, we know, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is still trying to pinpoint a second wide receiver weapon to complement the electric Lynn Bowden.

Doesn’t matter. After Kentucky’s stellar defense shouldered the load in what became an historic 10-win 2018, Kentucky’s offense needs to return the favor — at least through the first few games of 2019.

“No doubt,” said quarterback Terry Wilson after the team’s second fall scrimmage on Saturday. “That’s our whole philosophy, that’s what we talk about day in and day out. We have to come out with that sense of urgency.”

So after earning positive reviews out of scrimmage No. 1, how did the UK offense fare in round two? Not quite as well.

“I’d say the defense won; the offense didn’t come out and play the way we needed to play,” offensive guard Logan Stenberg said. “We came out a little flat.”

Actually, it wasn’t that bad, at least not in the eyes of Stoops, who praised his young defense for upping its game but still voiced confidence in his offense.

“Offensively, we’re going to be fine, we’re going to be good,” the coach said. “They continue to run the ball very effectively. We’re doing some really good things as far as play-calling and the system we have in place. There are some hard plays to defend.”

Last year’s offense played to the team’s strength, i.e. the defense. Gran himself remarked back on the team’s media day earlier this month that the only thing he could have done in 2018 was “screw it up.” Thus the Cats employed basically a conservative, ball-control attack that focused on Snell without much reason to take big chances.

This year is different. This year the Cats are in search of more explosive plays, more difference-making plays. That should especially be the case in the early going when the defense under new coordinator Brad White is trying to get its feet on the ground.

Wilson should be the key driver towards that objective. After all, the Oklahoma native is heading into his second year as the starting quarterback. Stoops said Saturday the junior appears more comfortable so far this camp, more decisive in his reads and throws.

“I think I did pretty good” was Wilson’s own review of his Saturday scrimmage performance. “There were a few plays I could have done better on. I don’t think I took any sacks today, so that was a good thing. And I didn’t turn the ball over, so I feel like I did pretty good.”

“Terry’s really taken a big step forward this fall camp,” Stenberg said.

The quarterback complimented the pass-catching ability of his running backs. He put in a good word for redshirt freshman wideout Bryce Oliver. He did admit there is still plenty of work to do before the Toledo Rockets, favorites to win the MAC’s Western Division, roll into Kroger Field on Aug. 31.

When that day arrives and the 2019 season opens, however, the offense needs to be set on go.

“We’ve got to push the ball down the field, just to help out our defense,” Wilson said. “But I feel like we should do that all the time. We should have that attitude and that chip on our shoulder that we want to move the ball down the field.”

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops was asked Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019, about assistant coach Vince Marrow’s comments that true freshman defensive back MJ Devonshire has been practicing with the first team in training camp.

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John Clay is a sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader. A native of Central Kentucky, he covered UK football from 1987 until being named sports columnist in 2000. He has covered 20 Final Fours and 37 consecutive Kentucky Derbys.
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