John Clay

Five players I’m anxious to see play in Kentucky’s season opener on Saturday

Is Terry Wilson ready for UK football’s season opener

Kentucky football quarterback Terry Wilson talks about Saturday’s season-opening game against Toledo at Kroger Field. The junior is entering his second season as UK’s starter at quarterback.
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Kentucky football quarterback Terry Wilson talks about Saturday’s season-opening game against Toledo at Kroger Field. The junior is entering his second season as UK’s starter at quarterback.

When Kentucky opens the season Saturday against Toledo at Kroger Field, here are five Wildcats I’m anxious to see on the field:

Terry Wilson: Start with the lead guy. After all, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran repeated Tuesday that “this is his offense.” Wilson’s first year, last year, wasn’t awful, wasn’t great. He did help a team to 10 victories, including a New Year’s Day bowl victory, but as a second-year starter he should get better.

His 2018 debut was a little rough. He lost two fumbles and threw two interceptions in the 35-20 win over Central Michigan. Was Terry Touchdown really Terry Turnover? Second week, Wilson played a major role in UK’s streak-snapping 27-16 triumph at Florida. This year, I expect more of the latter than the former. Coaches appear confident progress has been made. But the proof is on the field.

Jamari Brown: The redshirt freshman from Sunrise, Florida, is No. 1 on the UK depth chart at one of the cornerback slots. A top-100 corner on the recruiting boards coming out of high school, Brown was pursued by Auburn, Mississippi State and South Carolina, among others, before signing with the Cats. He would have surely played right away in any of the early years under Mark Stoops. With talented veterans Lonnie Johnson, Derrick Baity and Chris Westry populating the UK secondary in 2018, however, there was no need to put Brown on the fast track.

It’s a different story this year with the secondary officially in “under construction” mode. Brown earned positive practice reviews early in camp and has held his spot leading up to the opener. Stoops said Monday he is anxious to get a look at his young secondary in game action, especially considering Toledo can throw the football. The coach isn’t alone.

Josh Paschal: By now you know the Josh Paschal story, the skin cancer diagnosis just before last season, the treatments, the rehabbing, the fact that the Washington, D.C., native played in just three games, making it a redshirt season. A scary C-word story has thankfully become a C-word story, as in comeback.

Treatments finished, Paschal is a listed starter at outside linebacker, his original position following a brief trial on the defensive line. Overshadowed by the compelling personal story is the fact that Paschal is a rare athlete, one listed at 284 pounds who can move well enough to play on the edge. With Josh Allen gone, Paschal will vie to be the next playmaker on the UK defense.

A.J. Rose: Lost in the confetti of the 1,449-yard rushing season for record-breaker Benny Snell last season was the fact his backup didn’t run the ball all that badly himself. The then-sophomore rushed for 442 yards and five touchdowns. Rose ripped off a 75-yard run and averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

Now Snell is a Pittsburgh Steeler and Rose is the big man in the Big Blue backfield. The 6-foot-1, 208-pounder from Cleveland doesn’t possess Snell’s heft or power, but he has shown a catch-me-if-you-can gear. Ten of Rose’s 71 carries last season went for 10-or-more yards. He can also catch the ball out of the backfield, a dimension Gran wants to add to his play-call sheet.

Chance Poore: The Anderson, S.C., native with the big leg made two of four field goals during his redshirt season a year ago. He drilled a 31-yarder at Missouri and a 34-yarder at home against Georgia. But he missed a 51-yarder and had a 30-yarder blocked at Tennessee. At that point, UK decided to give field goal duties back to Miles Butler and save Poore’s redshirt year.

With Butler graduated, Poore has the job all to himself. Rated the No. 1 kicker in the class of 2018 in some circles, Poore has the leg. There’s no doubt about that. “He hit a 56-yarder the other day at practice,” Stoops said Monday. “I’m not saying I’m going to go for it at 56, know what I mean. We’ll see.”

Season opener

Toledo at Kentucky

Noon Saturday (SEC Network)

Kentucky football offensive coordinator Eddie Gran talks about Saturday’s season-opening game against the Toledo Rockets at Kroger Field.

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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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