Mark Story

The five most indispensable Kentucky Wildcats football players

Lynn Bowden and Terry Wilson are peanut butter and jelly

Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden said after UK football’s Spring Game on Friday, April 12, 2019, that he and quarterback Terry Wilson have a bond like peanut butter and jelly. Which one is the peanut butter and which one is the jelly?
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Kentucky wide receiver Lynn Bowden said after UK football’s Spring Game on Friday, April 12, 2019, that he and quarterback Terry Wilson have a bond like peanut butter and jelly. Which one is the peanut butter and which one is the jelly?

Last week’s news that Kentucky has lost junior safety Davonte Robinson for the season due to a torn right quadriceps was a gut punch to Mark Stoops and UK football.

In a Wildcats secondary that lost five key seniors from last season, Robinson was expected to be the anchor of the 2019 Kentucky defensive backfield.

Last year as a redshirt sophomore, the 6-foot-2, 197-pound Henry Clay product proved too good to keep off the field.

Robinson had nine tackles against Georgia in the game that decided the SEC East champion. He made seven stops with a tackle for loss in UK’s 14-7 grind-it-out victory over Vanderbilt.

It was Robinson who recovered a Feleipe Franks fumble on the game’s final play and returned it for a victory-clinching touchdown in Kentucky’s streak-busting win at Florida.

Given Robinson’s combination of talent and experience plus the lack of other proven players around him in the defensive secondary, I would have listed him as the second-most indispensable player on the Kentucky roster entering 2019.

Now that Robinson is sidelined, the five other players UK can least afford to lose in the coming season rank like this:

5. Jordan Griffin. A 6-foot, 194-pound safety, the senior from Riverdale, Ga., is now the only returning Kentucky defensive back with substantial playing experience.

Griffin started four games at nickel back last season before losing the spot to Robinson. As a junior in 2017, Griffin had 22 tackles, three pass breakups and an interception. Last season, he contributed 13 tackles and three pass breakups.

With Kentucky breaking in two brand new cornerbacks and with Robinson now unavailable at safety, Griffin’s veteran know-how is invaluable to UK.

Jordan Griffin
Kentucky defensive back Jordan Griffin (3) started four games in 2018 as UK’s nickel back. Alex Slitz

4. Drake Jackson. The 6-2, 313-pound center from Woodford County has started 20 consecutive games for Kentucky. A redshirt junior, Jackson was declared an unsung hero last season by Stoops during UK’s 10-3 season.

South Carolina Coach Will Muschamp singled Jackson out as “the guy who really jumps out at me. ... A really good player, obviously, directs their traffic up front, as far as really securing first-level defenders.”

With UK breaking in new starters in 2019 at right tackle and right guard and transitioning Landon Young back into the starting left tackle position after he missed last season with a torn ACL, having Jackson’s expertise in the middle of the offensive line should be a substantial Wildcats benefit.

Drake Jackson.JPG
Kentucky center Drake Jackson (52) has started 20 straight games for the Wildcats. Alex Slitz

3. Quinton Bohanna. With Kentucky replacing its entire starting secondary plus pass-rushing star Josh Allen, it needs its veteran interior defensive line to emerge as its defensive anchor.

The key to that figures to be Bohanna, the 6-4, 361-pound junior nose guard. Last season, the Cordova, Tenn., product shook off an early-season ankle injury and made four tackles for loss, forced a fumble and recovered it.

Quinton Bohanna
Kentucky nose guard Quinton Bohanna (95) made 17 tackles, including four tackles for loss, last season. Abby Drey

2. Terry Wilson. Had Kentucky not landed Sawyer Smith as a graduate transfer from Troy, Wilson would have been number one with a bullet on the 2019 list of indispensable Wildcats.

With Smith, who went 5-2 in seven starts last season at Troy, giving UK an experienced backup, it provides the Wildcats with some insurance at the quarterback spot.

A season ago, in his first year in the Kentucky program, the 6-3, 203-pound Wilson had two bleak games (at Texas A&M, vs. Vanderbilt) in the middle of an otherwise quality season.

The junior-college transfer threw for 1,889 yards and 11 touchdowns and ran for 547 yards and four scores while directing Kentucky to its first 10-win season in 41 years.

With all-time leading UK career rusher Benny Snell gone to the pros and the Kentucky defense having lost a bevy of difference-making performers, the UK quarterback will need to carry more of the load in 2019.

The knowledge Wilson gained last season while starting all 13 games should prove priceless as he seeks to meet that challenge.

UK quarterback Terry Wilson talks about the opening days of spring practice with the Wildcats football teams. Wilson is returning to Kentucky for his second season as the starter.

1. Lynn Bowden. Since it lost Jeff Badet and Boom Williams after the 2016 season, Kentucky has struggled to find dynamic offensive playmaking.

Entering the 2019 season, UK has one player who has proven he can consistently change games: Bowden.

In many of the best moments of the UK season, you will find Bowden’s fingerprints. He got behind the Florida secondary for a 54-yard touchdown bomb in that program-defining win. His 67-yard punt return TD launched Kentucky’s miracle comeback at Missouri. Bowden’s 58-yard punt return touchdown ignited the Wildcats’ victory over Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl.

Overall, the junior slot receiver from Youngstown, Ohio, caught 67 passes for 745 yards and five touchdowns.

It would be terrifying for UK if it had to ponder the coming season without the 6-1, 199-pound wide-out.

That’s why Lynn Bowden enters 2019 as THE indispensable player for Kentucky.


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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.