Mark Story

Blue Preview: Your guide to Kentucky’s season opener vs. Toledo

Kentucky vs. Toledo

When: Noon, Saturday (Aug. 31)

Where: Kroger Field

TV: SEC Network (play-by-play, Taylor Zarzour; analysis, Matt Stinchcomb; sideline, Alyssa Lang)

Radio: WLAP-AM 630, WBUL-FM 98.1, XM Channel 190, Sirius Channel 135, Internet Channel 961

Records: Kentucky (0-0; 0-0 SEC); Toledo (0-0; 0-0 MAC)

Series: First meeting

Favorite: Kentucky by 11 1/2 points

The story line

Coming off one of the best seasons (10-3, VRBO Citrus Bowl champions) in school history, Kentucky must replace the National Defensive Player of the Year (Josh Allen), its all-time leading career rusher (Benny Snell) and its top six defensive backs as it attempts to keep the good times rolling into a new season. Toledo, the preseason choice to win the Mid-American Conference West Division, will be a legitimate test for Mark Stoops’ new-look troops.

The big threat

Toledo’s Bryant Koback originally signed with Kentucky in the class of 2017 and sat out his true freshman season at UK as a redshirt. The speedy running back from Holland, Ohio, subsequently left UK to transfer closer to home “due to some unforeseen circumstances with my family,” he said at the time. Last season at Toledo, the 6-foot, 193-pound Koback ran for 917 yards and 14 touchdowns. Though Mark Stoops said UK and Koback parted on friendly terms, one surmises the back will be well-motivated to show his former team what it lost.

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Running back Bryant Koback orginally signed with Kentucky in the class of 2017 but he is now the star running back for Toledo. Pablo Alcala Herald-Leader file photo

On the spot

The Kentucky secondary. UK opens the 2019 season without its top six defensive backs from a season ago after losing five to graduation and safety Davonte Robinson to injury. Toledo lost its three leading receivers from 2018 but does have two experienced quarterbacks in Mitchell Guadagni and Eli Peters. Expect Coach Jason Candle’s Rockets to test a UK defensive backfield that, other than senior safety Jordan Griffin, is all but a complete blank slate.

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Kentucky safety Jordan Griffin (3) is the most experienced player in a UK secondary that lost its top six players from a season ago to graduation or injury. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

The mood

Has been almost giddy. Since Kentucky finished off its 10-win, 2018 season with a VRBO Citrus Bowl upset of Penn State, the Wildcats’ program has been riding a momentum wave. UK had five players chosen in the 2019 NFL Draft. Kentucky’s recruiting efforts in the class of 2020 have been strong. With the Big Blue Nation feeling more positive about Wildcats football than it has in eons, the challenge now is to perform well enough during the 2019 season to sustain the positive vibes.

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