Mark Story

How Kentucky and Toledo match up — with a game prediction

Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson’s working on his leadership skills

After practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, Kentucky football quarterback Terry Wilson talks about being a more vocal leader. The junior is entering his second year as the UK starter. The Wildcats open the season Aug. 31.
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After practice on Tuesday, Aug. 20, 2019, Kentucky football quarterback Terry Wilson talks about being a more vocal leader. The junior is entering his second year as the UK starter. The Wildcats open the season Aug. 31.

How Kentucky (0-0) and Toledo (0-0) match up at each position for Saturday’s college football season opener — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Terry Wilson (1,889 yards on 67.2 percent passing; 547 yards rushing in 2018) will begin his second season as Kentucky’s starter after helping the Wildcats to a 10-3 mark last year. The 6-foot-3, 208-pound junior from Oklahoma City played a support role in a Benny Snell-centered offense in 2018. With Snell having turned pro, Mark Stoops and Co. will expect more from Wilson in 2019. For the second straight year, Toledo dual-threat Mitchell Guadagni (1,053 yards and 13 TDs passing; 428 yards and 3 TDs rushing) has won a preseason battle with Illinois transfer Eli Peters to be the Rockets’ starting QB. A season ago, the 6-2, 210-pound fifth-year senior played in only seven games due to a concussion (vs. Fresno State) followed by a broken collarbone (Western Michigan).

Advantage: Kentucky

Mitch Guadagni
Toledo senior quarterback Mitchell Guadagni completed 57.7 percent of his passes last season with 13 touchdown throws vs. only three interceptions. After missing six games last season due to injury, Guadagni entered 2019 battling with one-time Illinois transfer Eli Peters for the Rockets’ starting job. University of Toledo Athletics

Running backs

A.J. Rose (442 rushing yards, 5 TDs, 6.2 yards per carry average) was an effective understudy to UK all-time leading rusher Benny Snell in 2018; now, the 6-1, 218-pound junior from Cleveland gets a shot to be the top Cat. Kentucky has big expectations for redshirt freshmen Christopher Rodriguez and Kavosiey Smoke. Toledo running back Bryant Koback, who sat out the 2017 season as a redshirt at Kentucky, emerged as a standout (917 yards, 14 TDs, 6 ypc) last season. In 6-foot, 215-pound Shakif Seymour (565 yards rushing, 5 TDs), Rockets Coach Jason Candle can deploy another proven back.

Advantage: Toledo

Bryant Koback
Toledo standout running back Bryant Koback originally signed with Kentucky in the 2017 recruiting class but transferred after sitting out his freshman year at UK as a redshirt. Pablo Alcala Herald-Leader file photo

Wide receivers

Slot receiver Lynn Bowden was instrumental in Kentucky’s 2018 signature wins (at Florida, at Missouri, Penn State in the Citrus Bowl). If the 6-1, 206-pound junior from Youngstown, Ohio, can stay healthy in 2019, he could produce All-America-level performance. The big question for UK is whether anyone — junior Josh Ali, sophomore Allen Dailey, redshirt freshman Bryce Oliver? — steps up as a reliable complement to Bowden. Toledo lost its three leading receivers from 2018. Veteran slot receivers Desmond Phillips (27 catches, 220 yards) and Danzel McKinley-Lewis (23 catches, 319 yards, 3 TDs in 2017; missed all but 3 games last year due to injury) will seek to emerge as the Rockets’ new go-to receivers.

Advantage: Kentucky

Kentucky wide receivers coach Michael Smith talks about what’s expected from star wide receiver Lynn Bowden in 2019. Bowden led the team in catches with 67 last season. UK opens the season Aug. 31 against Toledo.

Tight ends

With program staple C.J. Conrad lost to graduation, the Kentucky brass have talked up the potential of his replacements, especially junior Justin Rigg (4 catches, 45 yards) and redshirt freshman Keaton Upshaw (an impressive physical presence at 6-6, 255 pounds). Toledo’s Reggie Gilliam (6 catches, 71 yards) is a rugged blocker hoping for a larger role this season in the passing game.

Advantage: Even

After Kentucky football’s scrimmage on Saturday, August 11, 2018, junior tight end Justin Rigg talked about his development at the position.

Offensive line

Kentucky senior left guard Logan Stenberg and redshirt junior center Drake Jackson are the anchors of an offensive front expected to be a UK strength. Toledo lost potential All-MAC center Bryce Harris for the season to a knee injury. Junior Luke Doerger is slated to step in for Harris with Ryle High School product Parker Bisek, a true freshman, backing him up.

Advantage: Kentucky

Logan Stenberg running.JPG
Kentucky left guard Logan Stenberg (71) was a preseason Second Team All-America selection by The Sporting News. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Defensive line

Throughout Kentucky’s preseason camp, UK offensive linemen have, without prompting, regularly praised the disruptive performance of senior defensive end T.J. Carter (18 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 tackles for loss). With the injury to Toledo standout center Bryce Harris, Kentucky nose guard Quinton Bohanna (17 tackles, 4 TFL) could be sitting on a big game. Last season as a true freshman, Toledo end Jamal Hines had 49 tackles, 9 TFL and 3 sacks. The 6-3, 250-pound Cincinnati product is a cornerstone for a defense looking to take a major step forward after struggling (allowed 30.5 points and 432.3 yards) last year.

Advantage: Kentucky

TJ Carter vs U of L
Kentucky senior defensive end T.J. Carter (90) drew frequent mentions this month from UK offensive linemen for having a strong preseason camp. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Linebackers

Kentucky senior MLB Kash Daniel (84 tackles, 7.5 TFL, 5 quarterback hurries) and junior SLB Boogie Watson (24 tackles, 5 sacks) are the only returning starters in UK’s defensive back eight. Redshirt sophomore Josh Paschal, who missed most of last season while undergoing radiation treatments after a melanoma was found on his foot, inherits the position of departed pass-rushing force Josh Allen. Toledo MLB Jordan Fisher had 60 tackles and forced 3 fumbles last season.

Advantage: Kentucky

Kash Daniel spoke to reporters at SEC Media Days in Birmingham, Alabama, on July 18, 2019.

Defensive backs

Kentucky lost its top six defensive backs from a season ago, five to graduation and junior safety Davonte Robinson to injury. Senior safety Jordan Griffin (5 career starts) is the most experienced player in the UK secondary. Cornerbacks Cedrick Dort, a redshirt sophomore, and Jamari Brown, a redshirt freshman, will each be making their first career starts. Toledo boundary corner Justin Clark (35 tackles, 1 interception, 4 pass breakups) and free safety Khalil Robinson (69 tackles, 1 interception) are potential All-MAC selections. Sophomore cornerback Desmond Bernard, a Bryan Station High School product, is not listed on the Rockets’ two-deep.

Advantage: Toledo

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Kentucky senior safety Jordan Griffin (3) is the only player with significant playing experience in the UK secondary. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Special teams

Kentucky junior punter Max Duffy (44.8 yards per punt) was a weapon in 2018, stopping 30 of his 60 kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line. Lynn Bowden returned two punts for TDs last season on only five attempts. Redshirt freshman place-kicker Chance Poore went 2-of-4 last season on field-goal tries. Toledo returns punter Bailey Flint (40.9 ypp, 24 of 61 inside the 20) but lost place-kicker Jameson Vest (15-of-20 field goals). Sophomore D.J. Wellons and freshman Evan Davis are vying to replace Vest. Watch out for Toledo senior Reggie Gilliam — who has 6 career blocked kicks.

Advantage: Kentucky

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Kentucky punter Max Duffy stopped 30 of his 60 punts last season inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Mark Mahan

Prediction

Kentucky 35, Toledo 30

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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.
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