Sidelines with John Clay

Three takeaways from Mark Stoops’ preview of the Toledo game

Three takeaways from Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops’ press conference on Monday previewing Saturday’s season opener against Toledo:

1. Losing Phil Hoskins is not helpful

Stoops reported that senior defensive lineman Phil Hoskins will miss the first two games because of an academic issue. That’s unfortunate because (a) Hoskins is from Toledo and (b) he’s an important part of UK’s defensive front.

The 6-5, 306-pounder played in all 13 games last season, recording 21 tackles with three sacks and 3.5 tackles for loss. He played seven games in 2017 after coming to UK as a junior college transfer from Highland Community College.

He’s also a part of what the Cats believe will be their defensive strength this season, the defensive line. Never in Stoops’ seven years as the Kentucky coach has the former defensive coordinator had as much experience and depth along the front. And even without Hoskins, the Cats have productive veterans in tackle Calvin Taylor, nose guard Quinton Bohanna and ends T.J. Carter and Kordell Looney. UK is much better equipped to deal with this situation than in the past.

Still, defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc likes to rotate his linemen. Without Hoskins, a younger player will have to pick up those snaps. And Kentucky needs good play from its defensive line to take pressure off its young secondary.

Good news: Hoskins would be back for the SEC opener against Florida on Sept. 7 at Kroger Field.

2. Toledo is no non-conference cupcake

A team “used to winning” was part of Stoops’ assessment of the Rockets, and it’s true. Toledo has won nine or more games in six of the last eight years. It went 9-4 in 2011 and 2012; 9-4 in 2014; 10-2 in 2015; 9-4 in 2016 and 11-3 in 2017. The Rockets were 25-13 under former coach Matt Campbell, now the head coach at Iowa State. They have gone 37-15 under current coach Jason Candle.

After that 11-3 mark in 2017, Toledo did slide back to 7-6 last year. But they have several starters returning from that team, led by former UK back Bryant Koback, who rushed for 917 yards on 153 carries last season. Koback averaged 6.0 yards per carry and scored 14 touchdowns.

Quarterback Eli Peters completed 55.1 percent of his passes, with 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Mitchell Guadagni completed 57.5 percent with 13 touchdowns and just three interceptions. Guadagni is a senior, Peters is a junior. They are listed as co-No. 1s on the Toledo depth chart.

By the way, most preseason publications have picked the Rockets to win the MAC’s West Division.

3. Stoops is as anxious to see his young secondary as we are

A focal point of UK’s first game will be a secondary required to replace its top five players from last season — safeties Mike Edwards and Darius West and cornerbacks Lonnie Johnson, Derrick Baity and Chris Westry. It also lost experienced safety Davonte Robinson for the season when the former Henry Clay High School star tore his quad muscle prior to training camp.

Now that camp is completed, Stoops said Monday he’s excited to see what his young defensive backs can do. Toledo operates a balanced offense, so the Rockets will no doubt try to attack the Cats through the air. And while UK does have players who were considered heralded recruits, they haven’t seen a lot of game action.

Monday’s first depth chart of the season lists true freshman Jamari Brown and sophomore Chris Dort as the starters at corner with sophomore Yusuf Corker and senior Jordan Griffin starting at the safeties. Tyrell Ajian, a sophomore, is listed as the nickelback.

Fingers crossed.

Kentucky football schedule

  • Aug. 31 - Toledo
  • Sept. 7 - Eastern Michigan
  • Sept. 14 - Florida
  • Sept. 21 - @Mississippi State
  • Sept. 28 - @South Carolina
  • Oct. 5 - Open
  • Oct. 12 - Arkansas
  • Oct. 19 - @Georgia
  • Oct. 26 - Missouri
  • Nov. 2 - Open
  • Nov. 9 - Tennessee
  • Nov. 16 - @Vanderbilt
  • Nov. 23 - UT Martin
  • Nov. 30 - Louisville

SEC football schedules for 2019 season

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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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