Sidelines with John Clay

Former Wildcats running back will play key role in Kentucky-Toledo football opener

One of the keys to Kentucky football starting 2019 on the right foot is how it does against a running back who was once a Wildcat.

Bryant Koback, a sophomore from Holland, Ohio, is the Toledo Rockets’ offensive star heading into Saturday’s opener at Kroger Field. The 6-foot, 205-pounder rushed for 917 yards on 153 attempts last season, averaging 6.0 yards per carry. He rushed for 192 yards in Toledo’s win over Kent State, 124 yards in a win over Central Michigan.

Not that Kentucky is surprised, mind you. After all, Koback began his career at UK. Despite Koback suffering a leg injury in high school, head coach Mark Stoops signed the Springfield star and he redshirted in 2017. At the end of the season, Koback decided to transfer back closer to his ill mother.

To help Koback with the move, Stoops waived the restriction barring transfers from moving to a school on a future UK schedule. Koback had been considering Toledo and Eastern Michigan before picking the Rockets.

So what will Koback’s emotions be like Saturday?

“I haven’t really thought about it too much until everybody comes up and asks me questions about it,” he told Brian Buckey of the Toledo Blade. “At the end of the day, situations always change, and everything happens for a reason. Therefore, I truly believe I was meant to be here at Toledo and be a Toledo Rocket.”

Asked about Koback during his weekly press luncheon on Monday, Stoops said, “He’s a really great kid and a very good football player.”

“He can make you miss but he can also run you over if he wanted to,” UK linebacker Kash Daniel said this week. “It’s a little bit of mix of spice and everything nice.”

Toledo’s offense is good. The Rockets ranked 30th nationally in total offense last season, averaging 443.8 yards per game. They were 25th in rushing, averaging 215.9 yards per game. They return their top two quarterbacks, with Mitch Guadagni getting the start Saturday. Eli Peters may also see action. Toledo has inexperience at receiver, but not at running back.

“Like a pro,” said Toledo Coach Jason Candle when asked how Koback will handle Saturday. “Like the way he handles everything else.”

Bryant Koback 2018 game-by-game

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Travis Etienne leads Clemson to opening win. The Tigers’ running back rushed for 205 yards and three touchdowns on just 12 carries as Dabo Swinney’s squad romped 52-14 over Georgia Tech. It was the debut for Yellowjackets Coach Geoff Collins. Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence was 13-of-23 passing for 168 yards and one touchdown with two interceptions.

Up the road, Cincinnati held off UCLA 24-14. Coming off an 11-win season, the Bearcats benefited from Bruins’ quarterback Dorian Thompson-Robinson dropping the ball not once but twice. Chip Kelly’s signal-caller dropped the ball with Cincinnati recovering the fumble inside the red zone on UCLA’s first possession. Then late, as the visitors were playing catch-up, Thompson-Robinson had the ball slip out of his hands while attempting a pass. Again, Cincinnati recovered.

Elijah Sindelar leads Purdue against Nevada on Friday. The former Caldwell County star is the undisputed leader of Jeff Brohm’s offense heading into the opener. Unlike last season, Sindelar says he is healthy. And he has Rondale Moore, the sophomore star out of Louisville who is already on some dark horse Heisman Trophy lists. Kickoff is 9:30 p.m. on the CBS Sports Network.

Check out our podcast in which I discuss UK-Toledo where we discuss Bryant Koback and other subjects.

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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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