Sidelines with John Clay

Top five quarterbacks Kentucky football will face in 2016

Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson talks with head coach Bobby Petrino during the 2015 UK-U of L game at Commonwealth Stadium.
Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson talks with head coach Bobby Petrino during the 2015 UK-U of L game at Commonwealth Stadium. Lexington Herald-Leader

It won’t be long now before the college football season launches from the starting blocks. Between now and then, we hope to provide sporadic posts and lists previewing Kentucky’s year ahead.

We’ll start with the top five quarterbacks UK will face this season, which brings a caveat. As the schedule has it, the pickings are relatively slim. The dust has yet to settle for many of the 2016 opponents in that regard. Florida, South Carolina, Alabama, among others, have yet to use ink for the choice behind center.

With that in mind, here’s the top five.

1. Lamar Jackson, Louisville: The phrase “outrageously gifted” keeps springing to mind when thinking of Bobby Petrino’s sophomore-to-be. Kentucky knows this all too well. Up 24-7 at the half last November at Commonwealth Stadium, Kentucky chased but too often failed to catch Jackson as U of L kneecapped the Cats in the second half for a 38-24 win. Jackson finished with 186 yards on 17 carries.

The Boynton Beach, Florida native followed up by rushing for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 22 carries to earn MVP honors of the Cards’ Music City Bowl win over Texas A&M. It was the fifth game the rookie topped the 100-yard rushing mark. He finished with 960 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns, averaging 5.89 yards per carry.

Jackson’s passing accuracy should improve. He was 135-of-247 through the air for 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns with eight interceptions in his first-go. Petrino will be applying plenty of polish for 2016.

2. Nick Mullens, Southern Miss: Last year as a junior, the native of Hoover, Alabama completed 63.7 percent of his passes for 4,476 yards, 38 touchdowns with 12 interceptions in leading the Golden Eagles to a 9-5 record. He was 14th in the nation in pass efficiency and Pro Football Focus ranked the 6-foot-1, 196-pound Mullens as the 55th-best player in college football for 2016.

Lindy’s rated Mullens as the 19th-best quarterback in college football for 2016. Phil Steele rated Mullens as the 20th best NFL draft eligible quarterback for 2016.

New Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson, once an assistant at Marshall, told Patrick Magee of the Biloxi Sun-Herald, “He’s a football player. Nick Mullens, I’ve told a lot of guys he’s like Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. He throw the ball as well as any quarterback I’ve been around. He’s a tremendous football player and all he’s all that’s been advertised.”

3. Josh Dobbs, Tennessee: They are expecting a big season in Big Orange Country and Dobbs is a prime reason. Like Louisville’s Jackson, the quarterback is a pass-run threat who gave Kentucky fits last year when he threw for two scores and ran for two more in the Vols’ 52-21 romp.

As a junior, the Alpharetta, Georgia native completed 205 of 344 passes (59.6 percent) for 2,291 yards and 15 touchdowns with five interceptions. He was 16-of-26 for 233 yards with one pick against the Cats. He ran for 136 yards, including a 62-yard run, at Florida and rushed for 118 more at home against Georgia.

The former Arizona State commit, who switched to Tennessee on singing day in 2013, is 14-8 as the Tennessee starter. He’s also known for being an aerospace engineer major. “Ever since I was younger, I’ve always been fascinated with airplanes and I’ve always been good with the math and sciences growing up so it was just the perfect fit,” Dobbs told the Orlando Sentinel. “It was something that I really enjoyed and something I wanted to learn more about. It was a passion that I’ve already had and I’ve learned a lot.”

4. Jacob Eason, Georgia: A record-setting crowd of 93,000 flocked to Sanford Stadium for Georgia’s G-Day (Spring) Game to check out new head coach Kirby Smart and hotshot quarterback recruit Jacob Eason. The latter didn’t disappoint. Considered the No. 1 prep pocket passer quarterback signee for 2016, Eason enrolled early at UGA and completed 19 of 29 passes for 244 yards and a touchdown without an interception.

The true freshman from Lake Stevens, Washington is obviously inexperienced and he’ll have to win the job from holdovers Greyson Lambert and Brice Ramsey. Eason will have plenty of help, however, especially if running back Nick Chubb successfully returns from 2015 ACL surgery. By the time, UK and Georgia meet in Lexington on Nov. 5, expect Eason to be Smart’s starter.

5. Kyle Shurmur, Vanderbilt: A true freshman last season, Shurmur ended the year as the Commodores’ starting quarterback. Was starting quarterback in Vandy’s 21-17 win over Kentucky in which Shurmur completed 13 of 26 passes for 166 yards and two touchdowns without an interception. Completed 15 of 34 throws for 209 yards and three touchdowns, with one interception, in season finale against Tennessee. Finished the season completing 44 of 103 passes for 503 yards and five touchdowns.

His experience at the end of 2015 should help, plus Shurmur has the genes. He is the son of Pat Shurmur, current tight ends coach with the Minnesota Vikings, former Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator and former NFL head coach with the Cleveland Browns.

Kentucky 2016 football schedule

Date

Opponent

9/3/16

Southern Miss

9/10/16

@Florida

9/17/16

New Mexico St

9/24/16

South Carolina

10/1/16

@Alabama

10/8/16

Vanderbilt

10/22/16

Mississippi St

10/29/16

@Missouri

11/5/16

Georgia

11/12/16

@Tennessee

11/19/16

Austin Peay

11/26/16

@Louisville

How quarterbacks did against UK defense in 2015

Opp

QB

Comp

Att

Yds

TD

INT

Rush

Yds

TD

UL-Lafayette

Brooks Haack

22

37

194

0

2

5

14

1

S Carolina

Perry Orth

13

20

179

1

1

1

-5

0

Florida

Will Grier

13

22

125

0

1

12

61

1

Missouri

Maty Mauk

15

30

180

1

1

11

49

0

Eastern Ky

Bennie Coney

19

32

182

2

0

9

30

1

Auburn

Sean White

17

27

255

0

0

6

7

0

Miss State

Dak Prescott

25

35

348

3

1

13

117

3

Tennessee

Josh Dobbs

16

26

233

1

1

7

51

1

Georgia

Greyson Lambert

6

13

64

1

0

1

4

0

Vanderbilt

Kyle Shurmur

13

26

166

2

0

1

2

0

Charlotte

Brooks Barden

11

25

87

1

2

10

47

0

Louisville

Lamar Jackson

9

21

130

1

1

17

186

2

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