Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky football’s first opposing quarterback could be breakout star

Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens threw for 38 touchdowns compared to just 12 interceptions in 2015.
Southern Miss quarterback Nick Mullens threw for 38 touchdowns compared to just 12 interceptions in 2015. Associated Press

Our friends over at Pro Football Focus have written a post attempting to predict which college quarterback could emerge from out of the obscurity of non-Power 5 conferences to not just star status but being a high NFL draft pick as were North Dakota State’s Carson Wentz and Memphis’ Paxton Lynch last season.

PFF’s No. 1 pick for that distinction: The first quarterback Kentucky football will face this season.

Southern Miss’ Nick Mullens was first on the PFF list. The 6-foot-1, 187-pound senior from Hoover, Alabama threw for 4,476 yards and 38 touchdowns, compared to 12 interceptions a year ago.

Writes Zoltan Buday of PFF, “Who is the returning quarterback with the highest PFF passing grade in 2015? It is actually not Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield or Clemson’s Deshaun Watson, but Southern Miss’ Nick Mullens. Last year, he was able to build on a promising sophomore season and finished tied for fourth in the nation with 38 touchdown passes.”

Buday also praised Mullens’ ability to throw the deep ball, saying the quarterback completed 52.7 percent of his passes that traveled 20-or-more yards. That was third-best among returning passers.

We wrote about Mullens in our post ranking the top five quarterbacks Kentucky will face in 2016. We put Mullens No. 2 behind Lousiville’s Lamar Jackson, though Mullens will be the best passing quarterback the Cats will play this season. Jackson is more of a running threat.

The wild card in the Southern Miss game for UK is the new USM offensive coordinator, who is Kentucky’s old offensive coordinator. After assisting Dana Holgorsen at West Virginia, Shannon Dawson spent 2015 calling plays for Mark Stoops at Kentucky before being let go at the end of the season.

Sept. 3: Southern Miss at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m. on ESPNU

Dawson was hired by new Southern Miss coach Jay Hopson, who replaces Todd Monken, now the offensive coordinator for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Monken was just 13-25 in his three seasons in Hattiesburg, but led the Golden Eagles from a 1-11 mark in 2013 to 3-9 in 2014 and 9-5 last season. USM lost to Western Kentucky in the C-USA Championship Game.

The 47-year-old Hopson led Alcorn State to a 32-17 record over four seasons before taking the Southern Miss job. He has more of a defensive background, having served as as defensive coordinator at Southern Miss and Memphis before becoming the head coach at Alcorn State.

One more interesting note from PFF’s article: No. 2 on the list was Cincinnati’s Gunner Kiel. And who was Kiel’s offensive coordinator at Cincinnati? Current UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran. Who was Kiel’s quarterbacks coach at Cincinnati? Current UK quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw.

More links:

▪ Top five running backs Kentucky will face in 2016

▪ Top five receivers Kentucky will face in 2016

▪ Mark Stoops’ nightmare scenario

Nick Mullens game-by-game 2015 season

DATE

OPP

COMP

ATT

YDS

TD

INT

9/5/15

Miss St

30

44

311

1

2

9/12/15

Austin Peay

22

40

275

3

1

9/19/15

@Texas St

19

27

333

4

0

9/26/15

@Nebraska

26

41

447

2

0

10/3/15

North Texas

27

36

325

4

0

10/9/15

@Marshall

29

58

314

1

1

10/17/15

UTSA

23

31

343

2

3

10/24/15

@Charlotte

24

38

265

4

0

10/31/15

UTEP

23

33

277

4

0

11/14/15

@Rice

23

31

386

5

0

11/21/15

Old Dominion

21

37

302

2

1

11/28/15

@La Tech

24

37

386

3

1

12/5/15

@WKU

15

30

181

1

3

12/26/15

vsWashington

25

38

331

2

0

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