Kentucky went 0-8 in the SEC last year, and while they return 15 starters, they still rank as the third easiest opponent on the Georgia Bulldogs football schedule, ahead of Charleston Southern and Troy.
The Wildcats are currently on a 14-game Southeastern Conference losing streak, dating back to Joker Phillips’ time as head coach. First-year coach Mark Stoops did a mediocre job on the field, but where he has really turned heads is on the recruiting trail.
Stoops landed the No. 17 recruiting class this year, which may not sound impressive in the SEC which had 7 teams in the Top 10. Compared to Kentucky’s average recruiting ranking of 47th in the past ten years, No. 17 is quite the improvement.
The Kentucky game is usually penciled in as a W on the schedule, but Kentucky has been known to put up a good fight in some years, and even come out with a win occasionally. Georgia leads the overall series 53-12-2.
The most significant part of last year’s game was, of course, Aaron Murray’s knee injury and the insertion of this year’s starting quarterback, Hutson Mason. Mason played just over two quarters, and was 13-19 for 189 yards, 9.9 YPC. He threw for one touchdown and ran for another.
Georgia won handily, 59-17, but Kentucky had only the second highest scoring total against the Bulldogs last year, who were ranked 11th in total defense in SEC. Only Appalachian State scored less in a 45-6 loss.
Kentucky was ranked 13th in total offense in the SEC last year, ahead of only Florida, and scored only 14 offensive TDs. Their two wins last year were against Miami (OH) and Alabama State. Their strongest showings were actually in two losses to Mississippi State (22-28) and South Carolina (28-35). Their worst were losses to Western Kentucky and Louisville.
Kentucky Key Departures
Offense: Jalen Whitlow-QB, Kevin Mitchell-OL
Defense: Avery Williamson-MLB, Mister Cobble-DT, Donte Rumph-DT
Kentucky lost starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow, who transferred to Eastern Illinois. Stoops projected him as the starter before his transfer in the spring. The offensive line was a mess in 2013, but they only lose one starter, Kevin Mitchell.
Starting linebacker Avery Williamson was drafted in the fifth round by the Titans. His 102 tackles in 2013 led the team by almost half (second was Dupree with 61), and started every game his last two years at Kentucky.
The defense lost two other starters, Mister Cobble and Donte Rumph, to graduation. Both were picked up as free agents by the Denver Broncos and Atlanta Falcons, respectively. Their presence on the interior defensive line will be missed. Cobble started every game in his last two years, and three-year starter Rumph was named second-team All-SEC as a senior by Athlon Sports.
Kentucky Key Returning Players
Offense: Patrick Towles-QB, Javess Blue-WR, Ryan Timmons-WR, Demarco Robinson-WR, Jojo Kemp-RB
Defense: Alvin Dupree-DE, Za’Darius Smith-DE
The quarterback position is still up for grabs, even after spring practice. Junior Maxwell Smith, who took over for Whitlow after injuries last year, is battling the upstart redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles, for the 2014 starting job, along with incoming freshman Drew Barker, and redshirt freshman Reese Phillips. Smith is recovering from off-season shoulder surgery, and Towles performed well in the spring, so it will be interesting to see who the starting quarterback is by November.
The attempt to return to the “Air-Raid Offense” from the Hal Mumme era was a disaster, but returning so many starters this year should be a step in the right direction. The rushing game was the highlight of the 2013 offense with its depth. Jojo Kemp will shoulder most of the running back duties again, but may have competition coming. Kemp led the team in rushing in his freshman year. The offensive line returns four starters, and they can only improve on last year’s performance, but don’t expect much.
The Wildcats also return their top rushers, and four receivers, including Ellenwood, Ga. native and senior Demarco Robinson. Robinson had only 20 catches for 213 yards and two touchdowns, but he figures to be a force on special teams again. He was the Wildcats’ leading punt returner with 11 returns for 114 yards, including a long of 33 yads. He also returned five kicks for 128 yards.
Robinson led the Wildcats with eight catches for 115 yards and one touchdown in the spring game. In 2013, Javess Blue led the Wildcats with 43 receptions for 586 yards with 4 TDs, while Ryan Timmons had 32 catches for 338 yards and 2 TDs.
Kentucky’s defense returns eight starters. Among the top tacklers were Irwinton, Ga. senior DE Alvin Dupree (61 tackles, 7 sacks) and senior DE Za’Darius Smith (59 tackles, 6 sacks).
Kentucky Suspended Players
The aforementioned Demarco Robinson was suspended late last year (including the game against Georgia) for violation of team rules, and was arrested in January for disorderly conduct, violation of the noise ordinance and resisting arrest.
He is currently suspended indefinitely, and whether Stoops will allow him to return to the team is undetermined. Another Kentucky player with Georgia roots, senior safety Ashely Lowery from Cleveland, was arrested for a DUI in the spring of 2013, and did not face any suspension despite Kentucky’s alcohol policy which is similar to UGA’s.
Kentucky Possible Impact Incoming Freshmen
Offense: Drew Barker, T.V. Williams, Thaddeus Snodgrass, Braylon Heard
Defense: CJ Johnson, Matt Elam
Freshman Drew Barker could also contend for the starting quarterback spot, and receivers T.V. Williams and Thaddeus Snodgrass (I kid you not on the names) could be popular targets. Transfer Braylon Heard figures to contend for the top RB spot. He sat out the 2013 season after his transfer from Nebraska.
The rebuilt DL will include junior college DT Cory “CJ” Johnson and DT Matt Elam, who should both be starters by the end of fall practice.
What about this year?
Looking at Georgia’s schedule, the Kentucky game is sandwiched between key matchups with Florida (in Jacksonville) and Auburn (at home), and it is in Lexington.
The best chance for Kentucky is to catch Georgia off guard. The Georgia game falls between away games at Missouri and Tennessee on Kentucky’s schedule, so that is highly unlikely. Like last year, a high-powered Georgia offense will face off against a Kentucky defense that we don’t know much about, but they figure to be better than 2013.
The question marks are in the Bulldogs’ defense, and the Wildcat offense with much room for improvement for both. Pencil this game in as a W for the Bulldogs.