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Sneak Peek: The Kentucky Wildcats

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Don’t sleep on the Wildcats

NCAA Football: Belk Bowl-Virginia Tech vs Kentucky Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be taking a quick look at every Auburn opponent on the 2020 schedule.

2019 Record: 8-5 (3-5)

2020 Signing Class: 25th (9th SEC)

Head Coach: Mark Stoops (8th Season)

Key Departures:

  • ATH Lynn Bowden Jr. - 35/74 (47.3%) 403 yds 3 TD 3 INT 185 carries 1,468 yds 7.9 avg 13 TD 30 rec 348 yds 11.6 avg TD
  • WR Ahmad Wagner - 15 rec 254 yds 16.9 avg 2 TD
  • DE Calvin Taylor - 36 tackles 9.5 TFL 8.5 sacks 4 PBU 3 FF
  • LB Kash Daniel - 58 tackles 4.0 TFL INT 3 FR

Key Returners:

  • QB Terry Wilson (Sr) - 180/268 (67.2%) 1,889 yds 11 TD 8 INT 135 carries 547 yds 4.1 avg 4 TD (2018)
  • RB Asim Rose (Sr) - 149 carries 826 yds 5.5 avg 6 TD 11 rec 67 yds 6.1 avg
  • WR Josh Ali (Sr) - 23 rec 233 yds 10.1 avg 3 TD
  • C Drake Jackson (Sr)
  • OT Darian Kinnard (Jr)
  • OLB Jamar Watson - 36 tackles 11.5 TFL 6.5 sacks FR 2 FF
  • LB Deandre Square (Jr) - 69 tackles 4.0 TFL 1.5 sacks INT PBU FF
  • DB Yusef Corker (Jr) - 74 tackles 0.5 TFL INT 4 PBU 2 FR TD

Preview

If you want to be technical about it, Gus Malzahn is the 3rd longest tenured head coach in the SEC. Nick Saban has been around the longest entering his 14th season leading the Crimson Tide. Beating Malzahn by just a few days is Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops. While other programs have been shuffling coaches in and out, UK’s administration has been patient with Stoops. That patience has been rewarded as Stoops has built a very stable program in Lexington that remains competitive in the SEC East. Last season might have been his best coaching job to date.

The Wildcats entered the 2019 campaign with returning staring quarterback Terry Wilson looking to build on a solid 2018 debut. Unfortunately, Wilson went down with an injury the 2nd week of the season against Eastern Michigan. Troy transfer Sawyer Smith stepped in and struggled in his three starts, completing less than 50% of his passes and losing all three games before suffering an injury himself.

Down two quarterbacks, UK elected to go full high school offense and turn everything over to Lynn Bowden Jr. The move proved brilliant. Despite everyone in the stadium knowing that a run was likely coming on pretty much every snap, Bowden still shredded defenses and the Cats won six of their final eight games including taking down Virginia Tech in a wild Belk Bowl.

But now Bowden is gone. Wilson and Smith return with hopes of bounce back 2019 campaigns. There’s also a familiar name that could shake things up as well. If the NCAA approves his waiver request, it wouldn’t be a shocker to see former Auburn quarterback Joey Gatewood lead the Wildcats into Jordan-Hare Stadium. Think he might have a bit of a chip on his shoulder if that were to happen?

Kentucky also returns both starting running backs who will be expected to carry a heavier load in 2020 with Bowden gone. Both Asim Rose and Kavosiey Smoke are big backs who averaged 5+ yards a carry last year. But more importantly, Kentucky returns most of their offensive line which was outstanding in 2019. Per PFF, their four returning starters rank among the best in the SEC. If the Wildcats can find a somewhat functioning passing attack this team could be a sleeper in the SEC East.

On the defensive side of the ball, Kentucky continues to churn out outstanding defensive lines. Sack leader Calvin Taylor is gone but Joshua Paschal, Jamar Watson and Jordan Wright are all back. The trio combined for 27 TFL and 13 sacks in 2019. They also add three more blue chips to their front seven including top 100 prospect Justin Rogers.

Another player that returns from injury in 2020 is defensive back Davonte Robinson. He had an outstanding sophomore season before a quadricep injury sidelined him for all of 2019. He will join returning starters Yusef Corker and Brandon Echols on the backend of the Wildcat defense.

Auburn has lost five straight games to SEC East opponents dating back to that frustrating 2017 SEC Championship Game. To snap that streak, the Tigers have to beat a solid Kentucky team that should not be slept on. It’s game Auburn should absolutely win but one they should not take lightly.

War Eagle!