Kentucky Football: Wildcats ready for spotlight looking to compete in SEC East

Darian Kinnard (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images)
Darian Kinnard (Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images) /

Rise and shine for Day 2 of the Southeastern Conference Football Media Days and Big Blue Nation is ready to hear what Mark Stoops has to say about Kentucky football.

Stoops is the second most tenured coach in the SEC  entering his 9th season at the helm of the Wildcats. When Kentucky takes the field in the opener on September 4 it will be  Stoops’s 100th game as the Wildcats coach with a 49-50 record.

Only Nick Saban at Alabama, who signed on in 2007, has been at their school longer.

Darrin Kinnard, Josh Paschal, and Stoops watched Day 1 as  Florida, LSU, and South Carolina kicked off the festivities. They must now wait their turn on Tuesday as Georgia leads off, followed by Tennesse and then the Wildcats.

Spotlight shines on Kentucky football offense, transfers, Coen

Stoops better get all the good quotes in because rounding out the day will be Lane Kiffin talking about the Ole Miss program and sure to take center stage with some lively topics to write about.

There is little doubt Georgia coach Kirby Smart will be peppered with questions about his Dawgs expected to win the SEC East and battle Alabama for the conference title.

The Vols traditionally have been in the discussion along with Florida for the next set of spots, but Josh Heupel takes over the program and will have to do some big-time convincing to earn a lot of respect for Tennessee to be in the mix.

That leaves Kentucky.

I am ready to watch these three step up to the microphone and proclaim Kentucky will be the talk of the fall for football and basketball can wait its turn.

But there are some questions we need clarity on first to see if they can throw their helmet into the mix at the top of the conference – at least in the east.

Who will be under center at quarterback replacing Terry Wilson

Vegas odds are this will be one of the first questions Stoops is asked to answer, and more than likely he doesn’t even have a clue as of yet who it will be.

It’s not simply of having to replace a superstar quarterback. Terry Wilson did a nice job, but never was one that would have you saying “how are we going to replace Terry?”

Prime opportunity for Stoops to dangle his entire stable of signal-callers to the media talking about returners Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen who duked it out in spring practice. Galloway, a junior, seemed to have the edge over the sophomore Allen, but don’t sleep on fellow sophomore Nik Scalzo and true freshman Kaiya Sheron.

The talk was about how Gatewood did not throw an interception during spring practice, which if truly the fact, is quite astounding. Getting the ball downfield to receivers has been a sore spot for Stoops and BBN.

After spring ball Stoops was asked Gatewood and Allen.

"“I think definitely both quarterbacks (Gatewood and Allen) have made big strides. I see confidence in them and awareness about where to go with the football. We all understand we need to improve at that position along with all of us. It’s never just on the quarterback, but I see confidence in the quarterbacks growing and rubbing off on other guys. Beau and Joey have both made a lot of growth.”"

Then there is transfer Will Levis from Penn State, who didn’t participate in spring ball, but many consider could get the nod based on his IQ and experience. While not a regular starter for the Nittany Lions, he was quickly recruited by Coen once the new offensive coordinator arrived from the Los Angeles Rams.

How will Coen’s NFL game offense work at Kentucky

Those questions lead into the follow-up question concerning Coen, a coach Stoops went after to breathe life into his hard-nosed running game that became one-dimensional and lacked imagination under former OC Eddie Gran.

Wilson never quite seemed to have the touch to get it to receivers always being off by inches, but those misses resulted in missed opportunities. Many blamed receivers who couldn’t catch the ball, but we never really knew since they didn’t always find their way to them accurately.

All of us around Kentucky knew that parting with Gran was hard for Stoops but had to be done. So he went to the far west coast and out of his defensive-minded bubble world to lure the young Coen to the Bluegrass from the NFL.

Coen will rely on veteran and bulldog runner Christopher Rodriguez Jr. to keep the ground game approach, and it won’t be an air-raid offense, but one that has NFL schemes, looks, and feel all around that should keep defenses guessing and receivers like Wan’Dale Robinson, Josh Ali happy and hopefully utilize tight ends, Justin Rigg and Keaton Upshaw. A position that was almost forgotten about under Gran.

I think Stoops will have to sell everyone on what it took to get Coen to Lexington and just how wide open will the offense become.

Transfer portal and how effective is Stoops at working it

In an age where the transfer portal has become a twilight zone of sorts with players coming and going at all times, the question for all coaches is how effective the transfers they bring in will be. Stoops included.

Big Blue added six other transfers besides Levis from other Power-5 schools this offseason, and with their experience most if not all could wind up in the starting lineup. Those include Robinson, Ole Miss linebacker Jacquez Jones, Michigan State receiver Tre’Von Morgan and linebacker Luke Fulton and Georgia Tech outside linebacker Justice Dingle who joins brother Jordan.

Then there was the late addition last week in LSU offensive lineman Dare Rosenthal, who left Baton Rouge for the Bluegrass. Standing 6-foot-7 320 pounds he will be a hefty addition to the Big Blue Wall.

Expect questions about him as well but Stoops will hold most answers close to the vest.

TUESDAY, July 20

Georgia 10:05 am – Kirby Smart, JT Daniels (QB, Junior), Jordan Davis (DL, Senior)

Tennessee 11:30 am – Josh Heupel, Velus Jones Jr. (WR, Senior), Alontae Taylor (DB, Senior)

Kentucky 2:30 pm  – Mark Stoops, Darian Kinnard (OT, Senior), Josh Paschal (DE, Senior)

Ole Miss 3:55 pm  – Lane Kiffin, Matt Corral (QB, Junior), Jaylon Jones (DB, Senior)

Next. Counting down to kickoff with Media Days. dark