The Wildcats Rank High At Both Positions
Welcome back to our final installment previewing the 2020 Kentucky Wildcats football team. In case you missed the previous previews you can check out the first on Terry Wilson and the quarterbacks here. The second in the series looked at the running backs and receivers. Our final installment looked at the “Big Blue Wall” and the defensive line. This time out we’re looking at two positions where Mark Stoops’ club is very strong. In addition to previewing Kentucky’s linebackers and secondary we’ll look at the special teams too.
A Very Talented Group
Senior Jamar “Boogie” Watson returns at the outside linebacker position. A season ago Watson recorded 36 tackles with 11.5 for a loss. In addition he added 6.5 sacks ranking second on the team. Some have compared Watson to another standout Josh Allen. Whether he has anything close to Allen’s remarkable senior year remains to be seen.
Highest-graded returning SEC pass-rushers💪
1. Jamar Watson, Kentucky 89.5
2. Christian Barmore, Alabama 88.1
3. Malik Herring, Georgia 85.8 pic.twitter.com/vua6zyD3Mq
— PFF College (@PFF_College) June 18, 2020
Square was Kentucky’s second leading tackler in 2019 with 69 and four going for a loss. He also added one and a half sacks and an interception. Look for junior to be a vocal leader for the Cats in 2020. Davis, another junior, recorded 32 tackles a sack and an interception last year.
One player who the Cats are missing in 2020 is linebacker Chris Oats. The team’s fifth leading tackler was expected to have a huge role this season. However in May he was admitted to a hospital with a serious medical condition and has since been moved to a rehabilitation facility. Neither the school or family have said much about his condition other than it is not COVID-19 related.
As we continue previewing Kentucky’s linebackers and secondary we move to possibly the strongest unit on the team.
Best Secondary In The SEC?
Heading into last season the perceived weakest position on the field was the secondary. However they proved everyone wrong by finishing first in the SEC and second in the nation giving up only 167 yards passing per game. Furthermore they only allowed nine touchdowns tying them with Ohio State for best in the country.
We talked about it in our previews of the running backs and offensive line, but the Kentucky secondary may be the best in the league. The Cats lost Jordan Griffin from last season however they have an impact player ready to go.
Free safety Yusuf Corker was Kentucky’s leading tackler a year ago with 74. He also had four pass deflections, two fumble recoveries and an interception. Furthermore we named him as runner up for defensive MVP. Senior Quandre Mosely gets the nod at strong safety. He recorded 24 tackles with a sack and an interception a year ago. Defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale welcomes back Davonte Robinson at the nickel position. He missed all of 2019 with a torn right quad but had 42 tackles and a touchdown return in 2018.
High Impact Transfer
Many were surprised when former LSU cornerback Kelvin Joseph announced he was transferring to Kentucky. After sitting out the 2019 season “Bossman Fat” adds to an already talented group. A freshman for the Tigers the former Top 50 recruit had 12 tackles in six games. True Blue Fans are chomping at the bit to see Joseph on the field in 2020.
At the other cornerback spot senior Brandin Echols returns after finishing as the school’s fourth leading tackler in 2019 with 54. Along with Echols and Joseph the Cats have Tyrell Ajian and Cedric Dort who have a ton of experience. In fact Dort started nearly every game last season and Ajian has interceptions in each of the last two seasons. As you can see Kentucky ranks near the top of the SEC in the secondary for good reason.
As we continue previewing Kentucky’s linebackers and secondary we promised a bonus look at the special teams. Much like other positions on the field the Wildcats are right at the top in punting.
Best Punter In America
A season ago Max Duffy took home the Ray Guy Award as the best punter in the nation. The Australia native averaged a whopping 48.1 yards per punt including a 70 yarder. In addition he ran for 26 yards on a fake punt and made two tackles.
— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) December 13, 2019
While Duffy was named first team All-American by virtually everyone out there, he only made SECOND team All-SEC. For those that don’t remember Texas A&M’s Braden Mann took the honors. Duffy of course is on this year’s watch list and looks to join Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Allen and Utah’s Tom Hackett as the only two time winners.
If there’s one question mark on the 2020 Kentucky Football team it’s at kicker. Chance Poore started the season with the job but struggled and was replaced after missing a potential game winning 35 yarder against Florida. Enter Matt Ruffolo, not to be confused with actor Mark Ruffalo who of course plays The Incredible Hulk in The Avengers. However that didn’t stop UK fans from tweeting “Hulk Smash” or “Hulk Kick” when he made a field goal. Duffy’s adding the role of place holder for 2020. He says both kickers are showing great improvement so far.
As far as the return game goes look for Travis Tisdale to handle the kick offs and Josh Ali the punts. Kentucky wants to get the speedy Tisdale in the mix while Ali returned 14 kicks a season ago averaging about seven yards per return.
About That Schedule
Thanks for previewing Kentucky’s linebackers and secondary with us here at Last Word On College Football. As you know by now the SEC decided the schools will only play 10 conference games in 2020 with none out of conference. For Cat fans that means no game against Louisville which honestly is pretty disappointing.
Late Friday afternoon the league announced the Cats’ two additional games. They feature a trip to Tuscaloosa to face Alabama and a home date with the “Lane Train” and Ole Miss. Next week the dates for the 2020 schedule should be announced. When it happens we’ll take an in depth look at what is shaping up to be a year like no other.