Big Improvement Expected In 2021
Anyone who follows Kentucky Football knows the struggles they’ve had throwing the football over the last few years. In fact from 2018-2020 the Cats averaged a whopping 132 yards per contest. While some of that falls on the quarterbacks and system nearly as much is attributed to a lack of consistency at the receiver position. With a new offensive coordinator and a big-time transfer, the Cats plan on changing that this year. As we begin our Kentucky Spring Preview: Receivers we look at him and another sticking around for one more year. In addition, a look at the tight ends who also should be featured more.
In 2018 Wan’Dale Robinson made the Big Blue Nation happy by staying home to play for the Cats. However, shortly after his commitment, Mr. Football changed his mind ending up in Nebraska. Following two years in Lincoln Robinson decided he’s heading home.
new beginnings.. i’m home 💙 pic.twitter.com/BHc4vCAlxo
— Wan’Dale Robinson (@wanda1erobinson) January 15, 2021
During his time at Nebraska Robinson hauled in 91 passes for 914 yards and three touchdowns. He did it all for the Cornhuskers as he ran for another 580 yards and four more scores. He gives the Cats a home run threat anytime he touches that ball. Other than Lynn Bowden that’s something Kentucky hasn’t had in a long time. The Cats already have one of the best running back groups in the SEC which means Robinson can concentrate on playing receiver in Liam Coen’s new offense.
One More Year
Coen’s offense got a huge boost when Josh Ali decided to return for one more year. Taking advantage of the NCAA allowing an extra season due to the COVID-19 pandemic Ali brings much-needed stability. Following a 23 reception season in 2019, the senior hauled in 53 passes last year for 473 yards and a touchdown. Furthermore, about 36 percent of all Kentucky’s completions a year ago went to Ali.
With Robinson getting most of the attention that leaves Ali to roam more freely in 2021. The combination gives the Cats the best receiving duo in many years. In fact, the last time Kentucky had two receivers with more than 50 receptions was 2010 when Randall Cobb had 84 and Chris Matthews 61. With a more wide-open offense that’s a definite possibility in 2021.
As we continue with our Kentucky Spring Preview: Receivers we look at the guys who are vying for that third receiver position.
Chance To Step Up
While Robinson and Ali are proven commodities the search is on for those third and fourth options in the passing game. One of those players could be senior Clevan Thomas. In his four years at Kentucky Thomas has 16 catches but had just one a season ago. Another name to watch as a potential starter is Isaiah Epps. He’s battled injuries while in Lexington but did haul in eight passes a year ago. However, his speed has impressed Coen so far in the Spring. A third name is a sophomore Michael Drennen II.
In addition to Epps and Thomas, the Cats have several first and second-year receivers looking to step up. One other name to watch is Michigan State transfer Tre’von Morgan. At six foot seven Morgan only caught two passes as a freshman. Nevertheless, he averaged 23 yards per catch with one going for a touchdown. He’ll remind True Blue Fans of Ahmad Wagner. If he’s immediately eligible he’s another candidate for playing time. However, it works out wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight has numerous players to choose from.
Continuing on with our Kentucky Spring Preview: Receivers we turn now to the tight ends.
Looking For More Production
Of the many issues, the Big Blue Nation had with Eddie Gran’s offense one of the biggest was tight end production. In one game C.J. Conrad would have six receptions and two touchdowns. Then he would have no catches for three straight games. With Coen’s pro-style offense look for the tight ends to be more heavily involved much like the wide receivers.
Junior Keaton Upshaw was actually second on the team in receptions a year ago with 16 for 198 yards. In addition, he had three touchdowns. Alongside him is Justin Rigg, another player who is taking advantage of the extra season from the NCAA. Yet another option for tight ends coach Vince Marrow is junior Brenden Bates. Much like the receiver position, there’s a ton of talent available, they just need to step up.
More Exciting Experience
Last season Kentucky averaged 22 pass attempts a game, the worst number in the Southeastern Conference. With Terry Wilson gone, Kentucky doesn’t have a starting quarterback yet. Quite frankly they may not until close to the season opener on September 4th against Louisiana-Monroe. While the Cats are having unprecedented success under Mark Stoops it’s not exactly been an exciting brand of football.
A big factor in hiring Coen is a more contemporary offense. With one of the best rushing attacks in the SEC, the Cats aren’t totally abandoning the running game. Although, 2021 should see much more of a balance between the run and pass. As mentioned earlier the Cats have two proven weapons in Ali and Robinson. The trick is getting a third and fourth receiver to step up. If that happens look for a special season in Lexington much like 2018.
Thanks for checking out our Kentucky Spring Preview: Receivers here at Last Word On College Football. Next time out we’ll get you ready for the 2021 NFL Draft which looks like a huge day for the program.