2012 Kentucky Preview – Offense
Kentucky OG Larry Warford
CollegeFootballNews.com 2012 Preview - Kentucky Wildcat Offense
Preview 2012 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: There's nowhere to go but up. The production wasn't exactly flowing two years ago under offensive coordinator Randy Sanders, but it came to an absolute dead stop last season with the third-worst attack in college football. The Wildcats finished 118th in the nation averaging just 260 yards per game and was 117th in scoring averaging just 15.8 points per outing. Making matters worse stat-wise, 68 of the points came against Jacksonville State and Ole Miss with nine game scoring 17 points or fewer. Experience isn't a problem at the skill positions with several options for each spot including quarterback, where true sophomore Maxwell Smith appears to have taken the job by the horns. There should be a nice rotation at running back and La'Rod King is a good receiver to work the passing game around. The line has promise after an off year, but three new starters including to tackles have to shine right away.
Star of the offense: Senior WR La'Rod King
Passing: Maxwell Smith
84-153, 819 yds, 4 TD, 4 INT
Rushing: CoShik Williams
118 carries, 486 yds, 3 TD
Receiving: La'Rod King
40 catches, 598 yds, 7 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore QB Maxwell Smith
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore WR Demarco Robinson
Best pro prospect: Senior OG Larry Warford
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Warford, 2) King, 3) C Matt Smith
Strength of the offense: Skill Player Experience, Speed
Weakness of the offense: Production, Line Experience
The passing game didn't go anywhere last season, but that was partly because the offense used a true freshman under center for a long stretch. Sophomore Maxwell Smith is a big, strong passer with 6-4, 220-pound size and a terrific arm. He completed 55% of his passes for 819 yards and four score and four picks after taking over for four games late in the season, and he showed flashes of promise and potential with a 283-yard, two score day in the win over Ole Miss. While he's not all that mobile, he's a pro-style passer who can push the ball all over the field.
Senior Morgan Newton looked like he might be the team's franchise playmaker when he was thrown to the wolves as a freshman when injuries and other issues struck the other options, but he didn't do much as a sophomore and last year was painfully ineffective completing just 48% of his passes for 793 yards and eight scores with seen picks. Unlike Smith, Newton can move finishing third on the team with 272 yards and two touchdowns, and he also has a big arm. At 6-4 and 240 pounds, the 2008 Indiana Mr. Football has all the skills, but he struggles way too much with his consistency and accuracy and he had a hard time moving the attack.
On the way to be a big part of the mix is Patrick Towles, a 6-5, 242-pound Kentucky Mr. Football and Parade All-American who led his high school team to three straight Kentucky state championships. A true pro-style bomber, he'll be deep in the hunt for the starting job in the near future.
Watch Out For … Smith to have the job sink-or-swim. There's still talk that the quarterback job is open, and Newton might still have a shot if he rocks in practices, but Smith has been good enough and has the ability and potential to be the face of the franchise for the next three seasons.
Strength: Size and arms. If you're not at least 6-4, around 230 pounds, and can't throw a laser beam with a flick of the wrist, you need not apply. The Wildcats have the big, bulky bombers who can wing the ball around the yard.
Weakness: Throwing the football. Almost no one in the SEC could throw the ball on a consistent basis, but UK was bad among the lousy finishing dead last in the conference in passing and efficiency. The Wildcats were 114th in the nation in passing, averaging a putrid 136 yards per game and 118th in efficiency.
Outlook: The promise, potential and talent are all there, but now the production has to start to come through. There's no questioning the arm strength among all the options, and Smith is a promising No. 1 passer to build around, but there's no excuse for the position to be as horrible as it was last year.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The offense didn't get anything from the passing game, and the running game suffered because of it. 5-9, 184-pound senior CoShik Williams did what he could, leading the team with 486 yards and three scores, averaging 4.1 yards per carry, but 148 of the yards came against Jacksonville State and 11 yards and two of the touchdowns came against Ole Miss. A good receiver, he caught 19 passes for 70 yards, but his real worth is as a strong runner with the toughness to work inside and the quickness to bounce out when needed.
5-8, 197-pound junior Raymond Sanders was supposed to play a huge role, but he only ran for 155 yards averaging 3.9 yards per carry before getting knocked out with injuries. Extremely quick and very athletic, he's a great all-around prospect with good toughness for his size and nice enough hands to be used more as a receiver, catching five passes for 13 yards. Staying healthy is always going to be an issue, and he'll never be a workhorse, but he could be effective for a few key plays per game.
Sophomore Josh Clemons came up with a nice first season as a true freshman finishing second on the team with 279 yards and two scores in just six games, while also catching four passes for 53 yards. At 5-10 and 205 pounds is one of the bigger options in the rotation, but the former Georgia high school star has 4.5 speed and is extremely quick. However, he has to prove he can stay healthy after getting knocked out midway through last season.
Junior Jonathan George got in a little bit of work last season running 51 times for 208 yards and two scores, but he has mostly been a special teamer. The 5-10, 216-pounder is one of the team's strongest runners and can be used more to provide a little bit of power. A do-it-all high school star who played receiver, safety, and defensive end as well as running back, he was also an Alabama state champion sprinter in the 200, 400, and relay. If that wasn't enough, he was also a state champion wrestler.
When the offense uses a fullback, 6-0, 224-pound sophomore D.J. Warren will once again be the main man, being used almost always as a blocker. He'll get a few carries, and he caught four passes for 24 yards, but his role will be to help keep the quarterback upright while trying to blast away for the ground game.
Watch Out For … even more of a rotation. With injuries such a big problem last season, the idea will be to use several different options to keep everyone fresh and on the field. Sanders, for example, can't seem to stay healthy and Clemons got hurt last year. None of the backs are built to be full-time workhorses.
Strength: Experience and quickness. By design, the program has loaded up with a slew of very quick, smallish backs who can all catch out of the backfield. All the top running backs return and they should all know what they're doing.
Weakness: Room to move. There's talent and ability in the UK backfield, but it was hard to bust out many big plays. Clemons tore off an 87-yarder, but that was about it for the home runs. The team averaged just 3.5 yards per carry with nine scores, but QB Morgan Newton ran for two of the touchdowns.
Outlook: With so much experience and quickness the potential is there for a far better and far stronger ground attack. The passing game has to be adequate enough to keep defenses from teeing off on the backfield, and the running backs have to make the most of their opportunities, but this group should come up with a nice improvement.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The receiving corps needs a No. 1 target to step up and destroy secondaries, and that means senior La'Rod King needs to do even more. The 6-4, 211-pound veteran led the team with 40 catches for 598 yards and seven scores averaging 14.9 yards per grab. More steady than spectacular, he was able to blow up against Ole Miss with three catches for 102 yards and a score and he made five grabs for 100 yards and a touchdown, but he was too easily erased by the better defenses.
Senior Gene McCaskill has been working into the rotation after coming back from the knee injury that knocked him out in 2010. At 6-0 and 198 pounds he has decent size and was a South Carolina high school state champion sprinter who can stretch the field, but he only averaged 9.4 yards per grab last year with nine catches for 85 yards and a score. He'll have to fight off E.J. Fields, a lightning fast 6-1, 199-pound senior who made ten catches for 89 yards and a score, with seven catches for 57 yards and a touchdown against Louisville. He was a high school track superstar in the 400-meter dash and won the Kentucky state title in the 200-meter dash.
5-10, 157-pound sophomore Demarco Robinson is the rising star of the corps. The small speedster ripped up the spring game with nine catches for 146 yards and looked like just the type of big play performer the offense needs. He got a little bit of work in last year catching five passes for 17 yards, but he hardly made an impact averaging 3.4 yards per grab.
Redshirt freshman Daryl Collins was supposed to be a big deal right away last year but was knocked out with a knee injury. At 5-11 and 202 pounds with tremendous speed and athleticism he has all the tools and talent to become one of the team's top targets, but he needs to be 100% healthy
6-3, 250-pound junior Tyler Robinson is a thumper of a blocker who'll have to battle to grab the starting tight end job. He saw plenty of work last year and has been a spot starter over the last few seasons making eight catches for 44 yards and a touchdown in 2011. A top lineman earning Mr. Football honors in Tennessee, he has the physical ability to be big for the ground game. However, he'll have to battle with sophomore Ronnie Shields, a 6-4, 241-pound receiver who caught just two passes for 40 yards last year but has tremendous speed to go along with his size. He'll be a matchup problem with more playing time.
Watch Out For … Robinson. UK has loaded up on big receivers over the years, but the team's best wideout over the last several years was the smallish Randall Cobb. Robinson isn't Cobb, but he's a skinny target with electrifying speed and upside.
Strength: Size and speed. The Wildcats are able to get very tall, very fast receivers who seem like they should be able to crank out big numbers. There are more than enough tall and speedy receivers to play around with.
Weakness: Big plays. It was a chicken-or-egg problem. Were the receivers mediocre because the quarterback play was lousy, or was the quarterback play lousy because the receivers stunk? It might have been a little bit of both. Either way, the UK receivers have to average more than 9.5 yards per catch.
Outlook: The Wildcat receivers look like they belong. All the tools are there across the board to create a good group that should be able to rely on its experience, size and athleticism to break out. King is a good target who should be the main man to work around, but getting big seasons out of Robinson and Field will be a must and the tight ends have to be used more.
Unit Rating: 6.5
The line has to be night-and-day better, and it all has to start with a big year from senior Larry Warford, a huge 6-3, 333-pound right guard who earned second-team All-SEC honors in each of the last two seasons. A big-time run blocker with surprising athleticism, he can get out on the move and he moves his feet extremely well. While he's still massive, he has slimmed down a wee bit and should be even quicker.
Warford is one starter back up front, and veteran center Matt Smith is the other. The 6-4, 291-pounder is built a bit more like a tackle, but he has been a rock in the middle over the last two years. Originally a defensive tackle, he has had no problems with the move as a very smart quarterback for the front five. He might not be a blaster, but he's steady.
6-4, 301-pound redshirt freshman Zach West is about to step in at one of the guard spots, likely to take over on the left side. A great recruit for the program last season he has excellent athleticism and strength, but he's missing the mass and bulk to be a true pro prospect – for now. He could still add at least 15 pounds without a problem.
Junior Kevin Mitchell was originally a guard, but he'll end up working at tackle getting the call on the right side after getting one start and plenty of backup work. A nice athlete with 6-6 and 292 pound size, he could end up playing on the left side if needed.
6-5, 299-pound sophomore Darrian Miller will get the first look at left tackle after seeing a little bit of work as a true freshman. Used a little bit as a blocking tight end in jumbo packages. A nice recruit and one of the program's top pickups last year, he has just enough of a frame and just enough quickness to be in the position for the next three years. He could grow into a top pass protector.
Massive 6-7, 342-pound sophomore Teven Eatmon-Nared was a tackle but now he'll work at left guard in the rotation with West. The former tight end has put on a lot of weight – a LOT of weight – and should end up being a nice athletic option for a player of his size.
Watch Out For … West. Warford might be the anchor up front, but it's West who has the upside and the ability to potentially be the team's best blocker. He's young, but all the tools and promise are there to grow into a good one.
Strength: Young upside. Experience was the big strength for last season's line and it all meant jack squat. West and Miller form a promising left side while Mitchell is a good tackle who should hold down a job for the next few years. There's size waiting in the wings.
Weakness: Blocking. The UK line was a disaster last year doing nothing for the ground game and allowing 35 sacks. There might be talent, size and potential up front, but it will have to do far more to hold up against the SEC defensive lines.
Outlook: The line has been a major positive for the program over the years, but that didn't happen last season as everything started to fizzle. Poor play from the skill players turned out to be the bigger issue, but the line didn't exactly help the cause. It might take a while to jell, but the starting five could be a nice surprise.
Unit Rating: 6
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