5 players who have to step up for Kentucky after the bye week
Bye week couldn’t come soon enough for Kentucky. At 2-3, the Wildcats are searching for an identity… and for improved production from several of their key players. While Kentucky’s second-half schedule is advantageous, the Wildcats will need increased production even to reach a 7-5 type of season. Here are 5 Wildcats who have to step it up a notch over the remainder of the 2019 season.
QB Sawyer Smith
Smith, the Troy transfer, took over the starting QB job after a season-ending injury to Terry Wilson late in the Wildcats’ second game, a win over Eastern Michigan. He initially looked quite capable, throwing several nice deep balls in that game and against Florida the following week. But Smith injured his shoulder making a tackle against Florida, and has subsequently injured his wrist and some other part of his apparently crumbling physique.
He has looked steadily worse since early in the Florida game, and frankly, it’s unclear when and whether he’ll be back near full strength. But whenever Smith is well enough to play, he has to be more accurate and avoid crucial mistakes (he has turned the ball over on the first possession of each of his 3 games as a starter at UK).
WR/QB Lynn Bowden
Bowden has been perhaps Kentucky’s most valuable player (30 receptions, 348 yards), and with the multitude of QB injuries, he found himself taking snaps at quarterback to finish the South Carolina game.
If he’s the quarterback, that presents its own difficulties. Frankly, it’s fair to question whether the junior has the experience and offensive understanding to command the entire offense.
Obviously, he has to also stay healthy, as significant injuries to not only UK’s top 3 quarterbacks (Terry Wilson, Sawyer Smith and freshman Nik Scalzo) but their top receiving threat would be devastating.
On the other hand, as a receiver, Bowden still needs to be more consistent and has to complete all the potentially big plays his speed and skills make available. Despite his excellent productivity, he can do more — wherever he plays.
RB Kavosiey Smoke
Smoke, a redshirt freshman running back, was outstanding in UK’s first 3 games (34 carries, 251 yards). He didn’t feature much in the past 2 games (12 carries, 32 yards), which has been pivotal because Smoke brings the big-play ability to Kentucky’s running game.
Starter A.J. Rose is more consistent and reserve Chris Rodriguez is a little more physical, but given the issues in Kentucky’s passing game and personnel, Smoke and his ability to make big plays on the outside of a defense could really be a key component of a second-half resurgence for the UK offense.
LB Kash Daniel
Daniel, the Kentucky senior linebacker, was counted on to be a cog in the UK defense. So far, the most notable part of his season was a minor controversy of his apparent attempts to twist Florida QB Kyle Trask’s ankle in the pile after a play.
Daniel drew some sort of in-house suspension from Mark Stoops for that play, but for much of the season, he has been a step out of position or slow to adjust to big running plays (28 tackles, 2 tackles for loss).
At his best, Daniel is a physical, instinctual linebacker who can create havoc (84 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss in 2018, despite playing much of the season with a broken hand). If Kentucky’s defense is going to pick up the massive slack from the under-performing offense, Daniel has to play better down this season’s stretch.
LB Xavier Peters
The Florida State transfer was cleared for immediate eligibility only after the 2019 season had begun, and Stoops has brought him along slowly since then, only playing Peters for a few snaps late in the South Carolina game. But the young linebacker is a massive talent, and given the need of the Kentucky defense to put the offense in advantageous situations, his ability to pressure quarterbacks and perhaps create turnovers could be pivotal for the remainder of the season.