The Kentucky Wildcats are off to a 2-1 start in 2014, and they’ve exceeded expectations through their first three games of the season.

The Cats are off this weekend, one week after dropping a triple-overtime heartbreaker to the Florida Gators, which will give the team a chance to regroup after a tough loss and will give fans the opportunity to catch their breath and take a look back at UK’s impressive start to the season.

Here are Kentucky’s five greatest impact players through the first three weeks of the 2014 season:

  1. Patrick Towles: Towles’ solid play at quarterback has been critical for Kentucky in its strong start to the season. Towles did not win the starting job outright until the second half of training camp last month, and entering the season opener against UT Martin it was unknown how he’d handle the starting job. He’s handled the responsibility tremendously well, throwing for 916 yards and five touchdowns through three weeks while serving as UK’s second-leading rusher with 111 yards and a touchdown on the year. He threw three picks against Florida last week, his first turnovers of any kind this season, but those interceptions were as much a credit to the Gators’ talented defense as they were an indictment on Towles’ play. He’s remained poised in every situation and appears confident in orchestrating the Cats’ Air Raid offense. Without Towles’ solid play at quarterback, it’s hard to imaging Kentucky would have started the year as well as it did.
  2. Ryan Timmons: The sophomore wideout has been a versatile weapon in Kentucky’s offense, leading the team with 17 receptions on the year. He’s fourth in the SEC in catches, and 10th in yards with 212. Timmons is capable of stretching the field vertically with his speed, and is also shifty enough to make defenses pay on simple screen passes or underneath routes involving yardage after the catch. He’s even been known to take the ball out of the backfield and turn in a big gain on some unorthodox playcalls. The many threats he presents when he steps on the field have kept opposing defenses in conflict, and as a sophomore he’s actually among the more veteran members of the receiving corps. There’s no doubt Towles will be looking Timmons way plenty in the final nine games of the season.
  3. Jason Hatcher: A lot was said in the offseason of senior defensive ends Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, but Hatcher has been UK’s most disruptive defensive end to this point in the season. The sophomore leads the team in tackles for loss with 4.5, which also ranks him sixth in the SEC, and he is second on the team with 1.5 sacks through three games. Head coach Mark Stoops has tried to find ways to get Dupree, Smith and Hatcher all on the field at the same time, even moving Dupree to outside linebacker on certain snaps thanks to his freakish athleticism. But Kentucky’s initiative to get Hatcher more reps is a tribute to his stellar play in the trenches this season, and fans hope he is able to maintain his level of play against tough opponents like South Carolina and Georgia down the line.
  4. Khalid Henderson: Henderson leads the team with 21 tackles this season, which ties him for ninth in the SEC. He began the year in a position battle with juco-transfer Ryan Flannigan, but has put that debate to bed with his play through three weeks. Henderson has his nose in the middle of every play, and is rarely ever caught out of position. Having a consistent, fundamentally sound linebacker in the middle of the defense has been huge for a UK team with a lot of new pieces on that side of the ball. His best play this season was an 89-yard fumble return for a touchdown when every other player on the field thought the play was dead, showing Henderson’s field awareness and never-say-die attitude. He is the perfect man to lead the Kentucky defense, and could be among the SEC’s leading tacklers by season’s end.
  5. The freshmen WRs: Kentucky has listed four freshmen wideouts on its depth chart since the start of the season, and all four have played better than expected through three weeks. Those players are Blake Bone, Dorian Baker, Garrett Johnson and T.V. Williams, and they’ve looked like top-flight athletes capable of competing against tough SEC defenses week after week. No one player among the four has stood out above the rest, but no one players has lagged behind the others in terms of production either. A different freshmen caught a touchdown in each of UK’s first three games, and all four have multiple catches for at least 49 yards so far this season. All four wideouts are poised to continue improving rapidly as the season progresses, which could mean trouble for opposing defenses come October and November.