Kentucky football: 5 New Year's Resolutions the Wildcats need to make and keep in 2020
Kentucky salvaged a disappointing 2019 campaign by rebounding from an 0-3 start in SEC play and the loss of its top 3 quarterbacks to finish 8-5. It not only reached a bowl for the 4th consecutive season, it beat Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl in dramatic fashion. Despite the outstanding finish, the 2019 season represented a step back from Kentucky’s 10-win 2018 season. If the Wildcats hope to rebound to a big season in 2020, here are a few things they’ll have to do.
1. Have a healthy quarterback — or 2
Granted, nobody could anticipate a preseason ACL tear of Nik Scalzo, a Week 2 leg injury to Terry Wilson, and a host of upper-body injuries to Sawyer Smith by Week 4, but Kentucky needs more stability in its offense, particularly in SEC play. Wilson hopes to be ready to roll by next fall, Auburn transfer Joey Gatewood is hoping for eligibility and Kentucky could be stacked at the position … but the Cats certainly can’t afford a repeat of 2019’s bad luck. While Lynn Bowden’s rushing explosion will be missed, the passing game needs a big step forward.
2. Find an answer on field goals
Redshirt freshman Chance Poore has plenty of talent but hasn’t been able to produce consistent results, most notably in some costly misses in the Florida and Mississippi State games. Walk-on Matt Ruffolo was serviceable, but Kentucky would benefit greatly by a consistent option at kicker, whoever it might be. The Wildcats haven’t signed any new kickers and aren’t expected to do so, but a preferred walk-on or a transfer might surface.
3. Finish off Tennessee
While the 2010s were a futile decade for Tennessee and Kentucky finished it with 4 consecutive bowl appearances, the Wildcats still went 2-8 against the Vols. The old days when Kentucky would get throttled by Florida or Tennessee are past, but Kentucky has to transition from competitive games to victories — and UT is the program that would seem most ripe to be knocked off.
4. Stay on the recruiting trail
The Wildcats are hoping to finish the 2020 class with a couple more big-name recruits, likely in-state safety Vito Tisdale and Ohio athlete Michael Drennen. The Wildcats are working hard on 2021 standout Jager Burton, the kind of physically dominant lineman who UK o-line coach John Schlarman would love to have. As usual, Kentucky won’t produce a mammoth amount of in-state talent, so the Wildcats have to stay active in places like Ohio, Tennessee, Georgia and Florida.
5. Keep the staff intact
Former FCS head coach Dean Hood is departing for the Murray State head coaching job, but other than Hood, Kentucky’s coaching staff largely consists of guys who haven’t been head coaches and aren’t necessarily looking to make that move. Much of the impetus for 4 consecutive bowl seasons has been staff continuity. While 1 or 2 coaches an offseason might move on, to whatever extent UK Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart can lock down not only Mark Stoops, but also Eddie Gran, Brad White and the other assistants, it’ll yield results in the fall of 2020.