Kentucky football: Grading every position group after the 2022 regular season
The 2022 season didn’t go quite according to plan for the Kentucky Wildcats.
It’s probably a testimony to how far UK football has come under Mark Stoops that a 7-5 regular season is seen as something of a failure. That’s not to say everything went south for the Wildcats.
Here’s our report card, grading the Kentucky offense, defense and special teams by position group. School’s out, and here’s the final (regular season) marks:
Expectations were high for Will Levis in 2022. But in part due to multiple injuries, in part due to a woeful offensive line and strange play-calling, Levis never really delivered the kind of season Big Blue Nation expected. He managed 2,406 yards and 19 touchdowns, but he did throw 10 interceptions and didn’t have a 300-yard game after Week 4 against Northern Illinois. Meanwhile, he struggled through a 98-yard game against Tennessee and had just 109 passing yards against Vanderbilt. In the 1 game when Levis couldn’t play, backup Kaiya Sheron was not able to lead Kentucky to a victory, and he averaged just 6.4 yards per pass attempt.
Running back: B-
Chris Rodriguez missed the season’s first 4 games due to suspension. Otherwise, he was more or less as advertised, rushing for 904 yards and 6 touchdowns in just 8 games. When Rodriguez was out, UK struggled. Backups Jutahn McClain and Kavosiey Smoke made some plays, but each was a fall-off from Rodriguez. Kentucky ended up averaging just 121 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry, but a massive loss of yardage from sacks had plenty to do with that.
Wide receiver/tight end: B
The good news for Kentucky was that the young guys stood out. Freshman Barion Brown led the team in catches and yards, and fellow freshman Dane Key led the Wildcats in touchdowns. Freshmen tight ends Jordan Dingle and Josh Kattus both played well. Beyond that, the pickings were fairly slim. Virginia Tech transfer Tayvion Robinson was banged up and didn’t contribute as much in SEC play as he did in pre-conference games. UK’s 4th-leading wide receiver had just 7 catches. This group needs some depth, but with Brown and Key they’re moving in a good direction.
Offensive line: D-
This group doesn’t get an F only because offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello seemed bewildered all season with play-calling. Kentucky allowed 42 sacks, ranking 125th in the FBS. The Wildcats also allowed 81 tackles for loss, which ranked 107th in the FBS. UK’s 3.35 yards per carry was 117th, which is absurd with Rodriguez in the backfield, and with 2nd and 3rd backs McClain and Smoke averaging 4.8 and 4.9 yards carry. When it wasn’t negative plays, it was penalties in clutch moments. Kentucky’s tackles were basically turnstiles, and while there’s some potential with the inside guys there’s a lot of coaching to be done here.
Defensive line: B-
Some of Kentucky’s big-time recruits haven’t developed much here. That’s not the case with freshman Deone Walker, who had 39 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss. His size and motor were a dangerous combination. Justin Rogers improved during the season, and a fairly untested group was pretty respectable against the run, even if there hasn’t been a pass rusher developed here.
This really could have been a strength of Kentucky’s team, but injuries to DeAndre Square and Jacquez Jones left the Wildcats relying a bit more on depth than anticipated. D’Eryk Jackson led the team in tackles but was a liability in pass coverage. Trevin Wallace made significant strides and could be an All-SEC player, and freshman Keaten Wade showed flashes of greatness. The bad news for UK was real injury issues. The good news was that the younger guys stepped up and kept things more or less rolling.
Defensive back: A-
A year ago, Kentucky’s secondary was a massive weakness. Then the Wildcats lost likely starter Vito Tisdale to injury in the spring and lost starter Jalen Geiger in Week 2. But in spite of that, Kentucky’s secondary was downright solid. A year ago, Kentucky was 8th in the SEC in passing yardage allowed and 10th in the league in opposing passer rating. This year, UK finished 2nd in passing yardage allowed and 3rd in opposing passer rating. Kentucky allowed more than 8.0 yards per attempt just twice all year, in losses to South Carolina and Tennessee. Meanwhile, UK finished the season allowing 9 touchdown passes against 10 interceptions. Carrington Valentine was an All-SEC-level corner and Jordan Lovett could be trending in that direction. Alex Afari is another youngster with worlds of potential.
Kentucky’s kicking game was disastrous, and punting wasn’t much better. The only bright spots were the talented but inconsistent Brown on kick returns and Chance Poore doing an excellent job on kickoffs. UK had several games that hung in the balance while long snaps and field-goal tries were botched in nearly every way possible. Kentucky has to kick the football better in the future, and there’s no way around that.