#24 Chris Rodriguez
2020 Results: 5-6, 4-6 (SEC)
2021 Projection: 8-4, 5-3 (SEC)
Coming off a 5-6 campaign that did include yet another bowl appearance, a 23-21 win over NC State in the Gator Bowl, Mark Stoops has now taken the Kentucky Wildcats to five straight bowl games. That’s quite an achievement at Kentucky, but Stoops wants more. With a passing game that has ranked last in the SEC for the past three seasons, he opted to bring in an NFL mind in Liam Coen to call the plays in Lexington this season. The new signal caller and a few transfers could help solve the Cats woes in the passing game, while Stoops defensive prowess should produce another stingy unit on the other side of the ball.
The Terry Wilson era had some high moments, but it ended with a thud. Wilson transferred to New Mexico after the 2020 season and the battle to replace him is a three man race between last year’s back up and former Auburn Tiger, Joey Gatewood, Beau Allen and Penn State transfer Will Levis. According to reports, it’s anybody’s job and whoever gets the nod will have some much needed help by the arrival of Nebraska transfer Wan’Dale Robinson at wide receiver.
The backfield has talent and experience returning in a by committee approach. Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke will likely get the lion’s share of the carries behind an offensive line that loses All-SEC center Drake Jackson and left tackle, Landon Young. While there is some experience with players like Darian Kinnard and Luke Fortner this is definitely the unit that will make or break the Wildcats offense in 2021.
The Cats lost a few quality players to the NFL, but Stoops used a 3 man rotation last season and plenty of experience returns. Josh Paschal is an absolute beast and several blue chip youngsters like five-star Justin Rogers are poised to burst onto the scene in 2021.
With middle linebacker Jamin Davis gone to the NFL, DeAndre Square will take over as the quarterback of the defense. He is more than capable of filling that role, but outside of square there is a lot of production from 2020 lost, that new faces will have to make up for.
The Cats are stacked with talent and experience at safety and senior Cedrick Dort Jr. has one of the corner spots locked down while the other is an open competition between Carrington Valentine and Quandre Mosely.
Bottom line for this unit is that Mark Stoops knows how to get the most out of his players on defense. The question is can the offense stay on the field enough for them to last four quarters.
Losing Ray Guy award winner Max Duffy will hurt, but Wilson Berry comes from an NFL pedigree and will try to fill those shoes adequately. Matt Rufolo returns at placekicker after hitting 12-14 field goals in 2020, while Zach Johnson returns as the primary kick returner.
Mark Stoops is doing everything he can to break through and compete in the East. The schedule sets up nicely with crossover games at home against LSU and on the road against Mississippi State, but it still feels like eight wins is likely the ceiling for this team.