New faces might take Cats places after depth rises in Blue-White game
There they were, Boom Williams and Jojo Kemp, looking razor sharp in Commonwealth Stadium – fit, and ready to suit up.
For an NFL team.
Kemp finished his career this past season; Williams decided to bypass his senior year and try the draft. They were mere spectators at Friday’s Blue-White scrimmage. What they saw was the future – including a talented running back corps and a backup quarterback who stole the show.
The Blue team, consisting primarily of starters, broke away from a 14-14 halftime score and beat the Whites, 31-14 with a healthy run/pass balance.
Sihiem King led all rushers with 107 yards, including a Boom-like 26 yard scamper that ended just shy of the end zone. Redshirt freshman A.J. Rose made only a brief appearance before he retired for the night with a slight neck injury, at one point ripping off a 27-yard run, leaving would-be tacklers scattered like confetti.
Incumbent QB Stephen Johnson looked more confident than he did at this time last year, when he had just arrived from a west coast junior college and was ready to assume the backup role behind Drew Barker.
Oh, yes – Barker was there as well, in street clothes, still working his way back from surgery to repair his damaged back. Johnson is The Man now, and the man behind The Man is Gunner Hoak, who wore both Blue and White on this evening.
Hoak finished 16-of-24 with no picks and two touchdown passes; during his time with the starters, he led the Blue team on a touchdown drive.
“You see he’s effortless at times,” Stoops said. “And I just like the way he handles himself back there. He throws a very catchable football. He’s very accurate. The more experience he gets, the better he looks.”
So the Wildcats are all set when it comes to their offensive backfield. An offensive line that has to replace All-SEC center Jon Toth protected well and opened holes. A dozen different receivers made catches.
So… does this mean Stoops spent the evening grinding his molars about his defense? Hardly.
“I wasn’t at all frustrated with that part of it,” he said. “We need to see some offense. We were very vanilla and we didn’t have the full group of (starters) over there and hardly did anything out of our third-down package.”
It’s hard to be frustrated when two new faces spend much of the evening all over the field, making plays – and names for themselves.
Linebacker Jamin Davis made eight tackles, five of them solos. Fellow linebacker Boogie Watson had three tackles – all sacks (two-hand touch variety on this night, as tackling quarterbacks was forbidden).
“We feel very good with Boogie,” Stoops said. “I feel like (Watson) really made, again, some strides. He’s a guy that, with reps, you could see he has the ability and he has a good understanding.”
All of which means added depth for a defense that made strides last season but struggled at times to stop the run – particularly during the TaxSlayer Bowl, when Georgia Tech slashed and gashed the Wildcats on the ground, seemingly all afternoon. Stoops liked what he saw Friday night, especially at the point of attack.
“I mean, it’s about pad level,” he said, “it’s about being disruptive up front and playing solid up front. You got to have some guys physically play the game the way it’s supposed to be played up front. It starts there.”
So now, Stoops and his staff have the best kind of game “film” to study – video images not just of drills, but of live reps, with footballs flying and big boys blitzing. “I appreciate that effort by our players,” he said. “We made some strides.”