It’s football time in the Bluegrass. Saturday the Kentucky Wildcats will open the 2019 season by taking on the Toledo Rockets of the Mid-American Conference.
Starting the season off against MAC favorite Toledo will provide Kentucky with a challenge right out of the gates as the Cats look to prove last year was no fluke.
Can they get the job done? Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday’s match-up.
Starting quarterback Mitchell Guadagni can do it all
Senior Mitchell Guadagni will be the Toledo starting quarterback after tossing 13 touchdowns a year ago in just five games before going down with a season-ending injury. Despite a small sample size he still led the MAC in pass efficiency (162.0) last season. In addition to being a threat with his arm, Guadagni can be explosive with his legs as he ran for 428 yards in 2018 which gave him an average of 85.6 rushing yards per game from the quarterback position.
Welcome Back Bryant Koback
Does this name sound familiar to you? It should because just over a year ago Bryant Koback was a Kentucky Wildcat. Koback transferred to Toledo after red-shirting as a true freshman in 2017. After being granted instant eligibility, Koback played a significant role in the Rockets offense last season. He rushed for 917 yards and 14 touchdowns and averaged an impressive six yards per carry. It’ll be hard to find a more motivated player on the field Saturday than Koback, so the Kentucky front seven better be ready.
As good as the Toledo offense was a year ago the defense was nearly as bad. The Rockets finished 84th in the country in total defense after giving up an average of 432.3 yards of total offense per game. To make matters worse, much of their defensive production from a year ago is no longer on the roster. Lead tackler Richard Olekanma graduated, Tuzar Skipper who led the team in sacks, is in the NFL with the Steelers and defensive tackle Reggie Howard, who forced two fumbles is in the NFL, is with the Chargers. That means there will be a lot of inexperience on a Toledo defense which already wasn’t great a year ago, when it had a fair share of seniors.
It’s Terry’s Time To Shine
As Eddie Gran mentioned last week, there was no quarterback controversy entering 2019. Junior Terry Wilson will be under center for the Wildcats after leading the team to a 10 win-season a year ago despite several struggles. Fully healthy and having a year under his belt to learn the offense and connect with his teammates, expectations are sky-high for the former JUCO star. With Benny Snell Jr. no longer in the picture, there will be a lot more pressure on Wilson to spread the ball around with his arm while still picking up first downs with his legs. Can “Touchdown” Terry make significant strides in year two? We’ll begin to find out Saturday.
Lynn Bowden could have a carer day
As mentioned earlier, the Toledo defense isn’t exactly the 1985 Chicago Bears. There are a lot of holes on the Rocket defense that will make them vulnerable to big plays. No one on the Kentucky roster makes more big plays than junior Lynn Bowden, who will likely have a field day against Toledo. Coming off a breakout sophomore season that saw him rack up 745 receiving yards, catch five touchdowns and take two punts to the house, Bowden will have a chance to begin an encore season in style against a weak Toledo defense. Every time Bowden touches the ball, there will be a chance for the Wildcats to score six on Saturday.
A first look at the young secondary
By far the biggest question mark of this Kentucky team is the secondary. The Cats lost all four of their starters a year ago, including NFL Draft picks Lonnie Johnson and Mike Edwards. Not only did the Wildcats lose four starters, they also lost their best returning DB in Davonte Robinson to a season-ending injury. Thus, the pressure will be on several young players to pick up the pieces. At corner, the Cats will start sophomore Cedrick Dort and freshman Jamari Brown. Both will be making their first carer start, with Brown set to make his college debut. At the safety position, the Cats will go with senior Jordan Griffin and sophomore Yusuf Corker. Griffin has experience but has never been a full-time start while Corker will be making his first carer start. It will be both exciting and nerve-racking to see this young Kentucky secondary take on an explosive offense Saturday as they look to prove to the fan base there’s no reason to worry.
The Cats enter Saturday 11.5 point favorites. This seems about right for a game likely to be high scoring between an SEC school and MAC school. The reason Kentucky will win this game is because of their depth. On offense, the Cats have a plethora of playmakers who can beat down a weak Toledo defense and score at will. Defensively, they have enough in the front-seven to neutralize Koback and force Guadagni to beat them with his arm rather than his legs. Thus, expect a high scoring affair but the Cats defense to get just enough stops to win this game.
Kentucky 38, Toledo 28