#38 Kentucky Football 2021 Preview

Kentucky Wildcats
Overall Rank: #38
#9 SEC
 Kentucky Logo
Following four straight winning seasons, Kentucky took a step back in 2020 and finished the year 5-6. The Wildcats still went to a bowl though and the season ended on a high note with a 23-21 win over NC State in the Gator Bowl.
2020 Record: 5-6, 4-6
2020 Bowl: Taxslayer Gator Bowl vs. NC State (W 23-21)
Coach: Mark Stoops (49-50 at Kentucky, 49-50 overall)
Offensive Coordinator: Liam Coen
Defensive Coordinator: Brad White
Returning Leaders:
Rushing: Chris Rodriguez Jr, RB, 785 yards
Passing: Joey Gatewood, QB, 109 yards
Receiving: Josh Ali, WR, 473 yards
Tackles: Yusuf Corker, DB, 77
Sacks: Jordan Wright, LB, 3.5
Interceptions: Yusuf Corker, DB, 2
Other Key Returnees: RB Kavosley Smoke, TE Keaton Upshaw, OL Darian Kinnard, LB DeAndre Square, DB Tyrell Ajian, LB J.J. Weaver
Key Losses: RB Asim Rose, QB Terry Wilson, OL Landon Young,  OL Drake Jackson, LB Jamin Davis, LB Jamar Watson, DB Kelvin Joseph, DB Brandin Echols
Kentucky has made some changes to the coaching staff on the offensive side of the ball and the hope is that will help improve a passing attack that has faltered in recent years. They will need to find somebody to throw the ball though. Joey Gatewood got the most experience backing up Terry Wilson last season. Beau Allen and Penn State transfer Will Levis will also battle for the starting job. Regardless of who is under center, there should be more deep balls in the new system. Josh Ali is back after easily leading the Wildcats with 54 receptions for 473 yards, but a couple transfers could make the largest impact. Tre’Von Morgan is a big target from Michigan State and Wan’Dale Robinson is an amazing playmaker. Robinson was not always utilized properly at Nebraska and he could big in for a huge season if the offense creates space by looking deep to big targets like Morgan and hitting Robinson underneath on shorter passes and screens. With Chris Rodriguez Jr. returning at running back, Kentucky could suddenly have a solid, balanced offense.
Losing seven defensive starters is a lot in a season where everybody could return. Still Kentucky has a strong defensive history so they should be able to work through those loses without much of a drop in production. Nose guard Marquan McCall is a great piece to build around in the middle of the line and end Josh Paschal will look to boost a pass rush that ranked last in the SEC in sacks per game. DeAndre Square is the leader of the linebackers, but replacing Jamin Davis will not be easy. The secondary returns some experience at safety, but there are questions at cornerback.
The Bottom Line:
For the most part it has been the defense that has led the program to five straight bowls. Even if the offense does not improve, the unit should be able to take Kentucky to another bowl. However, this offense has a ton of potential to emerge as something more than just a run game. If the passing game opens up, Kentucky could be looking at another season like the one they had in 2018 when they went 10-3 and won the Citrus Bowl.
Projected Bowl:  Texas Bowl
2020 Team Stats:
Rushing Offense: 196.5 (34th in nation, 3rd in conference)
Passing Offense: 121.5 (122, 14)
Total Offense: 318.0 (115, 14)
Scoring Offense: 21.8 (107, 11)
Rushing Defense: 156.1 (53, 6)
Pass Defense: 224.6 (54, 1)
Total Defense: 380.7 (45, 4)
Scoring Defense: 25.9 (45, 5)
Turnover Margin: 0.91 (13, 1)
Sacks: 1.36 (113, 14)
Sacks Allowed: 1.55 (28, 3)