No. 5: The Kentucky Wildcats could cause problems for Mississippi State football
I could’ve gone a few different directions for this spot. Arkansas has one of the SEC’s best backfield tandems between QB KJ Jefferson and RB Raheim “Rocket” Sanders. Bobby Petrino taking over Texas A&M’s offense with promising young talent at WR and QB could mean the Aggies finally explode on that side of the ball. And even Auburn is worth considering with the polarizing Hugh Freeze now calling the shots and a good influx of transfer talent.
But each of those teams are going through some sort of overhaul that has to potential to blowup in a bad way in 2023. And while Kentucky has it’s fair share of questions surrounding its offense this year, I have more confidence in this Wildcats squad being able to consistently put points on the board than the others.
2022 was a rough season for the UK offense.
Their once strong offensive line was terrible (119th nationally in rush yards per attempt and 125th in sacks allowed per game) and OC Rich Scangarello’s antiquated scheme didn’t suit their personnel. The Cats scored just 20.4 points per game (last in the SEC), were 97th in Offensive SP+, and went 7-6 despite fielding a great defense.
Luckily for Kentucky, Scangarello is gone and Liam Coen of the LA Rams is now back in Lexington for his second stint as OC. His 2021 UK offense scored 32.3 points per game and ranked 21st in Offensive SP+ on the way to 10 wins. And though QB Will Levis and stud RBs Chris Rodriguez Jr. and Kavosiey Smoke are gone, he’s got plenty of weapons to work with.
Former NC State QB Devin Leary transfers in after throwing for over 6800 yards and 62 TDs during his time in Raleigh. Though injuries have riddled his career, including last season, Leary has shown he can be one of the sport’s top passers. In 2021, he threw for 3433 yards with 35 TDs to just five INTs while completing nearly 66% of his passes. Leary doesn’t have the physical tools and mobility that made Will Levis an intriguing NFL prospect, but he’s arguably a better college player than Levis.
Ray Davis transfers in from Vanderbilt to take over at RB after a 1000 yard rushing season in 2021. Kentucky has one of its deepest receiving corps in years with the trio of Barion Brown, Dane Key, and Tayvion Robinson. They combined for 127 receptions, 1644 yards, and 13 TDs last season. Starting TE Jordan Dingle also returns.
But what about the OL? That’s the question for this UK offense. 4/5 starters return, but is that really what you want after such a poor season? Northern Illinois transfer Marques Cox comes in to take over at left tackle, and some of the returnees have been shuffled around into their more natural positions. If they can progress, the offense should see major improvement. But that’s a big if.
Still, I trust Liam Coen to maximize the potential of the Kentucky offense. He’s a good enough play-caller to work around some limitations. If the OL can keep Leary upright and he stays healthy, this could be a dangerous group in 2023. The good news for MSU is that this game is played in Starkville this year, a place UK hasn’t won at since 2008.