Will Marshall is a sportswriter for aseasofblue.com and he took some time to answer four questions that I had about Kentucky’s important game with Southern Mississippi this Saturday.
Q1: Kentucky fans might be tired of hearing about Nick Mullens, but he is the top-rated PFF quarterback returning in 2016 and fans are looking for him to have plenty of time to pass. How well do you think Kentucky will deal with that since the defensive front is thin and Regie Meant is gone?
In terms of rushing the passer, I think UK will hold its own. Regie Meant was not a traditional pass rusher on the interior but Southern Miss is starting two new offensive tackles and one of them is a redshirt freshman while UK does return some edge rushers like Denzil Ware and Josh Allen. They didn't have much production last year, but they are now entering their second season and have shown flashes of promise.
Q2: Eddie Gran (new offensive coordinator) brings a great resume to Lexington and he's been a critical part of raising UK from the 89th-ranked offense in 2015. How has the team responded to his style and the change in scheme (which I believe will be the Pistol)?
Gran claims he runs a hybrid "pro style" offense which, in all honesty, probably won't be much different in terms of theory than Stoops last two OCs. It sounds like the terminology is different, and the playbook more complex than last season, but at the end of the day it will still be a lot of 3- and 4-Wide sets, some shotgun, and one-back looks.
The players seem to have responded well especially considering how upset some of them were when Dawson (Shannon Dawson now at Southern Mississippi) was fired. Multiple positions have spoken highly of Gran and co-OC and QB coach Darin Hinshaw.
Q3: Boom Williams has convinced analysts that he has 1000-yard talent. Can Kentucky muster enough of a passing attack to keep teams from overloading on Williams, something that seems likely by Southern Miss?
I believe so. Dorian Baker and Garret Johnson had impressive raw numbers as true sophomores last season despite their issues with drops in the second half of the season. Couple those two play-makers with tight end CJ Conrad, and other receivers and I think the passing game will be fine from a skill position perspective. Stoops has arguably recruited WRs and DBs better than other positions. He's added enough depth that senior Ryan Timmons is an afterthought despite leading the team in receptions as a sophomore.
Q4: I would love to know your thoughts on the game overall and how you think it will play out.
I think the Southern Miss offense will give UK some problems between Nick Mullens and Ito Smith, but I also think UK will have success running the ball early which should limit Mullens’ touches. If Drew Barker gets settled in his first true game as the starting quarterback, and UK's defense forces turnovers, I think UK starts to pull away in the second half and wins by a 7-10 point margin.