By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Kentucky football fans enjoyed a rare treat during the 2018 football season. They watched a University of Kentucky football team win 10 games for the first time since 1977. They also saw some dominating individual performances from players like UK all-time career rushing leader Benny Snell and All-American linebacker Josh Allen.
But another thing they saw was a Kentucky offensive and defensive line that consistently won the battle at the line of scrimmage.
And winning at the line of scrimmage is usually the key to winning any football game.
Steve Spurrier, Jr. , son of college football coaching legend Steve Spurrier and former co-offensive coordinator at South Carolina said as much: “Linemen are the biggest difference in the game, especially in this (SEC) conference. You have to be really strong on both lines to be successful.”
That’s exactly what UK was last season — really strong on both lines. Defensively with an anchor player like 6-4, 340-pound Quinton Bohanna at nose tackle and players like Tymere Dubose, Adrian Middleton and several others in the 300-pound plus range along with edge rushers like 6-5, 260-pound Josh Allen the Wildcat defense dominated the line of scrimmage against several SEC schools last year.
The Kentucky offensive line was just as good, if not better, at winning the battle in the trenches. With players like 6-5, 315-pound George Asafo-Adjei; 6-3, 305-pound Bunchy Stallings; and 6-6, 320-pound Logan Stenberg, along with many others, offensive line coach John Schlarman’s group physically whipped teams at the point of attack and opened enough holes to allow UK to rush for over 2,500 yards.
The good news is I believe the offensive and defensive lines will be even better in 2019. And Mark Stoops believes that also. He said, “We’re going to be physical like we always try to be. The offensive line is going to be very, very solid. They’re going to be physical. We have some experienced players there. Landon Young comes back off injury. He was a starter at left tackle. He’ll be back for us this year. He will be a great addition along with Logan (Stenberg).”
Kentucky’s offensive coordinator Eddie Gran also sees this year’s offensive line as a big plus.
“I think we have eight right now that are playing winning football. We’ve got a couple of others that we feel like by week five or six, they got to jump in that role. But it’s been pretty cohesive,” Gran said.
As far as the defensive line goes, Stoops believes his defensive line is deep, talented and can play with anyone in the SEC.
“If you look at our interior defensive line, the three interior guys were as deep and as talented and as physical as I’ve seen since I’ve been at Kentucky. That’s a good place to start. We feel like we have six, seven, eight guys at the interior three that can play,” Stoops said.
Having six, seven, eight defensive lineman that can play equally well is a luxury I haven’t seen at UK in quite a while — if ever. That’s good news for predicting success for this year’s Wildcats.
The reason I say that a lot of the success Kentucky will achieve this year will be based on how physical they are at the point of attack — both offensively and defensively — is because Stoops says the same thing.
“It’s a line of scrimmage game. You better be good in the offensive line, better be good in the defensive line,” Stoops said. “Sure, we all know you want to be good at all positions. You have to be to win at the highest level. But if you’re not physical, you don’t have much of a chance. All in all, you know what I mean, throw it all in a bucket, come out the end. I don’t like our chances if you’re not physical.”
So take it from a coach who knows. Mark Stoops, who led Kentucky football to a 10-win season and a Citrus Bowl Championship over Penn State, believes the Wildcats will be deep and physical at the line of scrimmage this year. And winning the line of scrimmage usually means winning the game.
So look for Kentucky to try to physically wear down opponents and take over games in the second half. If what Stoops says is true about offensive and defensive line play this year — and I believe it is — then all I can say is a line I will borrow from another very famous Kentucky Head Coach, “I like my team.”