What we know heading into Kentucky vs. Ball State

On3 imageby:Adam Luckett09/02/23

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Mark Stoops Kentucky Football Monday Press Conference

Kentucky finally makes a return to Kroger Field on Saturday, and things will look different in 2023. Mark Stoops’ team is once again opening up the season with a MAC opponent, but much else has changed. The Wildcats will have a new quarterback, a re-shuffled offensive line, a new offensive coordinator (sort of), and a new-look secondary.

Ball State will be facing a different Kentucky team. How different? We will find out in the three-plus hours in the Central Kentucky sun on Labor Day Saturday. The talking season is officially over. Now it’s time to get this season off and running.

More toe meets leather, let’s recap what we know going into Ball State vs. Kentucky.

Kentucky’s offensive line is still a huge question mark

After last season, we all knew that Kentucky had to make some serious changes to fix an offensive line that was one of the worst in the Power Five. The Wildcats added five transfers to Zach Yenser‘s position room in the offseason, but guard Ben Christman was already lost for the season.

Marques Cox did secure the left tackle spot for Kentucky, but the other four starters will be returnees from last season. Eli Cox and Kenneth Horsey are switching back to their natural positions but Jager Burton will be playing center for the first time while there will be an ongoing position battle between Jeremy Flax and Courtland Ford at right tackle.

There are a lot of unknowns for a group that needs to make big strides. Ball State has a legitimate defensive front with depth to go along with playmaking at linebacker in a 3-4 scheme. The Cats will get challenged on Saturday.

Game one will be a good test for this rebuilt Big Blue Wall.

Ball State’s skill talent is brand new

John Paddock and Carson Steele both had strong years for Ball State last season. The former is at Illinois and the latter is at UCLA. Add them along with some wide receiver departures due to graduation and that forced head coach Mike Neu to go looking for answers in the transfer portal.

Layne Hatcher (Texas State) will open up the season as QB1. Marquez Cooper (Kent State) is RB1. Ty Robinson (Colorado) and Malcolm Gillie (junior college) are starters at wide receiver. That’s a lot of new in Muncie.

There will likely be some trial and error early for Neu’s unit until Ball State figures out who they are on this side of the football. However, that makes scouting the Cardinals in game one a tough task. Kentucky may have to do some feeling out early to figure out what Ball State’s top goal is on offense.

Kentucky’s pass game has an advantage

Expectations are high for new Kentucky quarterback Devin Leary. The Wildcats are loaded at tight end, while Barion Brown and Dane Key look like young NFL talents. Tayvion Robinson could be one of the best No. 3 receivers in college football. Liam Coen is a proven play-caller. All signs point to the Wildcats having a strong throw game.

Ball State returns starting safety Jordan Riley (97 tackles, 3 tackles for loss, 12 pass breakups) but he will be surrounded by new starters. Kentucky should have a big advantage with Leary now operating from the pocket.

As long as Kentucky’s offensive line creates some clean pockets, we should see a big performance from the Kentucky passing game.

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2024-04-16