LEXINGTON — The bad news about University of Kentucky football is that fans who have gone from blind faith to a more cautious wait ‘n see attitude in Coach Mark Stoops’ first 15 months may not be wildly encouraged by what they see Saturday in Stoops’ second Blue-White spring game.
The event starts at 3:30 p.m. at Commonwealth Stadium and is free to the public.
This isn’t to suggest that the Wildcats won’t be considerably improved this fall, coming off a disappointing, though not shocking, 2-10 record this past season.
Kentucky may make significant improvement in the fall, though the typically brutal Southeastern Conference schedule should limit the Wildcats to no more than four or five wins.
The problem Saturday is a slew of injuries, most of them fortunately minor, appear to have largely erased hopes to see significant improvements in the spring game.
In particular, Kentucky’s wide receiver corps — featuring Franklin County’s Ryan Timmons, along with other returnees and a couple promising newcomers — has been decimated by injury.
The Red Cross lineup starts with Timmons’ dinged shoulder. Timmons has practiced this week, but with a red (no touch) jersey.
Then there’s Jeff Badet’s broken leg (no surgery needed); freshman Thaddeus Snodgrass and Joey Herrick with minor injuries, and Javess Blue and Alexander Montgomery still recovering from injuries suffered this past fall.
Air Raid may still be months away from even making an occasional appearance.
Fortunately, all of those players are expected to be 100 percent by fall. Though, I must admit, I wonder if the Wildcats can’t survive the physical rigors of spring ball, what’s going to happen when they see SEC competition?
No wonder the UK coaches readily admit this program is at least a year away from seeing any corners turned.
The injuries at wideout also limit what we can see at quarterback because there’s few SEC-caliber receivers for the quarterbacks to throw to.
All we know for sure about quarterback is the No. 1 guy won’t be Jalen Whitlow, the starter at QB for the better part of the past two seasons.
Whitlow announced last week that he’s transferring. Stoops said the UK coaches asked Whitlow to move to wide receiver, and Whitlow declined.
Another wideout, A.J. Legree, announced early this week that he’s also leaving the program.
Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown still say there is no clear No. 1 guy at quarterback, though there has been massive and consistent buzz out of the UK football camp all spring about the progress of redshirt sophomore Patrick Towles and incoming freshman Drew Barker.
I find that immensely encouraging. I saw Towles play in high school, as many of us did, and I believe my assessment was along the lines of: a Tim Couch presence with a better arm.
Apparently Towles put some intense time in during the offseason with former Franklin County head coach and QB guru Donny Walker, among others, straightening out issues with his mechanics.
Barker, meanwhile, has lived up to his hype coming in, as much as he could without seeing outside competition.
All this said, it’s important, if not vital, for fans to show up for Saturday’s spring game even if just for show, because a lot of recruits are going to be there and the impression of a big crowd could go a long way in getting them here long-term.
Barker said the 50,000-plus that attended last spring’s Blue-White game went a long way towards flipping his commitment from South Carolina to Kentucky.
“It was really eye opening for me, and all the recruits that were there, because I know the majority of the recruits that were there ended up committing to us,” Barker said. “So I think that had a big impact.”
Ditto, said incoming freshman Mikel Horton, a four-star recruit.
“The atmosphere was ridiculous,” said Horton, of West Chester, Ohio. “Having that amount of fans there and especially with my family there, to show them this is where I’m going to be playing and scoring touchdowns and getting long runs and helping the team, was very humbling. It was life-changing.”
Spring game notes: The spring game is one part of a big sports weekend at UK, with the Wildcats’ 19th-ranked baseball team hosting 12th-ranked Ole Miss in a three game series at Cliff Hagan Stadium, and UK’s No.-9 rated softball team hosting No. 8 Tennessee in a three-game series at John Cropp Stadium.
Single game tickets for baseball and softball are $5 for adults and $2 for kids ages 6-18.
6 p.m. - Softball vs. Tennessee.
6:30 p.m. - Baseball vs. Ole Miss.
1 p.m. - Baseball vs. Ole Miss.
5 p.m. - Softball vs. Tennessee.
1 p.m. - Baseball vs. Ole Miss.
2 p.m. - Softball vs. Tennessee.