LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Benny Snell gave high-fives and mingled with his former teammates during Kentucky's annual Blue-White game Friday night at Kroger Field.
Snell got a glimpse of what Kentucky’s offense will look like next season and came away impressed. Snell’s replacement in the backfield — A.J. Rose — rushed for 86 yards and scored three touchdowns to help lead the Blue team to a 64-10 win over the White squad.
It marked the first time in three years Snell wasn’t in uniform. Snell, the school’s rushing leader, declared for the NFL Draft, which is set for later this month. Rose and the rest of Kentucky’s backfield was impressive. Kavosiey Smoke led all rushers with 132 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including an 87-yard touchdown in the first half.
“It’s been kind of tough but it’s making us need each other,” Smoke said. “Benny was a great leader, and I’m not going to take that from him. He taught us a lot and I learned a lot from Benny and he was a role model for me.”
Rose also missed his former teammate but vowed to pick up where Snell left off last season after leading the Wildcats to a 10-3 record and a win over Penn State in the VRBO Citrus Bowl.
“He’s going to be hard to replace, but I’m going to go out there and try to just be me and do as much as I can for the team,” Rose said. “Hopefully break his (rushing) record.”
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson was equally impressive and threw for 191 yards and two touchdowns. Wilson was effective reaching his deep targets and threw a 42-yard touchdown to teammate Lynn Bowden on the blue team’s first possession. Wilson also completed a 60-yard strike to Isaiah Epps and a 24-yard pass to Justin Rigg.
“We’re way more explosive,” Wilson said. “We made way more big plays (tonight) than we did during the season (last year) — just throwing the ball downfield and making those big plays. We’re trusting what we’re supposed to be doing. That’s just a standard for us. That’s what we can do (next season) and we’ve just got to stay consistent. Do what we can do and not worry about anything else. I feel like we’ll be fine.”
Overall, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops was pleased with his team’s ability to make big plays.
“I saw some good explosive offensive plays,” Stoops said. “I was pleased to see that. We've been working hard all offseason at trying to improve and converting opportunities and shot plays. You saw us convert some of those today. That's good to see no matter who is out there and what you're playing against. So that was good.”
Backup signal Gunnar Hoak played for both teams and completed 23-of-30 passes for 262 yards and two touchdowns. Hoak will graduate next month and his future with the team remains isn’t for certain. Whether the starter is Wilson or Hoak, Epps said the Wildcats will be improved in the passing game next season, especially with the development of Wilson in the pocket.
“If he completes over half of those deep balls, that changes our offense completely,” Epps said.
Stoops said hitting targets downfield has been an emphasis during spring workouts.
“We've been hitting them,” the Kentucky coach said. “We've been working hard and getting the ball down the field and we've been converting on quite a few.”
Freshman receiver Bryce Oliver hauled in eight passes for 105 yards and a touchdown. Epps added four catches for 97 yards and Bowden’s four catches totaled 66 yards.
“Bryce has shown up all spring,” Stoops said. “He's been solid. I've mentioned him. He's one of the young guys that can emerge as a playmaker. He's a big, strong guy that can run and catch. So he's got to continue to work really hard and put it all together."
Even though the Wildcats enjoyed a productive spring overall Stoops wasn’t pleased with the “competitive nature of our players.”
“That needs to change,” he said. “I don't care who you are, what team you are, what you're doing, when you go out on that field you better have a competitive spirit about you and competitive nature. And I didn't see some guys competing at the level that we expect.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.