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If there was one team that looked as though they were about to make waves in the SEC East behind Georgia last season, it was most certainly Kentucky. They started the year 6-0, and their offense gave fans reason for optimism. Even with a three-game losing streak sprinkled into the season, they finished 10-3.
The return of Will Levis and Chris Rodriguez for 2022 brings instant stability to the offense, which is important considering they are working with a new play caller. Their former OC Liam Coen left after one season to become the OC for the LA Rams.
No one can blame Coen for joining the team that just won the Super Bowl, but his departure left a big hole in the Kentucky staff. Having to hire a new OC is not an easy task, especially when the previous one showed so much potential. But Mark Stoops made it clear that the new OC Rich Scangarello isn’t going to make major changes in the offense.
“I thought our guys handled (the OC change) very well,” Stoops said. “Our coaches worked very hard, been working around the clock to get things ready for each practices. It’s different. It’s different coming back next week. Usually when the spring game is over, let’s face it, it’s the spring. These guys have been up early every day. They’ve worked all winter, lifting their tail off and then coming out and practicing and meeting. And when the spring game is over, they’re usually ready to wrap it up. But we have to adjust our mindset and come back and take advantage of a couple more days. So it is what it is.”
Will Levis goes even further and describes Scangarello as a “football genius.”
“Even though you might think you have a good understanding of football, when you talk to someone like that you’re like, ‘I don’t know anything.’ And it’s always cool to remind myself and humble myself every time. I know how to read a defense or I know how to run a play, but when we go up (to the film room, he will) blow my mind with just how he explains it. I mean, he’s a football genius. He he calls good plays and he coaches well, and the guys have rallied around him and just looking forward to continuing our relationship with him,” Levis said.
Will Levis knows that with Scangarello, he will be well prepared going into the summer and eventually fall camp. Levis says that Scangarello has helped the offense better understand the small things about the old scheme under Coen rather than install something totally new.
“Even though (there is a) new offensive coordinator, not all the stuff we’re doing is new,” Levis said. “And we have all spring ball to kind of get rolling with it, and I really like where we are. I’m going to be able to go into camp at a much better level of the offense I’m running and understand it as compared to last year, which is great.”
Levis isn’t the only focus of the new old offense though. Much of the talk around Lexington is also centered on running back Chris Rodriguez, one of the best backs in the conference.
Some folks around the program, including Levis, will tell you that Rodriguez wasn’t used enough in the passing attack last season.
“I don’t think we (used) him enough as much in the pass game,” Levis lamented. “And I think that one of my goals in the offseason was to get the backs more catches, whether it’s a designed play to the back or just check downs on plays where there might not be something there. I don’t want to force the ball and just flip it out to the back.”
The Cats will also need WR Tayvion Robinson to cause problems for opposing defenses, especially with the loss of WR Wan’Dale Robinson who declared for the draft. Tayvion, who transferred to UK from Virginia Tech, has the chance to fill some big shoes. He’ll also have the help of freshman Dane Key, who caught a touchdown pass from Will Levis on Saturday.
With all these offensive weapons, this team is poised to have success in 2022. Replacing Wan’Dale Robinson will be difficult, but if the Wildcats can continue to improve next season, maybe they’ll be in a fight for the SEC East. I am not saying the Cats are going to be battling Georgia for the top spot, but there is no reason this team can’t cause a little chaos in the division.