LEXINGTON, Ky. — Jeff Badet has a simple request for his quarterback.
“Just throw the ball and let me go get it.”
The Kentucky receiver has been the haymaker to a run-heavy attack that delivers blow after blow to the body. Freshman Benny Snell blasts through defenses as Boom Williams speeds around them. But then there’s quarterback Stephen Johnson finding his big-play threat slipping past opposing secondaries.
Badet, who crafted his game after Percy Harvin, leads the SEC with 24 yards per catch. No other conference foe comes within five yards of that mark. The junior from Orlando is the most productive Wildcats pass catcher in yards and touchdowns — his 20 receptions behind only Garrett Johnson’s 25.
“I’ve just got to get on the corner’s toes,” Badet said. “Once I’m on their toes, it’s over with.”
Speed is the primary ingredient to Badet’s big plays.
“Once he gets a step on you, if the ball’s being led to him, I think he’d go get it at all times,” Kentucky corner Derrick Baity said.
But Badet’s season stats show a significant dip in the middle. After three strong showings to start the year, the explosive receiver went dormant. The Wildcats were working through Johnson’s growing pains as a first-time starter. Snell had emerged at running back and he and Williams were carrying the offense.
“I always just told him, ‘When things are going bad and you’re not getting the ball, you have to stay positive,'” receivers coach Lamar Thomas said. “‘Other people feed off that. This thing will turn around.’”
Badet caught just 2 passes for 39 yards vs. South Carolina in Week 4. The next week, at Alabama, he was shut out. He hauled in 2 catches for 8 yards against Vanderbilt the week after that. A bye week followed, and the day before Kentucky took on Mississippi State, Badet met with coach Mark Stoops.
The receiver responded to whatever was said.
— Scott Charlton (@Scott_Charlton) October 29, 2016
Badet caught 7 passes for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns against Mississippi State. He added 104 yards and a score last weekend at Missouri.
“I think, like, not to say he wasn’t into it before, but I think it really sunk in with him how special this team is,” Baity said. “I think it really hit it him, like, we really have a chance this year of doing things right.”
Johnson has improved in the passing game, with Badet helping him through the early-season struggles.
“Our relationship is getting a lot better, me and Jeff,” Johnson said. “Just being able to click on the field, knowing where he’s going to be, recognizing his speed and, like you said, just be able to throw the ball up basically like I did in the last game and let him run underneath it. His speed is just phenomenal, so I need to utilize that.”
The two stay in sync throughout much of the week. Both are agricultural economics majors. The quarterback-receiver duo has three classes together.
“Every now and then in class he’ll reach over and tell me what he sees and remind me to get him the ball,” Johnson said with a laugh.
The Wildcats will be vying for their sixth win in seven games at 7:30 p.m. ET on Saturday against Georgia. Kentucky’s ground game figures to be the focal point of the offense again, but Badet knows it’s just buying him time.
Jab, jab, jab. Then the big blow.
“I just want to be that go-to-guy for Stephen,” Badet said. “That’s what I always tell him: ‘Man, just throw the ball and don’t worry about nothin’. I’ll go get it.’”