By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Let’s talk about UK’s quarterback quandary by starting with a couple of givens. The first is that Mark Stoops has been and always will be a “run first” coach. He talks about teams being hard to defend if they are balanced but at the end of the day he seems to prefer the power run game with a little short passing game mixed in.
The second given is that Mark Stoops is a defensive minded coach. The backbone of his teams will always be a solid defense if he can recruit the right players and have enough quality depth.
So where does that leave the offense and more specifically the quarterback situation? Since Mark Stoops has been at UK he has had three offensive coordinators — Neal Brown, Shannon Dawson and Eddie Gran. Neal Brown stayed for two years before taking the head coaching job at Troy. Shannon Dawson spent one turbulent year with Stoops before moving on to Southern Mississippi. Both ran a form of the Air Raid offense and never seemed to mesh well with Stoop’s overall football philosophy.
Eddie Gran is in his third year as the offensive coordinator at UK and seems to be in sync with the power run game and how Mark Stoops wants to play football.
It seems to me that if the coaching staff is not willing to throw the ball at least 40 to 45 percent of the time they should move on to Plan B.
Plan B in my opinion would be to continue to run the ball 80 to 90 percent of the time with a slight adjustment. Move away from a spread formation and go to a jumbo package with two running backs — Benny Snell as the power back and AJ Rose as the speed back. Use all tight ends — or include big wide receivers like Dorian Baker — all in a tight goal line type formation. This will force the defense to make a decision — do they stack the box and sell out on the run because of the more than normal amount of blockers at the line of scrimmage or do they keep their safeties back just in case UK decides to throw the ball.
Keep in mind even with all tight ends on the field Eddie Gran would have some very capable receivers at his disposal should he decide to throw the ball deep or run any short routes to the sidelines or over the middle.
This type formation could add additional blockers for the running backs and also potentially get the Wildcats more explosive plays with AJ Rose and Terry Wilson in the backfield. In this offensive scheme the defense would then have to decide which back they were going to key on and it could also be more difficult to defend unless the defense pulled more defenders up into the box which then opens up the tight ends or a running back out of the backfield as receivers.
At least in the case of Plan B everyone knows Kentucky is running the ball — like they do right now — but with the extra blockers in place to handle the added defensive players that are being moved up into the box.
Going to that type offensive scheme would probably not help recruiting at the skill positions and probably lead to some transfers at the end of the season but if your goal is to win football games and do it through a power run game then it seems to me that some slight adjustments are in order. As it is now the result of running a spread formation is teams are stacking the interior of the defensive line to stop the running back and quarterback and the offense does not have enough bodies to open a hole. Pass coverage by the defense is generally only in place on obvious passing downs.
At the end of the day Mark Stoops and his staff have some difficult decisions to make on offense. But to win the rest of the games on the schedule one of three things needs to happen. Either the current quarterback and wide receivers must significantly improve their ability to get open and catch passes or a different quarterback and wide receivers need to take their spots on the field to see if they can open up the offense a little.
If either of those options doesn’t work — and they may not — in my opinion UK needs to completely go all in on the power run game and set up a scheme to make it as successful as possible.
Either way this team has still accomplished a lot by going 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC. Now it’s time to figure out why their offensive express from earlier in the season went off the tracks and make some adjustments to get it headed back in the right direction.