Kentucky football: 5 biggest blunders the coaching staff made in 2020
Mark Stoops has been one of the most successful coaches in Kentucky football history. Indeed, other than the legendary Bear Bryant, Stoops may well be the most successful coach in Lexington, and Bryant’s been gone for over 65 years now.
That said, the 2020 season felt like a disappointment.
The 4-6 Wildcats have ended a run of 4 consecutive winning seasons, and while they were mostly competitive in the all-SEC slate of 2020 and finished with a bang, they came up shy of preseason expectations of a 6-4 or even 7-3 kind of season.
Here’s where Stoops and Co. had some shortcomings in 2020:
1. Failing to hire a special teams coach
Assistant coach Dean Hood handled special teams at Kentucky from 2017-2019, but he left after the past season to take the head coaching spot at FCS Murray State. Stoops chose not to replace Hood but to piecemeal the various components of the job to other assistants. He was rewarded with a near meltdown.
Kentucky lost a game due to a missed extra point, had some stumbles even in the ordinarily stellar punting game with the Ray Guy Award winner, Max Duffy, still kicking, and did nothing much in the return game. Not having a coach specifically assigned to the job looked like a mistake in a year where the entire special teams took a substantial step back.
2. Failing to install a passing game
This one could go on a number of parties — Stoops, former offensive coordinator Eddie Gran (who was fired Sunday along with Darin Hinshaw), underwhelming QB Terry Wilson, a slate of pass-dropping, non-separating wide receivers. But the bottom line is that a Kentucky offense that understandably couldn’t pass the ball in 2019 with a wide receiver at quarterback, inexplicably couldn’t pass the ball in 2020, either.
Wilson capped the regular season with a 201-yard effort against South Carolina. That was nice, but it also was his 2nd-best outing of the season.
Kentucky not only will finish last in the conference in passing by a wide margin, it also is likely to finish last in passing efficiency. Meaning, not only didn’t Kentucky throw the ball, but when they did, it didn’t go well. Without balance, Kentucky struggled in other areas, like 3rd-down conversion and red-zone offense.
3. Mishandling the running back rotation
Kentucky had 3 solid running backs in senior A.J. Rose and sophomores Kavosiey Smoke and Chris Rodriguez. Of the 3, Rodriguez has by far had the best season, but he missed a couple of games due to COVID-related issues and didn’t always see the field enough to make an impact.
Smoke was out with an injury and never worked into steady usage. Rose had a disappointing season, highlighted by his showboating run against Ole Miss where he was dragged down from behind while celebrating, only to fumble the ball away 2 plays later.
Kentucky finished in the upper echelon of SEC rushing attacks, but with its outstanding offensive line and a lack of a passing game, UK needed even more from its running backs.
4. Struggling to develop the pass rush
Kentucky recently has had many candidates to get after the quarterback. Whether it was all-everything Josh Allen in 2018 or sleeper Calvin Taylor in 2019, UK had put together a nice progression of pass rushers. But 2020 found the Wildcats at the bottom of the league’s sack standings. Jamar Watson had a decent season, but aside from him, Kentucky rarely got any heat on passers.
5. Being offensive on offense
Whether it was Game 1, when a decision to pass on 2nd-and-goal from the 6-inch line yielded a back-breaking interception, or midseason when decisions to play as conservatively as possible cost opportunities to beat Missouri and Georgia, Kentucky simply never got it going offensively all season. Well, until the final game, when it hung a season-high 41 against a depleted South Carolina defense.
The Wildcats ran when they should have passed or passed when they should have ran. They were horrible in the red zone, they couldn’t efficiently throw, and sometimes the personnel decisions in the running game were confusing.
Stoops’ decision to fire Gran and Hinshaw told the story that the derailment of the 2020 season basically started and ended with some truly perplexing offensive decisions.
Kentucky fans can only hope that the new OC brings a new direction and better execution in 2021.