Stronger focus on running game would help Kentucky
Amidst 16 consecutive losses in the SEC, Mark Stoops should be up for any recommendations heading into his second fall practice as the man in charge at Kentucky.
File this in the suggestion box: Would a philosophical switch on offense benefit the Wildcats?
Looking back at Kentucky’s seven total wins and five closest SEC losses since 2009, the Wildcats have been successful — and most importantly competitive — when they’ve stressed production from the backfield.
Focusing on the ground game goes against offensive coordinator Neal Brown and the current regime’s preferred scheme in the Air Raid system, but tempo doesn’t have to change. Running the football’s been the only recipe for success since the Wildcats’ last all-league caliber quarterback, Andre Woodson, graduated following an 8-win campaign in 2007:
UK rushing vs. opponents’ total in every SEC win, five closest losses since 2009
- Oct. 10, 2009 (28-26, L): Kentucky 205, South Carolina 128
- Oct. 17, 2009 (21-14, W): Kentucky 282, Auburn 220
- Nov. 14, 2009 (24-14, W): Kentucky 308, Vanderbilt 82
- Nov. 21, 2009 (34-27, W): Georgia 196, Kentucky 123
- Nov. 28, 2009 (30-24, L): Tennessee 226, Kentucky 161
- Oct. 9, 2010 (37-34, L): Auburn 311, Kentucky 110
- Oct. 16, 2010: (31-28, W): South Carolina 90, Kentucky 52
- Nov. 13, 2010: (38-20, W): Kentucky 341, Vanderbilt 202
- Nov. 5, 2011: (30-13, W): Ole Miss 195, Kentucky 115
- Nov. 26, 2011: (10-7, W): Kentucky 202, Tennessee 61
- Oct. 20, 2012: (29-24, L): Kentucky 206, Georgia 77
- Oct. 24, 2013: (28-22, L): Kentucky 160, Mississippi St. 152
(Average rushing in SEC wins or close finishes since 2009: Kentucky 179.6; Opponent 161.7)
As the numbers suggest, Kentucky’s not the SEC bottom-dweller its current state reflects when the Wildcats move efficiently between the tackles. Turnovers diminish and win probability increases with additional carries and production.
Leaning on his depth at running back, Stoops could take some of the scrutiny off of the quarterback position early in the season and limit the decision-making for an inexperienced passer.
Going into August, it’s a three-man race under center between sophomore Patrick Towles, true freshman Drew Barker and redshirt freshman Reese Phillips. Towles is the only player with game experience, but Kentucky’s coaching staff is confident all three are capable of handling the offense.
At running back, sophomore Jojo Kemp and Nebraska transfer Braylon Heard make a formidable pair along with newcomers Mikel Horton and Stanley Williams. Heard rushed for 6.7 yards per carry as a sophomore with the Huskers in 2012 while Kemp notched 482 yards and three touchdowns as one of Kentucky’s only offensive threats last season.
If the last five years are any indication, insuring Kemp and Heard are involved should be paramount toward staying within striking distance in the SEC. One-dimensional offenses don’t work, especially when you’re breaking in any of three unseasoned quarterbacks.