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Playcalling Analysis: Tennessee Edition

One of the nation’s most lopsided rivalries expanded Saturday as Tennessee took care of Kentucky 49-36. The Cats played even with their vomit-puke-tinted foes, but failed to capitalize inside the ten-yard line on a number of occasions.

Clearly, there are some take aways from this game everyone noticed: UK ran for over 400 yards and lost (the first instance in 30 tries in CFB this season), the passing game remains inconsistent, this defense isn’t the same without Jordan Jones on the field, and is ironically winless in games it has won the turnover battle; Kentucky is 5-2 in games with a negative turnover ratio.

The gameplan on offense was to isolate UT’s excellent DEs with Zone Reads, RPOs, and off-tackle runs. The Cats had obvious success. These plays totaled 46.9% of the Cats calls.

For Stephen Johnson and his WRs, the script called for them to beat Tennessee’s Cover 1 (man defense with one deep safety) base defense. But as aforementioned, the aerial attack was not up to par on Saturday. Johnson was flustered and sailed some passes, but still showed good accuracy at times. His receivers dropping balls didn’t do him any favors.

Gran went back to some “man-beaters” from previous games and used some new concepts. I personally have been lamenting why more slant patterns haven’t been utilized by this offense, and we finally saw plenty of them against the Vols; 17% of pass plays had at least one slant in it. Kentucky took shots went prudent and finally got the RPO Y Release to work for the first time since Week 3.

With an increase in his adversaries’ talent the last two games, Johnson and his receivers have only connected on 44.9% of passes for 300 yards and no scores. Plus, the Cats have only converted six of their 20 third down throws.

Strangely, the Cats didn’t use the Wildcat all that much. Only 13% of plays came out of that set. Before Saturday, the Wildcat averaged 24% of Kentucky’s plays since the bye with its usage increasing each week. But with the Cats playing from behind, Gran had no choice but to spread it out.

For the second straight week, screens composed a decent chunk of the calls. With the inconsistent downfield output, screens are the next best thing to kickstart wideout production. Though accounting for 6% of all calls, screens totaled 18% of UK’s passing yards.

The Ten-Play Script was RPO H Bubble (10), 4 Zone Read (10), RPO X/Z Screen (6), Power Read Left (3), Wildcat Power (3), Wildcat Inside Zone (3), 5 (3), Curl + Slant (3), Convoy Screens (3), 5 Zone Read (2), and “Slice” (2). The play share was 54%.

There’s really not a lot to examine as the Cats rolled all over the field but had obvious stumbles in the redzone. News flash, field goals can’t match touchdowns and UK wasn’t able to keep up with Tennessee. All year, the Cats leaned on the Wildcat to close out drives and it was no different the other day. The difference was the result. UK had been one of the SEC’s most efficient offenses in the redzone, but the Vols found a way to stuff the Cats when it mattered most. Chance was no on UK’s side. Opportunities were there even if the Cats didn’t play their best.

Gran did show us a brand new set from these Cats that I’ve so eloquently dubbed its “Fat Set”. This set calls for an Olineman to operate as a TE. So, the Cats are able to line up three big boys on one side of the center with a TE lined up offset in the backfield. This set has an clear advantage when wanting to run the ball. UK averaged 7 ypc out of it, but that was skewed by its first run that totaled 28 yards. This set was on the field for a few make or break downs and were defeated each time.

Next week, I expect to see a watered-down game plan as the team rests up for archrival Louisville in the regular season finale. A winless Austin Peay team will be no match for these Cats. So, there is no need re-invent the wheel this week. Look out for a lot of zone reads and RPOs, per usual. With the way this team is running the ball, topping 50 points is a reasonable expectation. Plus, a bowl game is on the line for Rich Brooks’ sake! Winning will come easy, but winning without sustaining injuries will be tricky for a squad thats already plenty banged up.

Clark Brooks
Clark Brooks

Former two-time football state champion at Lexington Catholic High School. Graduated with Journalism and Marketing B.A.s from the University of Kentucky. Featured in six different publications. Humungous football fan, avid basketball fan, and sports business and advertising professional. BBN

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