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Playcalling Analysis: Vanderbilt Edition

Photo: Andrew Bishop,

UK exited the latest “Biggest Game in the Mark Stoops Era” victorious after holding off a pesky Vanderbilt team in a combative 20-13 win. With the win, the Cats sit at an even 3-3 record entering its much needed bye week.

We already knew a good deal about this team and how they operate, and Saturday helped solidify the notions that this team will win or lose based on its run game and situational defense.

UK started crisp and prepared as they scored their first TD on an opening drive this campaign. Gran called a pretty balanced drive. On the nine-play drive, UK ran eight different concepts. The two most successful plays of the drive were a 30-yard power run to the 5-hole by Boom Williams and a 16-yard JoJo Kemp scamper through the 4-hole on a zone read option. Both its power and zone run schemes helped pave the way for how they wanted to control the remainder of the ballgame.

UK’s approach, which will remain for the foreseeable future, was old school, ball-control offense. Lean heavily on the run, manage down and distance situations, maintain a large time of possession, and limit the playcalling to conservative concepts in risky situations. UK sustained three drives over five minutes; Vandy only did it once. Lead by Benny Snell’s 94, four Cats surpassed 50 yards on the ground.

Once again, UK donned the Wildcat outside the Redzone, a feat first done last week at Alabama. It consisted of the Cats highest percentage of plays, 17.3%. Of course, each play in the Wildcat UK uses a man-blocking scheme mostly on dive concepts with a few inside traps. Outside short yardage situations, Gran wanted to call this set on first down and create a tone for the drive. Until the 4Q, however, the Wildcat’s success was contained despite moving the chains on a few occasions. Since UK is forced to rely on its heavy run game to close out contests, the Wildcat was called quite a bit in crunch time. Before the 4Q, the set totaled 14 yards on five calls with two first down plays and a TD. During the final stanza, the set totaled 21 yards on eight calls with 2 first downs; the Wildcat had two three-play clusters on UK’s final 12-play drive that resulted in a FG.

Outside of Wildcat dives, UK’s calls mirrored what it has been doing all season. Non-Wildcat inside dives to the 2/3 holes (8 plays), outside zone reads to the 4/5 holes (8 plays) and RPO with a slot bubble (7 plays) made up the largest portion of calls. Curl + Flats, the passing concept UK has called the most, was the only other play called at least three times Saturday. Five different play actions were dialed up; only 85 Waggle was called more than once.

UK’s passing game had arguably its worst showing all season as QB Stephen Johnson completely inefficient. UK only had one first down through the air, a 14-yard out-route by Juice Johnson in the closing minutes of the 1Q. Johnson, possibly slowed by a bum right wrist,  finished with 49 yards and a pick on 10/24 attempts. Watching the game in person, it was clear Johnson still wasn’t comfortable passing. He missed short. He missed high. He forced things. But, most importantly, he won the game.

Looking at the concepts themselves, they all had clearly defined primary receivers and Johnson rarely strayed from his read. Besides the lone solo fade to Jeff Badet, most routes attacked the intermediary, 5-13 yards downfield. However, Johnson did not complete a pass that traveled more than 10-yards in the air. Despite this,  a quick passing game remains absent outside of RPOs.

Not a whole lot of new wrinkles this week. Though UK used a new formation in the Redzone and showed some new pass plays, they didn’t do anything too fancy.

But, it is clear Snell is getting more touches. Though part of it is by design and others by situation, Snell is becoming vital to sustaining drives and getting hard yardage on the ground. Boom continues to see his role diminish in second halves. JoJo Kemp is used sporadically.

Though this team could be 4-2, BBN will take a .500 record going into the bye with three winnable games left. Mississippi State is clearly down after Dak Prescott has left Starkville, Missouri has bright spots but is vulnerable, and Austin Peay stands no chance if they are the only things standing between Mark Stoops and a bowl game. Georgia in CWS is a toss-up but the Bulldogs will be favorites unless something unforeseen occurs in the coming weeks. The toughest foes in the second portion of the schedule will be rivals Tennessee and Louisville and are the most unlikely matches for the Cats to win.

I’ll have a half season offensive analysis ready in the coming days that truly does a deep dive on everything Gran has done thus far. Enjoy the off week, gang.

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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