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Hot Take: ‘Playing conservative’ is the wrong complaint

The Sunday morning quarterbacks of the world told you all about how Kentucky lost to Ole Miss by going conservative with the lead.

I do not agree.

We are all in agreement that the four consecutive three-and-outs cost Kentucky the game in the end, but conservative playcalling wasn’t the problem. The Cats simply didn’t execute on critical downs against a very bad defense.

Let’s start with the first three-and-out, in which Kentucky ran the ball three straight times and punted, after taking over with great field position.

They got seven yards on the first two runs, but Benny Snell couldn’t convert a 3rd-and-3 to move the chains. The third down call is one you can question; however, it was four-down territory and Snell averaged over six yards per carry against the Ole Miss defense, so it’s not all that crazy to ask him to get three yards in two tries. Ideally, he gets the first there; the clock is ticking away; your defense continues to rest; and Ole Miss’ offense can only sit and watch. Unfortunately, that did not happen as Snell got blown up behind the line of scrimmage and they’re forced to punt. If Kentucky had thrown an incompletion there, fans are asking why they didn’t keep running the ball. Eddie Gran chose to go with what what was working, and it did not work. I can live with that.

Moving on to the second three-and-out, after an Ole Miss field goal cut Kentucky’s lead to a touchdown. This time, Gran’s offense went run-pass-pass. Isn’t that what his critics had been calling for? Open up the offense? Play to win? Which way do you want it?

Stephen Johnson threw two incompletions and the entire drive ran only 48 seconds off the clock. By passing the ball, Kentucky put its defense right back on the field, only to get torched again. If you’re complaining about this possession, it’s not that they played too conservative; it’s that they didn’t executive in the passing game.

First, Tavin Richardson couldn’t grab a pass thrown his way.

Then, Stephen Johnson missed Garrett Johnson in the open field.

Neither of those are on the coaches.

Now let’s revisit the third three-and-out, after Ole Miss tied the game by driving 76 yards on three plays. Kentucky ran the ball once for three yards and then Johnson threw two incompletions to end the drive.

Again, that is not conservative playcalling. And again, it came down to execution. On the first one, Johnson made a good throw and the Ole Miss defender made a good play on the ball:

On third down, Isaiah Epps has to make this catch:

That leaves us with the fourth three-and-out, in which Kentucky ran two straight run plays for eight yards, then got creative.

Snell ran for three and five yards to set up a 3rd-and-2 situation. Then Kentucky went aggressive and opted against a run up the middle (your complaint), only to have its protection completely collapse for a busted play.

To make matters worse, Charles Walker was open, but the protection couldn’t hold long enough to give Johnson time to make the throw.

Was that playing too conservative? No, the problem was player execution. It was a consistent theme during Kentucky’s four failed offensive possessions in the second half. Give Gran all the grief you want when he deserves it, but I don’t have much of a problem with how he called this span in the game. Ole Miss players made plays and Kentucky’s didn’t when it came time to put the game away for good. That was the most crippling aspect of the game for the Wildcats, along with the incompetent defense.

Article written by Drew Franklin

I can recite every line from Forrest Gump, blindfolded. Follow me on Twitter: @DrewFranklinKSR

46 responses to “Hot Take: ‘Playing conservative’ is the wrong complaint”

  1. dismore

    So what you’re saying is we aren’t as talented as all the “Yahtzee’s” have lead us to believe.

    1. UKPROF


  2. Sentient Third Eye

    Snell himself basically said as much after the game when the said the players need to learn how to finish.

  3. Wildcat85

    Cool. Really? Well still FIRE EDDIE GRAN.

  4. KYcats11

    Couldnt agree more!

  5. J-Dub421

    Another missed PI call (the Tavin Richardson play).

  6. donrockin

    Thank you Drew! Now please inform your Boss to read your Hot Take so that he will quit spewing forth his factually incorrect Cold Take that his hoard of followers have started to carry forth as a part of the KSR “too conservative play calling” party line. Seriously, it is like the blind leading the blind. Matt, admittedly is a football nincompoop, and he has started reviewing football games like he is Knute Rockne. His massive audience is now convinced that we lost the game due to conservative play calling in the 3rd quarter of all things! We took the lead in the fourth quarter! Right? Play defense. Make a play for a stop. We win. BTW, I am a long time listener, first time poster, HooAhh, but Matt really made me ill today with his take on the game. I know facts are optional with KSR, but his comments today were uninformed, reckless and irresponsible. Kentucky fans deserved better. Your take is factual.

    1. inside info2

      Are you SURE you aren’t new to the site? Most of Matt’s opinions on anything are uninformed, reckless and irresponsible.

    2. Realme

      If you want a more balanced / expert analysis of the game, listen to the Football podcast or the Depth Chart podcast when they come out this week. They often tend to disagree with Matt’s immediate analysis of football games.

    3. AGSlater

      And they think we are actually good at football. ” we are still 6-3″. Next week- ” we are still 6-4″. Next week. ” We are still 6-5″ then 6-6 theyll say. We made a bowl

    4. ukkatzfan

      I was a every day listener to KSR. With the negative ninnies and KSR’s call to Monday morning grief counseling. I will not listen to Ksr in the week following a UK football loss.

    5. BumpusCat

      Agree wholeheartedly!

  7. amgine

    Couldn’t agree more…pains me to listen to other’s take on these three and outs. Poor execution, it happens, one team always loses…we got beat, on to the next one.

  8. KYcats11

    Also go ahead and take a look at ole miss’s final drive. A few massive holds are not called. Just incredibly puzzling considering they had to the guts to call us for a hold in the Florida game (on our home field) but they won’t call a hold against ole miss

  9. TJY

    I agree with you on everything but the last play. You don’t roll a right handed passer out to the left. He has to stop and gather himself to make the throw no matter how open his target appears. Rolling him to his right would allow him to throw on the move with his natural throwing motion. Johnson is good at rolling out and throwing, I think we should do more of it, but rolling him to his left is not the correct play call.

  10. Rain1940

    It’s not just the play calling, it is the sequence with almost always a run on first down, sometime second before asking the QB to bail them out when everyone knows he has to pass. A pass on first down doesn’t kill you and has a better chance with the defense having to pay the run also. My big problem with Gran’s calling, other than the above comment, is going to the wildcat with seven yards to gain. Everyone knows Snell is going up the middle and this team isn’t capable of opening consistent holes for him. It takes the ball out of the best player on the team and forces another pass under pressure. That killed the first drive in the Ole Miss game and set the tone for drives that bogged down and turned into field goals. It’s not the players as much as the play calling at specific times.

  11. JPGott2

    I agree with both sides. The “run up the middle” strategy where he just runs into the back of the line because there is no hole has been a problem. The play calling would set UK up behind the chains, yet, I look at the just ‘lack of fundamentals’ as the main culprit. This team is just not good.

    Stephen Johnson will over throw the 15 to 20 yrd pass quite often, while our receivers will miss some catches they need to convert. You combine that with a secondary that can not cover really anyone and a bunch of one armed mistackles, you will have a recipe for disaster.

    I say this all, because in year 5 with all the issues this team has, there needs to be answers and not just that same old “this is my fault” from Stoops. He makes millions with a program that has little accountability.

    1. inside info2

      ^^^ This

    2. CatFaninNC

      Yup. Exactly. While there definitely has been an upgrade in talent under Coach Stoops, and I think that’s fairly obvious, but we are seeing the same execution mistakes week-after-week, year-after-year. The we can “clean this up” excuse is overplayed. Like Drew, I had very few complaints with the play calling, but the execution in crunch time was horrendous. I can understand a drive or two where things didn’t go your way, but 4 in a row that any single one could have put the game away, and you can’t get it done. That to me speaks to coaching and how many times do you need to get “stuff fixed” before you actually fix it.

    3. JPGott2

      CatFaninNC, I agree. The talent here is talent UK had never seen prior. I love Stoops and staffs recruiting strategy.

      The play calling is not an issue as much as ‘can this team execute it?’ is. I mean, Florida and Ole Miss are not good teams. So when these “Fundamentals issues” show up, the main question is ‘why????’.

      In development terms, why is it that our DT’s are so poor that a true Freshmen is our starter because he is just the best at this point? Why has Stops always talked about ‘one armed tackles’ but nothing changes?

      It is to the point where I do not see it ever being fixed. Does Stoops need to take over defensive play calling like last year? If so, who are we hiring??????

      So many major questions with so few answers.

    4. inside info2

      I just don’t have confidence in Stoops’ ability as a head coach. He is a perfect example of the Peter Principle. Well, that and Barnhart’s ineptitude in hiring. He might have been a great DC, but he is not learning what it takes to be an HC. And he’s had 5 years to do it. Again, part of the blame is Barnhart hiring someone in the SEC as a head coach with no head coaching experience.

      Stoops couldn’t get along with the one OC that was pretty good — Brown. He has hired a string of bad coordinators on the defensive side. Stoops just doesn’t have what it takes to be a head coach, at least in the SEC.

    5. Sentient Third Eye

      Inside info2, We’ve had hall of famers as coach who only performed about the same or worse than Stoops. The program is clearly ascending regardless of the small setbacks, and that is due to Stoops.

  12. The Goose Is Loose

    How about a pass on 1st down? Everyone in America knew what was coming on the first play of each possession. How about a screen or look at your tight end who was having a big game? Who knows you may actually catch someone off guard.

  13. az1006

    I find myself in a bit of a conundrum…One the one hand, the team Stoops inherited in year one wouldn’t have won 5 games in the MAC. For us to be 6-3 in year 5, coming off a bowl game in year 4, the fanbase should be happy. On the other hand, we have a defensive-minded coach whose defenses have been nothing short of atrocious in all five seasons, and have almost single-handedly cost us two wins this season, and at least 2-3 last season. Is it possible to be happy with the progress the program has made overall, and still be frustrated that we’re not further along? That’s sort of where I find myself.

    There’s no question we should be 8-1 right now. We aren’t, and it’s a combination of timely mistakes (both sides of the ball) and an inexplicable inability to ever catch a break (non-calls on holds/pass interference, holding, ridiculous holding penalty in Florida game, etc). But, then again, the team never quits and has put us in a position to win every game we’ve played with the exception of MSU.

    I know one thing for certain: A coaching change is NOT the answer. Stoops has done too many positive things, and quite frankly, exceeded expectations in many respects. But, the bone-head mistakes, the missed coverages, the dropped passes, etc, have got to get cleaned up. If consistency is the next step in building a program, I think I speak for all of us when I say I wish we’d take it already.

  14. luke_emberton

    you make good points but Gran does tend to get too conservative at times but this time I’m in agreement coaches can’t go out and catch the ball for he receivers

  15. UKfanman01

    You forgot to note that in the top two videos that Johnson was hurt and limping, which was the obvious reason he missed those passes. The offence didn’t cost UK the game…. The defence and piss poor officiating did.

    1. AGSlater

      Hes been missing easy passes all season. Yes he has won some games and even I think he is a good qb. He is innacurate

  16. UKfanman01

    You picked 3 straight 3 outs. Do you really expect them to score on every possession?

  17. Swizzle

    Enjoy watching our 6-6 cats, I’ve switched to bball

  18. shelby

    Stoops needs to take over defensive play calling like he did last year; we were much better after he made this change–matt house is not getting it done!

  19. runningunnin.454

    The play calling with a lead late in the game has consistently been conservative…just can’t ignore that.
    Where are Conrad and Bowden in the 2nd half…do they go home at halftime?

  20. calbert

    You can talk offensive play calling all day but the reality is, if you score 34 at home, you should win. Let’s talk about the defense that gave up 37.

  21. Alleykat16

    I will continue to say its the defense a team that scores 34 points should be enough points to win a game Matt house needs to be replaced

  22. callitlikeiseeit

    Nice article and good points. To all crying about us running, keep in mind that Ole Miss defense gives up rushing yards like our defense gives up passing yards. There is no reason UK should not have been able to run 3 times and get 10 yards anytime they wanted. Issue with the 3 and outs were inaccurate passes and dropped pass by Epps. Gran has coached too long to not know what he is doing, at some point players must execute. Just like UT game, of the 4 fumbles not one was by a coach. The hail mary was not defended by a coach, the coaches had them in place to make the plays and the players did not make those plays. Was still frustrating, as has been the entire season, but like I mentioned earlier we just don’t seem to be that good as a team and I don’t know why. Maybe we still need a little more quality depth, more qb accuracy, defense is a major issue for sure. Those NFL corners could not stop high school players now.

  23. jccuk

    One thing that this play by play progression fails to take into account is the type of running and pass plays that were called. There was no movement, no fakes, no RPO’s except for the roll out mentioned before that was the wrong way for a right handed passer. Why couldn’t Gran have called some of the plays that were called in the middle of the 1st quarter and second that got the ball to our playmakers like Bowden, Conrad, and Juice. We made plays to set up plays during that stretch and same old same old when we got the lead, very vanilla plays that the defense was ready for. No plays to Bowden at all, no use of Conrad in the middle which was open all day. Listen to Jeff Piercoro’s call on the radio broadcast and you will realize that those running plays were called when there was 7 or 8 defenders in the box and they were waiting for the run. Hit the slant pass or send the tight end on a quick cross, but no we faked them out and ran up the middle. As Stoops said last week, we needed more imaginative plays being called which happened when we were using our playmakers but not when we had the lead which is the problem.

  24. jccuk

    Also, what happened to the bubble screens that were so effective last week or the toss sweeps to Benny after fakes that got us plenty of yards. Johnson did such a great job last week on RPO’s but we didn’t run a lot of those this week. Understand this is a different team that we played but man I️ loved the plays that we made during the last half of the 1st quarter and the 2nd quarter but we didn’t call them anymore after our first drive in the 3rd quarter – best play calling I’ve seen all year, just wish we could have seen more of that in the 3rd and 4th quarter.

  25. katmandue2you

    Thank you Drew Franklin. #6 you’re point on. All you critics crack me up. Ole miss is a great offensive team and a bad defensive team. You idiots calling for Stoops head….would you rather be where Florida is? Tennessee is? Where Texas A&M is? Where Arkansas is? Where Vandy is? Where Louisvlle is?
    This F-ing league is TOUGH. There is a very very fine line between good and bad in the southeastern conference. All you guys wanna act like experts….who the f**k can’t be an expert in hindsight??? If the refs happen to call that a fumble none of you are saying anything because we would’ve won. You guys make me wanna puke cause you wanna sit back and be arm chair quarterbacks. Mark Stoops Eddy Gran and Matt House all forgot more football than you arm chair quarterbacks will ever know. I have four season tickets and have had for 35 plus years so i’ve paid for my right to spew. No I’m not some old numb skull…i’m some old dude that has experience and perspective and knows what the hell he’s talking about. I played on back to back state championship high school teams and it make’s me wanna crack up when i read all the garbage insane bullshit ya’ll spew. We got some damn ignorant football fans. As far as Matt Jones….Matt is a UK basketball fan. He has a podium to help UK football and does the bare minimum to keep the football fandom off his lilly white butt. Drew…thanks for finally bringing some legitimate football journalism to the KSR inner circle. Cause it sure ain’t coming from Matt or Tyler. We all hate this kinda losing. Suck it up and move on. The consecutive 3 and outs are on the players lack of execution…and guess what!…Ole Miss had eleven guys out there laying it on the line just like us. Its gut wrenching. But this fire the coach is ignorant horseshit.

    1. Elwood BLU

      Completely agree!

    2. notFromhere

      Hellyeah! Preach!

  26. bailey000

    We are currently paying a lot of money for our coaching staff. I’m not saying fire the coaches, but not happy with level of success. We are probably in the best place we’ve been in in the last 39 of uk football. Great!! But, I don’t think we should be satisfied. We should be a 8-1 football team today. If our players are not executing it a coaching problem. Our staff is paid a lot of money. We have great talent. Great talent can be uninspired I.e. Tennessee, stoops has to find a way to get effort out of whatever 11 guys are on the field. It is insane how bad our secondary is with the talent that is in our secondary. Those are NFL bodies back there our head coach is the secondary’s position coach. What’s going on here??

  27. UKPROF

    New slogan, “Kentucky Football, always finding a way to lose, even the ones we should win.”

    1. muffin

      Lol “new” slogan? That’s been UK football for 30 years

  28. muffin

    Thank you Drew for posting this. My knee jerk reaction after the game was to think back to these series and wonder if we went too conservative. I’m glad you took the time to get the facts straight. Our players gotta make plays and our defense needs to get stops

  29. notFromhere

    Good article. I will say the defense limited ole miss on enough drives and took the ball away to win the game.

  30. sKYzthelimit

    Thanks Drew for the facts on the play calling. I remember watching a Packers game in Lambeau several years back (pre-Cobb era!) and being astounded at the negativity from Pack fans- an endless stream of yelled profanity and boos, alternately directed at Green Bay coaches and players. Maybe if I had endured the decline in team performance that those fans had seen, I would understand. Well, I have over 50 years experience watching UK football and I do understand UK fans. What’s surprising is how loyal UK football fans remain after decades of pain. My consistent feeling? “UK football- snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.” No matter the ecstasy of watching Snell fire into the endzone with the touchdown for the late lead, it was immediately replaced with the gut rumbling knowledge that 2 minutes was far too much time to offer Mississippi! Ta’amu had been torching our secondary all game. The final perfect toss and catch in the corner of the end zone was still a sucker punch- and then the long-lasting agony of another loss. You’d think it would get easier to accept the losses over the years- when you know to expect them. But expectations are hard to control- UK favored to beat Ole Miss at home after beating Tennessee . . . you get your hopes up. When they’re dashed it’s tempting to lash out like the Packer fans, against coaches and players. This is UK football and this is the SEC. Some things never change.

  31. Smyrna_Cat

    Sorry Drew, you missed the boat on this one. When you go 4 straight 3-and-out sequences, something is wrong. You are nitpicking terms at this point. To me, they were just bad play calls. For example, the two passes across the middle would have been short even if they caught. The passes to the outside have virtually no room for error. They had to be perfect throws, and awesome catches, or the plays wouldn’t be successful. The good teams make calls that have a HIGH degree of success … and we failed in these offensive series because we had LOW degrees of success in the plays that are called.

    Don’t get me wrong … I think the biggest problem with this team is terrible defense … what is that so bad??? We make every second string QB in the SEC look like All-World. The defense doesn’t seem to adjust to the game plan of the offense of the other team. There is no excuse for that.

    But if we can’t make the D better, than we have to depend on the offense to continue to produce. Going with predictable offensive plays that have little room for error is not the way.