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Kentucky’s Passing Game Inconsistencies

Kentucky’s passing game was inconsistent.

That statement has been discussed and written about on many occasions but lacked substance until claims could be supported my numerical facts. Here you go: The Cats completed 63.7% of its passes and threw 7 touchdowns in the first and second quarters of the 2017 season. However, after halftime its completion percentage dropped to 52.4% and resulted in just 3 touchdown passes. Four quarters of passing game stability is a major priority for Eddie Gran’s offense which will be led by a first time starting quarterback. Running back Benny Snell is an all-timer but needs help in the form of a passing attack that can lessen the number of defenders stacked within the tackle box. Let’s dig a little deeper.

First, let me say again that QB Stephen Johnson is my all-time favorite Wildcat. The former Wildcat battled through significant injuries that led to three offseason surgeries. He was not close to being 100% healthy at any point during his senior season. Passing game matters also worsened in the offseason when homerun hitting receiver Jeff Badet departed Lexington for Norman, Oklahoma and long-time starter Dorian Baker sustained a season ending injury during fall camp.

Second, in my opinion Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw have worked wonders by adapting their offensive intentions in back-to-back seasons. From injuries to unforeseen attrition as well as surprising stars, Gran has been forced to amend his mid-season playbook in order to identify strengths to match available personnel. Gran is highly thought of throughout football circles (me included) and will finally have the majority of his tools available for 2018. But a tremendous amount of responsibility will fall on the shoulders of a new starting quarterback.

Numbers indicate that Kentucky’s completion percentage actually increased from 54% in 2016 to 59% in the 2017. However, touchdown passes dropped from 17 to 10 (fewest in the SEC). Yards per attempt fell from 7.8 yards to 7.4 during the same time period and yards per completion dropped 2 yards as well. Let’s take a look at differing results from the first to second half:



Comp %










2017 Second Half Passing Numbers



Comp %










The comparative figures from the first to second half are staggering and telling. Kentucky attempted 78 fewer passes in the third and fourth quarters which is not all too uncommon. But, its completion percentage dropped 11.3%, threw for 522 fewer yards, and passer rating decreased 17.77 points.


Theories vary and are difficult to support by data but let’s be honest here. Opposing defenses were not presented with a deep threat which allowed teams to load the box and deploy defensive backs closer to the line-of-scrimmage. By doing so, opposing back sevens negated screens and short to intermediate passes which in turn forced over-the-top throws that were low in completion percentage. This strategy also took away CJ Conrad who is the Cat’s top pass catcher. Kentucky’s receivers were not dynamic a year ago and struggled to separate from defenders. In other words, Johnson rarely had viable, open receivers to throw to on a regular basis. An emphasis has been placed on correcting that deficiency.

Stephen Johnson’s injuries could have played a role as the game went into the final periods. The more hits he took early in the contests could have increased pain and discomfort which potentially affected his throwing motion. The fact that the senior completed the season was an amazing testament to courage and fortitude. Respect.

The scoreboard often dictates second half offensive philosophy. Kentucky led at the half in six games, trailed in five, and was tied in two. The Cats failed to blow out an opponent and relied upon its running game and star Benny Snell to salt the clock in the fourth quarter. This could have played a hand in its lower number of late-game attempts and touchdowns.

Gunnar Hoak or Terry Wilson will be tasked to provide four quarters of consistent passing in 2018. This is non-negotiable. For that to happen, UK receivers have to increase their yards after catch and develop an explosive play pass catcher to take the top off opposing defenses. CJ Conrad and the tight ends must become more active and the offensive line has to protect. This is the most athletic Kentucky offense in quite some time. If a passing game can co-exist with Benny Snell, then a screen game could develop which will highlight Lynn Bowden and others in space. Lots of moving parts that will be piloted by a new signal caller. Exciting times in Lexington.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

12 responses to “Kentucky’s Passing Game Inconsistencies”

  1. david8577

    I cannot overstate how much I appreciate Stephen Johnson, but it would be nice to see a QB on our team pick apart a secondary.

  2. My Dixie Wrecked

    The 2nd half of the season didn’t include such power house teams like Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan, and Southern Mississippi. Maybe that’s why the completion percentage and TDs went down?

    1. cats646

      Your in the ACC limp dick. Clemson is the only good team you play. I’m sure North Carolina and the Georgia institute of technology really bring there A-game though. Smh.

    2. My Dixie Wrecked

      I can, however, tell the difference between “your” and “you’re”. Isn’t that right, Cats646?

    3. bailey000

      If you were intelligent enough to understand the article you would have understood that the difference was between the first and second half of the GAME not season

    4. My Dixie Wrecked

      I’m from Kentucky. That limits my reading and education level automatically.


    It would be interesting to know if the number of sacks and qb hurries were higher in the second half than the first half. That could be one of the key factors in passing efficiency and lower number of attempts in the second half.

  4. 3dcatfan

    Some1 finally wrote an article criticizing our lame passing attack last year. Truth is we lacked an SEC caliber QB for a few yrs now. Hope we can upgrade at this position to where it needs to be to take the next step.

  5. CombatMedic_98

    GUNNER HOAK will be gunning it this year for BBN!

    1. cats646

      Maybe. But there’s this thing called a position competition. So maybe not.

  6. adamdw05

    Want a solid QB? Gotta start Hoak. We needed SJ last year because we had young receivers, and no real O Line. We needed an athlete to make plays with his feet and we could sacrifice some passing accuracy because otherwise we’d just have a ton of sacks allowed or dropped passes. WIlson is a mega-athlete, but from what I’ve seen he struggles on about 30% of his throws. Hoak (again, from practices and spring games I’ve watched) is the type of player that can put the ball wherever he wants it. Now that we have a line that can protect the QB, and some mature receiving talent, that’s what we need now

  7. RackEmWillie

    My assumption is that the passing numbers suffered because they were frequently is clear passing situations. Their second half mentality was simply to hold on and hope a certain point total was enough (Florida, Ole Miss, and numerous games before last season). They were frequently in too many obvious passing situations. Pairing that was a banged up QB who wasn’t exactly a dynamic passer when healthy, you aren’t going to have superb numbers. Inconsistent WR play, also, didn’t help.

    I think both competing QB’s can improve on the numbers last year, easily. But who it will be depends on what you’re looking for. Wilson will be someone who can make plays with his athleticism, Hoak will most likely be making plays solely with his arm.