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Mark Stoops, Eddie Gran overthought debut matchup with old pal Jimbo Fisher

For both head coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, Kentucky’s matchup against Texas A&M was the first opportunity for each of them against their former boss, Jimbo Fisher.

At Florida State, Stoops served as Fisher’s defensive coordinator and defensive backs coach from 2010-2012, while Gran was the team’s associate head coach, running backs coach and special teams coordinator during that same time. Between the two of them, Stoops and Gran helped lead the Seminoles to their first ACC Championship since 2005, their first 11-win season since 2000, an Orange Bowl appearance in 2012, and a national title in their final year on staff in 2013.

Now, the student has become the teacher, as Stoops took over the Kentucky program and Gran is the leader of the Wildcat offense. With Fisher moving from Tallahassee to College Station, and Kentucky having Texas A&M on the schedule this season, you better believe they had this game circled on the schedule this season.

But when the moment in the spotlight came on Saturday night, Fisher proved he was still the maestro, while Stoops and Gran showed they still have some work to do.

The Kentucky coaches, Gran in particular, overplayed their hand and was dealt a handful of aces.

Kentucky’s offense gained just 178 total yards on just 50 plays, an atrocious average of 3.6 yards per play.   Benny Snell rushed only 13 times for a season-low 60 yards with zero touchdowns. Terry Wilson was incredibly frustrating under center, taking unnecessary sacks, taking far too long on reads, and missing open targets. The offensive line committed costly mistakes time and time again, giving up pressure, holding, jumping early, and one crucial unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.

The only plays the unit ran in Texas A&M’s territory came in overtime, which is mind-boggling to me. Following Lynn Bowden’s 54-yard touchdown score, UK managed just 41 total yards on nine possessions to end the game. The offense managed just eight first downs the entire night. Eight.

It was a complete system failure, and as talented as the Aggies are defensively, a big part of it had to do with the Cats just flat-out choking in a hostile Kyle Field environment.

Gran got away from Kentucky’s bread and butter: beating teams at the line of scrimmage, dominating on the ground, and grinding it out for the victory. Instead, he tried to outsmart Fisher’s defense by going through the air and avoiding what has worked for the offense in the past. The biggest questionmark came on a crucial 3rd-and-2 in overtime when the obvious answer was to give Benny Snell the football to convert the first down. He’s done it time and time again over the years at Kentucky in both no-stress and clutch situations.

“It looked so good in practice,” Gran said. “It’s been successful. My thought was, ‘it’s going to be wide open because everybody in the stadium is thinking Benny is going to get the football.’  Bad decision.  As you look back at it, that’s not a good decision.”

It was like the Seattle Seahawks not giving Marshawn Lynch the ball on the goal line in Super Bowl XLIX against the New England Patriots. Pete Carroll tried to outsmart Bill Belichick, assuming he was going to contain Lynch in the middle and leave the crossing route open on the outside. He didn’t trust his team’s biggest strength and force his opponent to come up with a stop. Instead of giving his most dominant player the ball in a situation he almost always thrives in, he tried to overthink the play and outsmart the opposition. He failed.

You give Benny Snell the ball in that situation, and he’s going to convert 95 times out of 100. And if he (somehow) doesn’t, you’re in line to kick a 34-yard field goal, a distance Miles Butler has been comfortable with all year long. You’re in line to put points on the board either way.

Instead, Terry Wilson took a sack to push the kick back eight yards, where Butler came up just inches short. They got cute after a timeout, went away from their strengths, and it resulted in a loss.

Stoops agrees.

“Obviously in hindsight we would’ve handed that thing off and at worse you gotta kick the field goal,” he said.

To put it simply, they overthought the situation from start to finish and came up empty-handed. It was the first time all season I felt Gran called a poor game offensively, and I questioned Stoops for not stepping in when Snell wasn’t put in position to make plays. They were both outcoached by their former boss on the big stage.

I was baffled and angry after the game, just like every other member of the Big Blue Nation. I was frustrated, counting every single missed opportunity and the “what-ifs.” But after an hour or so, reality set in that we still have half a football season to look forward to, and it should be a special one.

The fact of the matter is, sitting at 5-1 and 3-1 in the SEC at the halfway point is better than any of us anticipated. They’re still right in the heat of things at No. 2 in the SEC East with a favorable schedule coming up.

You went on the road to take on Texas A&M in one of the most hostile environments in America as a 6.5-point underdog. The offense looked about as bad as you can get, yet somehow, Kentucky was still in position to win in both regulation and overtime.

I’m no fan of moral victories, but this was about as close to one as you can get.

You learn from your mistakes and fix them during the bye week, come back the next two weeks and take care of business aginst Vanderbilt (3-3) and Missouri (3-2), and then play Georgia for the SEC East on November 3.

We’re at the point under Mark Stoops where we expect to win every game and are pissed off when losses come. It’s not the same sadness and self-pity we felt in the past, which is wild to think about itself.

Expectations are high, and they deserve to be. That was a game Kentucky could have, and should have, won. But luckily for us, just about every team in college football slips up at least once along the way, many of which still finish with special seasons. Sitting at No. 18 in the latest AP Poll with a favorable schedule ahead, the Cats are still absolutely in that boat.

Accept the mistakes, learn from them, and move on. There is still a whole lot of football to be played.

And I still like my team.

Article written by Jack Pilgrim

Follow me on Twitter: @JackPilgrimKSR

39 responses to “Mark Stoops, Eddie Gran overthought debut matchup with old pal Jimbo Fisher”

  1. cats646

    Go cats!!!!

    1. cats646

      Get up!!

  2. Gocats30

    They over thought the whole game. Were so scared of a defense that gave up only 85 yards rushing on average that they never made them stop us from running the ball, we stopped ourselves by not running it. Benny averaged 4.6 yards a carry but we were too scared to run it.

    1. maximumscott

      Benny had 1 touch the first drive of the game… if you noticed towards the end of regulation Benny broke a couple of decent runs. 13 carries for Benny is unacceptable

    2. Gocats30

      Exactly should have ran it at least 20

    3. mashburnfan1

      Well if you do want to try that play you don’t call timeout prior to it and give the other team time to go over everything. They had to know something was up as we lined up in wildcat then called timeout then came out in that set. Was just stupid but right in line with how Gran always calls plays. He has more plays going 1 yard or losing yards towards sideline than any team in the history of football. Someone explain to him we need to throw North/South to score.

  3. jimmer

    Some one plz tell me why they let clock run at end of regulation and never used any of their 3 TO’s. Ridiculous.

    1. Harveyww

      They didn’t want to lose the game in regulation

    2. bailey000

      Scared to death. You’ve got a team made of MEN. And the coach acts like a p___y when things get tough. Never flinch is supposed to be what we’re all about. NEVER FLINCH. Start showing these boys that you will own that phrase moving forward. When you have built a punch you in the mouth type of identity running the football, own it. Should have made A&M show me they could stop me. Never flinch?

    3. Birdman75

      Made AM show they could stop us? They did that the whole game! Our only offensive score came on a 50 yard play and after that we had nothing! Didn’t even cross midfield the entire 2nd half! 3 and out after 3 and out! 9/10 times I disagree when our coaches play not to lose. But I didn’t mind it at the end of this game. With the way we played on offense, it was a miracle we were able to take it to OT. For me it was at the point of, “thank god were in this game lets just go to OT, take the ball at the 25 yard line, and see what happens”

      Which of course, we go 3 and out yet again, miss a 40 harder, and the rest is history smh

    4. bailey000

      Made A&M show they could stop the power run game. We got away from that. Benny had 12 carries… Gran looked like a fool.

    5. notFromhere

      Well said, bailey000

  4. kydrummer

    We have to get our passing game going.

  5. ghunt

    What passing game

  6. Zacharycat

    Great article Jack, agree 100 percent. Problem is that this isn’t the first time Stoops and Gran have gotten out coaches, see last year Florida and Ole Miss. They dont seem to learn from their own mistakes, which scares me in future big games. They coach not to lose, instead of to win.

    1. RickE

      Well, if he got out coached, at least it was to one of the best.

  7. Gocats30

    My question about the passing game: how much is terry wilson, how much is play calling, how much is on receivers? Hard to tell on tv because you cant see the whole field and receivers running routes

  8. RockyMtnCatFan

    We have one of the worst passing games in all of college football, hands down.

    1. Matt10

      This is what worries me. What top receiver or playmaker would dare come to a school where all they do is block or get targeted once or twice a game? Lynn B has got to be wondering when he will ever get the dang ball.
      I think Terry was successful early because he was an unknown. Now teams seem to know how to negate his strengths and he’s falling apart. Total deer in headlights on Saturday.

    2. Papaw

      We have a QB on the sidelines that can give us that passing game. Wilson can’t throw anything accurately beyond 20 yards and he showed he’s scared to death to run unless there’s a hole big enough to drive an 18 wheeler through

    3. cats646

      Hoak can’t even throw it twenty yards. Wilson has had one bad game. We’re a running team, not an air raid offense. No matter how bad you want to be we’re just not. We didn’t play our game against A&M and that’s why we lost. Terry doesn’t need to have an amazing arm, he needs to be able to complete simple passes, and hand the ball off to Benny. Personally I would like to see some new formations, double back sets with Bowden at the wing. That way we could spread the defense out a little bit. I mean who is gonna stop Terry, Benny, AJ, and Bowden all together in the backfield? Absolutely no one. Step it up Gran! Let’s win out this season! Go cats!!!!!

  9. KYcats11

    Also, maybe Kentucky brings on the recently fired Mike Stoops, not as coordinator, but maybe some sort of assistant.

    1. rartis1986

      Maybe for some type of recruiting position so he can recruit the midwest. We don’t want him anywhere near the defense especially coming from the Big 12 where they don’t play D.

    2. KYcats11

      Very true. Definitely don’t want him as our DC considering what House and Stoops have going, but figure his experience could help in some way… Honestly don’t know if our defense could get any better.

  10. AtlKatFan

    Pitiful and scared play calling. Give the rock to your heisman candidate! I could have understood a loss if we gave it our best try. Pretty sure this was not a good coaching effort. Too bad as the defense was outstanding!!

  11. Rick_S


    1. bailey000

      F_c_ you

    2. Rick_S

      bailey000,,, lick my dripping pole

    3. cats646

      F**k basketball.

    4. cats646

      Oh, and you Rick. F**k you too.

    5. Rick_S

      Cats646 I have 2 balls you can play with

  12. notFromhere

    It’s not “better than anyone had anticipated,” just better than anyone you happen to know had anticipated. I expected to have trouble @college station, but did not expect the Cats to be in a position to win this game only to have the coaches give it right back to A&M.

    They could have won that game, though they shouldn’t have. It’s disappointing, but not unexpected. They have the potential to win every game left (yes,every game) on the schedule, but not if the coaches don’t manage the playbook and personnel better.

    Hoak AND Clark can run the RPO as well as or better than Wilson. Not letting the bench serve as a tool is a BIG mistake. They better put on their big boy coaching panties in time for this next stretch of games. They lose 8 seniors off this defense and some stellar talent on O. Fk red shirts and conservative crap and Play to win EVERY game.

  13. Cmart0907

    It’s about HOW we loss!!! Things could’ve been severely prevented if these coaches ADJUST AND MAKE CHANGES WHEN NEEDED!!!! It’s like they don’t have common sense. Why go to a game and scream your lungs out for these coaches to make a bonehead play call that have the game on the line??? I don’t care what looks good in PRACTICE!!! This the real game. I can’t believe we talking about PRACTICE!! Kentucky coaches folded into pieces. The 3rd and 2 call was bad overall. If Benny don’t get it. No way we lose 8 yards to begin with. Best RB in college and we need two yards. Let’s throw the ball. This is why Kentucky will never be elite.

    1. JASUN74

      The teams whole mindset would’ve been totally different had we hit that feildgoal. They knew whether they got a touchdown or not, all they had to do was kick the 3 points. A lot different intensity form our defense I think had we made it. But, who knows. We should’ve beet them by 17 points if we could of just played our game. Of course that’s my opinion , but I know we’re a better team than a&m and if not for a few Blanton missed calls from the zebras and a lot fro gran, we run them off the field.

  14. henderblue

    Taking the kid out of field goal range in the overtime didn’t matter anyway. Not when they come back with a touchdown on their possession. Taking Benny out of the game by limiting his carries to 13, now that was really stupid

  15. CombatMedic_98

    They weren’t thinking is the problem…

  16. zoupman

    Gunner should have been put in for at least one series and Terry should have never slid in O.T. Play to win guys.
    I’m glad Stoops is our coach, for he has done many good things. Also, he does enough occasional stupid things we don’t have to worry about anyone hiring him away.

  17. drbigblue

    Clearly the difference between a coach who has won the big time games and a coach who has not. Last 6 quarters was just like watching Joker Phillips offense. Easy task for the other teams defensive coordinator.

  18. monteverdi

    I liked that we came out throwing the ball to try to keep the backers honest, but I did not like at all that we did not consistently give it to Benny. Yes, A&M had planned the whole week to stop Benny, and like Benny says, just because you know its coming doesn’t mean you can stop it. Part of the strength of this offense has been that when Benny pounds on the other defense for three quarters, they are worn down by the fourth. Our lack of running the ball kept them fresh. Also, to the comment above about Wilson’s running–totally agree. There were a couple of those third down runs that I think he could have made if he hadn’t shied away from the contact. SEC is Big Boy Football, you’re gonna get hit and hit hard. Get used to it or make way for someone who will.

    I wish the coaches would quit trying to outsmart the other coaches and just play our game. Make them adjust to us. That’s what the elite teams do. They set the tone. They dictate how the other team plays.

    Let’s hope they take these two weeks to work on opening up the passing game a bit more to make that passing threat more of a reality. Then we get bowl-eligible against Vandy and start working our way to a trip to Atlanta and a New Year’s bowl.