While listening to the radio after the bowl game on Sunday night, I heard some interesting comments from Tom Leach. The Voice of the Wildcats was talking about UK’s near game-long containment of Clemson’s CJ Spiller. After the UK defense kept a lid on the Tigers star for 3 quarters, Spiller ran roughshod over the time out-less Cats to seal the game. Leach, and I’m paraphrasing, said something along these lines:
I think that after UK couldn’t convert that 4th and 9 that their spirit was broken. They knew they don’t have a quick strike offense and they let up just a little which let Spiller get loose and put this game out of reach.
That is a pretty telling observation considering that there was over 5 minutes left to play and the offense could have had around 3 minutes to score should the Wildcat defense force a 3-and-out. Leach hinted that the players knew something that the fans have been screaming about almost the entire season: The offense is broken.
During the season, there was a collective feeling amongst fans that the offense, despite a wealth of talent, didn’t have much direction. It seemed that many times, the bulk of the offensive scoring was the result of being placed in an opportunistic position by our defense. The O didn’t really click to the point that it could consistently move the ball across the field. For fans, the angst culminated during the last game against Tennessee. Nearly everyone I talked to wanted the Wildcats to win the game in regulation rather than settle for overtime. The general thought was that our offense couldn’t match Tennessee’s in the OT format.
It appears that the fans aren’t the only ones that feel this way about the Wildcat offensive direction. Regarding Leach’s comments, it seems ridiculous that our team doesn’t have a quick strike offense, but he is right. For illustration, let’s compare the big statistical offensive playmakers from this year’s team and the 1999 team:
QB Morgan Newton
RB Derrick Locke
WR Randall Cobb
WR Chris Matthews
FB John Conner
TE Ross Bogue
QB Dusty Bonner
RB Anthony White
WR Dougie Allen
WR Garry Davis
FB Derek Homer* (a stretch, I know, but I wanted Homer on this list)
TE James Whalen
Let me ask you this question: With your life on the line, if you had to pick a team to win a bowl game by scoring a touchdown with 2 minutes to play from your own 20, which team do you take? If it is strictly a talent question, I take the 2009 Cats. Really, the only talent advantage the 1999 Wildcats have over the ’09 version is at tight end. While I hold a special place in my heart for the running back corp of the 1999 season, neither White nor Homer are as fast as Locke. Bonner was an effective QB, but has nowhere near the raw talent of Newton. John Conner is an NFL-ready player and the very presence of Randall Cobb makes the 2009 team superior.
Now add this consideration to the equation: You have to take the coaching staff and offensive style of each team. With that factor, I take the 1999 team. It isn’t even a question. Regardless of what you think about the personality of Hal Mumme, his offense had rhythm and purpose. That 1999 team, despite a significant talent discrepancy, was a more capable and trustworthy offense. The difference is coaching.
One can’t help but wonder what a coach like Houston Nutt would do with players like Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb. For those that remember, Billy Reed championed the hiring of Houston Nutt when CM Newton was looking for a replacement for Bill Curry. Newton balked and Nutt landed with Arkansas. When Nutt found himself with players like Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, he instantly integrated a ‘Wildcat’ offense into his schemes and almost got McFadden a Heisman. In Lexington? Our own Rich Brooks said DURING THE LAST REGULAR SEASON POST GAME SHOW that the team hadn’t added any ‘Wildcat’ offense plays to the 2 minute drill. This was after a season where fans howled for the use of the ‘Wildcat’ and the media consistently questioned the lack of use of the scheme in close losses (not to mention smirk laden shots from Steve Spurrier).
The latest salvo comes from Derrick Lock. The running back, in a clear effort to hedge his bets, was quoted saying that he might go in the NFL supplemental draft depending on the direction of the offense. This, combined with Leach’s comment, further demonstrates the internal frustrations the players have regarding the offense.
This is the single biggest red flag regarding the impending Joker Phillips regime. As an offensive coordinator, I expect more creative schemes and less rigid adherence to particular plays (If only Joker loved the ‘Wildcat’ like he loves the bubble screen). There is a legitimate argument to be made that the 2009 Wildcats did not maximize their talent on offense due strictly to play-calling. As head coach-in-waiting, that burden falls squarely on Joker’s shoulders as Brooks has been giving Phillips more responsibility and autonomy during the head coach’s twilight.
I illustrate all this as pretty much the only concern I have regarding the upcoming coaching change. In the college game, most head coaches do less scheming and more personality management (which is why Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno can still coach into their
seventies eighties). I think (hope) Phillips can slip into the HC role, manage the team, and serve as the ultimate recruiting closer. If he can do that and allow an offensive coordinator to implement schemes that make efficient use of Kentucky talent, this whole concern is moot. The potential downside, however, is that Joker hires a staff that is as rigid as he is and doesn’t seek to maximize the talent on the field. At that point, you might see Locke enter the draft and a dip in the rather enjoyable football renaissance that the Bluegrass State is currently enjoying.