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Sanders Needs to Let Go of the Wide Receiver Screen

I’m tired of pictures of Joker, so here’s Randy Sanders for your viewing pleasure.

It’s crazy how quickly football teams can change identities. Last year, if you were to tell Kentucky fans that the offense and defense would completely switch roles in 2012, they wouldn’t believe you for a second. Yesterday’s loss showed us that it can happen, and quickly. The defense struggled in every facet of the game against the Cardinals and looked like they wouldn’t be dependable against average-to-good offenses the entire year. If the Wildcats are going to win games this season, and ultimately reach their goal of a bowl game appearance, the offense will have to score points — a lot of them. Despite the turnovers, which can be corrected, Kentucky displayed all the characteristics of an above average offense. For that transition to take place so quickly, two main things had to happen for the program. First, QB Maxwell Smith had to take a major step forward — which he has. His knowledge of OC Randy Sanders’ offense has blossomed tremendously, and Smith looks like he’s ready to lead this team for the next couple of years. Secondly, Joker Phillips and his coaching staff had to bring in recruits with playmaking ability. Guys like Demarco Robinson, Daryl Collins, and DeMarcus Sweat, flashed that certain “it” factor when they touched the football on Sunday, a great sign for the future. There is no doubt the wide receiver corps is as strong as it has ever been, but for the group to be as efficient as possible, they have to be used correctly.

A lot Sanders’ passing routes are short and quick with a goal to get the receiver in space in order to gain yards. One thing that does this effectively is the screen call. Watching the game yesterday, you know that Sanders’ offense is very screen-heavy. Whether it be halfback screen or a wide receiver screen, the play is a trademark of the offense. Too many times yesterday a wide receiver screen was called on an important down (third-and-sixes, third-and-sevens) just to see the offense come up empty or post negative yardage. It’s almost like the defense knew it was coming every time, which can’t happen in a successful passing game. If Sanders is going to maximize the potential in this crop of wide receivers, there has to be more “vertical” routes called.

What guys like Robinson, Collins, and Sweat have at their advantage is speed. When speed is used effectively, it can completely change the dynamic of a game. Vertical routes would allow these guys to test the opposing defense’s ability to guard the deep pass, as well as the defensive back’s ability to cover. Kentucky’s running game would also benefit. Running a lot of screens and not stretching the defense allows defensive backs to play closer to the line of scrimmage, leaving them to help out on run plays. It’s much easier for the running backs to gain positive yards running against a seven-man front, than eight or nine-man fronts.

A lot of things can explain why the screen isn’t working, besides it being called too often. Wide receivers not blocking well could be a major problem, and is something Phillips alluded to in his post game press conference. Whatever it is, deeper routes would take care of the problem and put players in better positions to make plays. Sanders’ offense has a new, bigger responsibility after yesterday’s game, for Kentucky to be successful there has to be more points scored. So, how about opening up the playbook a little more?

Article written by Rashawn Franklin

44 Comments for Sanders Needs to Let Go of the Wide Receiver Screen

  1. JBR
    10:26 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    I keep checking back tonight hoping to see a headline that Joker has left the program or was fired…instead I keep seeing these ridiculous posts about things that are as common sense as breathing…or posts like Matt’s that has no idea about what it takes for a successful program if they are still “on the fence” about Joker…

  2. twnky
    10:26 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    Have we heard of what became of the NCAA investigation of Noel? Anything other than football pls

  3. bosshogg24
    10:30 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    Do not need to throw the ball side ways, that is stupid! The play they need the worse is the Quick Slant so Smith can get rid of the ball fast and not get sacked!

    Why can’t UK get a Defensive Cordinator?

  4. Blue Jesus
    10:32 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    This site ought to put up a poll on the side and see what the fan base thinks about Joker, just like they had during Gillispie’s last season. In the last post Matt says there are more Joker supporters than people think, and I was genuinely surprised, as I thought the general mood around the program after the Louisville game was that he isn’t the answer.

  5. downtownshown
    10:32 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    1st!!! If we get beat by Kent St. Joker’s season if over. Not sure we will win an SEC game if D doesn’t shown up

  6. downtownshown
    10:34 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    *show up

  7. NCAA 13
    10:35 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    I’m available to accept the head coaching position. Coming off a back to back double digit win seasons and a national title with Texas State on Heisman difficulty with a spread offense and a return to the 4-3 defense! I promise I’ll open up the playbook, throw the ball down the field (Top 10 offense last 2 years) and provide enough of a defense to win and win a lot. I can convince the kids to come to UK (top 20 classes at Tx State) and will make you pack Commonwealth year after year! Hire me now!

  8. downtownshown
    10:38 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    Kent St. is a decent team, when not running back in wrong direction. Should beat WKU, Samford, 3 and 9? Maybe beat Miss. St., Vandy, TN?

  9. bpisforuk
    10:41 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    AMEN to this post. Would love to see how many times we passed to a player that was not past the line of scrimmage. Do some quick slants or even a shuffle pass to see if a player can break a tackle for quick yards. The bengals did those laterals to chad johnson…they work maybe 1 in 10 times.

  10. NCAA 13
    10:41 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    got news for you man, if vandy and UT play like they did on Week 1..we are so screwed. I didn’t watch Miss St but my guess is their offense is at least as good as Louisville’s based off Dan Mullen being their coach.

  11. downtownshown
    10:54 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    good point #10. I’m just hoping for home field advantage for Miss St./Vandy. TN at their place will be tough, but beatable if D shows up…and by that time, hopefully D will have it figured out.

  12. hmm
    11:00 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    as sad as this statement is, home field advantage may be non-existent by the time miss st and vandy get to commonwealth…the fan base was disgruntled BEFORE the season started…who knows what its gonna look like this saturday against kent state. i’ll be there but i’d be surprised if its past half capacity.

  13. Mike
    11:08 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    How about that last pass play for Georgia Tech??…there is no way the colonel and the choker would ever have the creativity to pull off a play like that. Paul Johnson would make a good coach for UK….also like the thought of Gruden and Calipari coaching together. Gonna be a lot of fun until a replacement made….sooner the better.

  14. downtownshown
    11:09 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    Kent St. attendance will likely be weak, but like you #12, I will be there routing for the BLUE, cooking BRATS, good times with good friends………….hoping we have some success for the future of KY FTBALL. GO CAYUTS!!!

  15. downtownshown
    11:14 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink


  16. john4uk
    11:16 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    UK does not have a defense.So don’t expect one to show up anytime soon.

    #12,the fan base has every reason to be disgruntled.When you see a product on the field like UK put on the field against the mighty Cards,it’s awfully hard to get real excited.I really think UK fans would get excited if this team would put forth some effort,something we have seen very little of the past two years.

  17. I Say
    11:22 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    Im glad I’m not the only one who noticed te 25 screens we ran, makes my eyes bleed watching the conservative play calling over and over and over and….

  18. STEVE!
    11:26 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    Downtownshown, Vandy beat us by 30 last year. Do you think they have gotten that much worse and we have gotten that much better? They had a chance to beat #9 South Carolina Thursday, but couldn’t finish. UT scored 35 Friday.

    Sanders has watched these guys in practice every day for months, and knows what they can and can’t do. Don’t you think he would call some downfield passes if he thought they would be successful?

  19. downtownshown
    11:36 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    when u lose Trevathan/Guy, there will be a set-back. NuclearMinter will get it back. Expect one to show up. #16…..did u play college ball…probably not, so how can you question the effort put forth by 3 star ,atheletes, trying their best..something we have seen very little of the past 2 yrs. 2yrs? Did you ever go to class and try to succeed on the field at the same time…probably not..basket-weaving?

  20. hmm
    11:42 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    #16 oh I wasn’t disagreeing. The fanbase SHOULD be disgruntled. Hell, I’m disgruntled. I really like Joker (as a person) but as a coach here at UK..I just don’t think its his time. He’s done a few good things (I’ll always appreciate beating Spurrier and UT) but when your product is just this bad..I don’t know. I just feel if Vandy and Miss St can pull in solid hires (and even Louisville getting Petrino and then Strong..I’m ignoring the Kragthorpe hire) there is absolutely no excuse why Kentucky can’t have a decent name or even pony up the cash for a big name hire. Its not hard to please the UK football fan base, we don’t expect an SEC or National Title, but 6 win seasons should be the absolute minimum. If once every 4 or 5 years you gave us a 9 win season and a ranking, I think we’d be tickled to death.

  21. downtownshown
    11:43 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    #18, thanks for getting my name right. SC is over-rated. They are not the 9th best team in the country….really?. Sanders needs to call some downfield passes instead of screen, screen, screen….PUNT

  22. hmm
    11:45 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    and another thing. When was the last time we threw a legit deep ball? I was just watching the VT game when Tech’s QB threw a 45 yard bomb to give them the lead midway in the 4th and was just thinking to should would be nice for us to try that every now and then. I know Smith has the arm to do it, and this year I think we have the athletes at WR that could potentially make the plays. In 06 and 07 when we were at our “peak” Woodson and Co. routinely would take deep shots down the field. Hell, that’s how we beat Louisville in 07..a bomb to Stevie J.

  23. downtownshown
    11:50 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    let Mitch spend some money and get a coach who can get 4/5 star athletes into this program, we can compete. This is the SEC, why would you not want to come to KY and compete in the best league in the nation…Petrino?????

  24. downtownshown
    11:54 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    #22, exactly. A shot down the field. We seem to have a QB that can make throws to capable receivers.

  25. hmm
    11:57 pm September 3, 2012 Permalink

    #23 they already raise the ticket prices every year, put the money to good use and swallow some pride like you did with BCG and spend some dough. Just like with Cal, you get what you pay for. Granted, you couldn’t pay the guy what we pay Cal, but you at least have to make the guy middle of the pack for SEC coaches. Joker is being paid 1.7 million, 2nd to last in the SEC (Vandy’s salaries were N/A). Derek Dooley was paid 2.3, Spurrier 2.8 Mark Richt 2.9, Muschamp 3.2, and even Petrino was paid 3.6.

  26. Just wondering
    12:03 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    This is a serious question and I hope someone takes time to answer it..
    Could it be possible for us to have Joker step
    Down as head coach but still remain on staff or at least at UK doing something?? Has this ever happened anywhere else?? I mean the guy has been part of UK in some form or fashion for a long time.. I’m all for firing him.. But not for crushing him and ruining chance of him to coach again.. Am I being to soft here?

  27. carnifex
    12:18 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    OMG! We are gonna’ stomp a mudhole in KENT STATE!!!! Do you guys even realize how pathetic that sounds? We play in the SEC. We’re supposed to stomp mudholes in teams like kent State. I would add UL but we know how that went. If Joker is paid the 2nd least amount in the SEC then he is being grossly overpaid. He fields low level MAC grade teams, that should be his pay grade.

    As for the article…really? Really? Really? We should pass down field more? Maybe we should try running the ball between the tackles too. And speaking of tackles, do you think we might try that instead of the flag football technique we presently use? I guess you had to fill a column with something, and it had to be kinda’ Rah-Rah, so you wouldn’t lose access to the team. To bad, it would have been more challenging to do an actual story on why Joker and Barney lie to not only you as reporters, but to the fan base as well. Or what specific plans Minter actually has to teach his 2 senior 1 junior strength of the defense lineman where to line up properly so that they don’t get pushed around like little children. (Or did Joker just throw those guys under the bus to save his ass) Because that’s what it looked like.

  28. carnifex
    12:22 am September 4, 2012 Permalink


    1.7 million a year for this, and you’re worried about being too hard on him? All I can say is you’re a good christian man. I myself wouldn’t hire Joker to clean the urinal cakes outta’ CWS. Besides, at 1.7 million a year, he ain’t feeling no pain(unless he throws his back out hauling his money to the bank)

  29. hmm
    12:26 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    lol @ 27 and 28..especially the mac grade level team comment.

    12:52 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    carnifex I agree with you completely!!!!

  31. Jon Lock
    1:32 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    I agree that we probably run too many screen plays, but at the same time, we don’t have many receivers we can throw the deep ball too consistently. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need speed to be a deep threat, and while speed does help, you really need to be a big receiver who can go up and make plays over the DB’s. Small speedsters are not gonna be able to make as many plays downfield because of their small size. They will make some because of their blazing speed, but much more often than not there will be a Safety playing deep to help out in case a receiver gets by his corner, which nullifies the speed element in deep throws a bit.

    In the Woodson years, we had a few receivers who fit that mold really well, in Stevie Johnson and Keenan Burton. Neither of those guys were the fastest players on the field (I am not saying they were slow, they had good speed for receivers, but I wouldn’t call them burners), but they were both big and strong guys (both 6′ 1″ – 6′ 2″ and 200+ lbs) and that made it easy for them to man handle the DB’s and make plays down the field over them.

    LaRod King fits that mold perfectly, as does Aaron Boyd (although he hasn’t shown any production except for a few catches on Sunday). With the receivers that look to get the majority of playing time this year, which is smaller speedsters like Daryl Collins and Demarco Robinson, the Quick Slant would work perfectly, as well as the screen (just maybe not as often).

    We do have some younger guys as well that can fit the deep threat mold, like AJ Legree who is 6′ 1″ and according too all accounts has great leaping ability (to really get up over the DB), and DeMarcus Sweat, who not only is 6′ 1″, he is already almost 200lbs (so he should get even bigger), but he is also a very fast, which would make him the dream deep threat on this team.

  32. Jon Lock
    1:49 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    I would also like to add that the smaller receivers can be successful in the intermediate passing game (I consider intermediate 10 – 20 yards and deep 20+) if they run crisp routes and have a knack for getting open, like a Randall Cobb or Santana Moss in his prime. I have absolutely no idea how well Collins or Robinson run their routes, so I cannot say myself if they can be successful in that area, but I feel like Collins should be able to be very successful in the intermediate routes. He just seems to have that natural ability of finding ways to get open. Really, in our top 3 receivers (assuming the actual top 3 is King, Collins, and Robinson, and not whatever the depth chart says), you have 3 guys that can excel at 3 different route distances. King on the Deep routes (2o+ yards) because of his size, strength, and overall athleticism, Robinson at Short (anything under 10 yards) cause of his speed and shiftiness (and he has the potential to do intermediate depending on how well he runs his routes), and Collins who can do Short and intermediate because of his speed, shiftiness, route running and ability to get open.

  33. KYStout
    4:50 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    People talking about us beating UT or Vandy make me want to laugh. Both have improved over last season and both will rip that UK team we saw on the field Sunday. And home field advantage? Seriously people? Have you looked at our home field W/L record against SEC teams over the last decade +?

  34. ribin
    6:32 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    Running screens, short passes (underneath linebackers) is what the talking heads said the other night — taking what the defense gives you. It’s been the same for the past two – three years — throw short, hope they can make the play. Have to open up – throw it downfield —

  35. putinrichie
    6:32 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    33 – We all know UK is going to be an underdog in each SEC game this season and that Vandy and UT both have better football teams. However, these games are a couple months away and the better team doesn’t always win in football. Of our 8 SEC games, lets say we get blown out in 5 of them. This means that there are at least 3 SEC games where we will be in the game in the fourth quarter. I bet we win at least one. I’m not going to pick which one, but my point is that there will be a game where UK wins the turnover battle and will catch a few lucky breaks.

  36. Georgia Blue
    7:31 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    Too many excuses from the fans and coaches. Guy is gone, Cobb is gone, Trevithan is gone, and etc. Quit living in the past like our coaches. These players on offense can do what coaches let them do. Joker and Sanders need to open up the playbook. You have the talent on offense. Quit holding this offense back. The guys can make the big plays if you let them.. Just call the play. This is not the high school. We need to open up the playbook. You have guys that can go deep. You have a QB that can throw deep. You just got to BBELIEVE in them. Open playbook call plays that stretch the field. Make the SAFETY play pass coverage instead of let him walk to help with the run. Make the defense adjust to your offense not you adjusting to the defense. I SEE A LOT OF TALENT NOT BEING USED, IF YOU WANT TO WIN YOU BETTER OPEN YOUR EYES AN USEDIT OR IT GOING TO BE ALONG SEASON. WE HAVE THE TALENT.THE COACHES GOT TO STOP BABYSITTING AND LET GO. THE PLAYERS WANT THE COACHES TO OPEN UP THE PLAYBOOK. You have Georgia Tech taking shots down the field and Kentucky throwing alot of bubble route which okay but stretch the field. Make the defense bring in a Db and takeout a lienman on 1st down, because they have a matchup problem. Open up the playbook and lets stretch the defense and put them in bad matchup.

  37. UK Snuggie
    7:36 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    So please let me know which of those 35 passes Smith threw Sunday that would lead you to believe that verticle down the field passes are the answer? Some more great coaching advice from the liberals at KSR.

  38. Chris
    8:17 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    At least fake the screen some and send the receivers long to keep the defenders honest. It felt like all but 1 of the screens were for loss.

  39. Max is back
    8:59 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    Spot on #37. This writer keeps me shaking my head over and over. Get real! Max Smith had a 69% completion rate, outstanding! 24 total 1st downs of which 16 were on passing. 280 yards of receiving. What is up? Sick of KSR bashing the Cats over and over. Saw Matt Jones on the sideline in the 4th quarter. Now he hopes for the success of Coach Phillips. What quackery. This site and Rashwan bash UK football over and over. We fumbled once on the Louisville 1 yard line getting ready to score, once on the Louisville 26 driving the ball, missed a field goal, and didn’t try a field goal in the 4th quarter going for it on 4th down.

    Furthermore, there were several plays to open up the field, but the receivers were not open, so Max had to dump it off to a short man. Monday morning QBing. Got to love it!

  40. Bill
    9:50 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    #39 is correct. We had receivers running routes down the fieldd. However, down the field was not open. In the second half after we had to pretty much abandon the run, UL was getting more pressure and there was not time to go down the field. There were actually very few times that we threw the ball on a short screen on 3d and long yesterday. Just prior to the near sack, but ruled incomplete, Smith was 6-7 on third downs with 5 of those completions for first downs. On the play before the missed fg I he was actually trying to go downfield. I will be the first to tell you that I am not a fan of the WR screen, but offensive play calling was not the problem Sunday. The playbook was pretty open Sunday and the plays they were calling were working for the most part.

  41. blueneck
    10:58 am September 4, 2012 Permalink

    why not give some numbers on how many times it was a “called screen” on a third and long…and when a variety of screens are being run, they aren’t all defensed the same – hopefully everyone knows that.
    While I don’t think there were as many screens called as the writer suggests, there were a lot of short passes and they were usually working, many times with good yardage after the catch.
    And “despite the turnovers, which can be corrected” – what does that mean? What year have we every solved the turnover issue?

  42. UK Snuggie
    12:36 pm September 4, 2012 Permalink

    # 41 good call on the turn over comment. I completely missed that when I first read this.

  43. Pissed off
    1:04 pm September 4, 2012 Permalink

    Tee Martin was the only part of the coaching staff that was worth having. Now that he’s gone, it is time to clean house, start to rebuild from the ground up.

  44. UKANI
    5:31 pm September 4, 2012 Permalink

    How do you throw deep if you are playing against a defense who’s designed to take the vertical pass away? what is the point. You don’t call plays to throw deep when the defense has 2 safeties playing back. That is just dumb to do, you take the underneath stuff then when the defense creaps up that’s when you throw the long ball. throwing the long ball just to throw it won’t accomplish anything but you starting another post asking how did the offense regress….