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?