There was a night and day difference between the Kentucky offense that picked up only eight first downs at Missouri and the offense the averaged 8.3 yards per play against Vanderbilt. Tuesday night offensive Eddie Gran shared the secret to the Wildcats’ success and what lies ahead at Alabama.
1. Terry Wilson got his Groove Back
Entering the bye week we did not know who would start at quarterback for Kentucky against Vanderbilt. When the final horn sounded on Saturday, there was no doubt that Terry Wilson was still the man for the job.
“We had good competition the seven, eight days prior to the Vanderbilt game and he won the job,” Gran revealed. “Each day he was getting better and better, particularly that Wednesday before the game. He really threw the ball well, on time. It came and it showed in the game. He was very decisive. The kids ran good routes. I thought the tight ends were very good and I was really proud of him to bounce back and be ready to go.”
Wilson completed 13-of-15 passes for 110 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 83 yards and a score on only seven carries.
“Terry’s a strong quarterback with a good mindset, so there was no doubt in my mind that he would bounce back,” said wide receiver Isaiah Epps. “Everybody would love to be at their best every week, but sometimes it just doesn’t happen like that. For him to stay poised and keep his confidence in the pocket and distribute the ball out to the receivers was good. I think you’ll see a little bit more from Terry in these next few games.”
2. The Offensive Line Never Flinched
Faced with an emotional task following the loss of John Schlarman, Kentucky’s offensive coordinator was proud of the way his players performed in the trenches.
“I was so proud of them. It was different, the whole thing; the play-calling and the emotions. It really come down to this: they never flinched. By gosh they weren’t going to let the Big Tuna down, at the end of the day that’s what it was. They were playing for much bigger reason than the game of football.”
3. How the Tight Ends got Touches
The offense looked rejuvenated against Vanderbilt and it wasn’t just because the Commodores were bad on defense. The Wildcats used the bye week to rediscover their strengths.
“We went back to what we thought our quarterbacks could do well, what our receivers could do well and we repped it a lot and it showed up on Saturday. We helped him (Terry) because I helped him by not being a knucklehead,” Gran said.
One of the strengths of the offense was getting the tight ends involved in the game plan. Ready to hear their number called, Justin Rigg said he and Keaton Upshaw spent more time than normal with Wilson.
“What we did in the off week was just [spend] a lot of extra time with the quarterbacks,” said Rigg. “Me and Keaton got those extra throws in and that extra timing down just so that we expected everything the way that we did because we were so prepared in that off week.”
The result: each tight end caught a touchdown pass.
“I think it really helped us. I think those two have played some of the best they’ve played all year, it’s run game and pass game. We had some things that were open for them, they ran really good routes and Terry put the ball on them,” said Gran.
“They’ve got to get open. They have to do their job. Our quarterback has to find them, things that we’ve done to simplify some things has really helped us, the reps really helped us and I want to continue to get the ball to the big guys. There’s mismatches and so we’ll continue to do that for sure.”
4. Solid Start for Beau
Gran was excited to see how true freshman Beau Allen responded when his number was called for the first time at Kroger Field.
“It was great for Beau,” said Gran. “I liked his poise, I loved the way he went through his reads very quickly, got rid of the ball. It was tough; he had the one batted down and he had the one he wish he would’ve had back where he under-threw it a little bit, but for his first time out there, boy did I like his poise and he knew exactly where to go with the ball. That was good for him, good for our football team. I was fired up for him. He was really excited.”
5. Keys to an Upset
Taking down the top-ranked team in the country is never an easy task, especially when it’s a team that’s used to being on top on their home turf. Before the Wildcats leave Lexington, Gran isn’t going to make a mountain out of molehill. This needs to be treated like every game… to an extent.
“It’s all about fundamentals and execution. That’s what it was last week. We had the least amount of errors we’ve had in a long time. Guys were sharp and that’s what offense is. Offense is about execution. You gotta have 11 guys doing the right thing all the time. What an opportunity we have this week,” Gran said. “They’ve got to be darn near perfect and that’s how you can beat a team like Alabama.”
To be darn near perfect, Gran said the Wildcats must execute on early downs to avoid third and long, turn red zone trips into touchdowns and get off the bus ready to win a football game.
“You have to have an attitude. You gotta have a tenacity about you that is second to none. That will be the message. Go out there, play fast. My message is we’re going to go out and we gotta win the game.”