On the wide spectrum of offensive football, Kentucky touched every single aspect, good and bad, under the five-year tutelage of Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw.
In the first half of Gran’s first game as a play-caller Kentucky scored 35 points and had almost 300 passing yards on 19 attempts. In the final game of his fourth year, UK attempted only two passes while rushing for 521 yards in a blowout win over Louisville.
Kentucky’s offense was all over the place under Eddie Gran, molding to the tools that were left in his toolbox, and more times than not, as indicated by a 36-26 record, it was successful enough to win football games against teams Kentucky normally doesn’t defeat. Despite that success, the offense’s shortcomings painted a bleak picture of the future.
Eddie Gran might be the best play-caller Kentucky has had since Mike Leach was on the sidelines. He was certainly the most successful of the 21st century, acting as the catalyst Stoops needed to finally get over the hump. Kentucky’s head coach had recruited the right pieces and built a solid defense, but he was missing something offensively. Gran provided stability and accountability on offense, turning back-to-back five-win campaigns into four straight seasons with at least seven wins, including the Wildcats’ historic 10-win season in 2018.
What made Gran great proved to be his weakness. A career running backs coach that spent ten years at Auburn developing NFL talents, he got his first shot to call plays at Cincinnati where they did not just ground and pound the rock. In 2015 the Bearcats ranked ninth in passing yards per game. Kentucky never finished better than 97th in pass offense under Gran.
Despite the aerial shortcomings at Kentucky, Gran still won big with incredible rushers. He turned an unheralded three-star recruit into the school’s all-time leading rusher in only three years. The following year he was forced to adapt his offense after a rash of quarterback injuries. Gran created a scheme for a wide receiver to play quarterback and not only did it work, it turned into a beautiful form of murderball unlike anything ever seen in the Commonwealth.
Quarterback injuries forced Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw to successfully change their offensive philosophy in the middle of two seasons, yet they failed to improve through the air as modern college football transforms into a game that’s all about letting athletes making plays in space with the forward pass.
“It used to be that good defense beats good offense. Good defense doesn’t beat good offense anymore,” Nick Saban said in October. “It’s just like last week. Georgia has as good a defense as we do an offense, and we scored 41 points on them [in a 41-24 Alabama win]. That’s not the way it used to be. It used to be if you had a good defense, other people weren’t going to score. You were always going to be in the game.
“I’m telling you. It ain’t that way anymore.”
When Nick Saban says that offense now trumps defense, college football has dramatically changed. Gran and Hinshaw were unable to change with it.
Mark Stoops is taking steps to make sure the program he built does not get left behind in the new world of college football. After putting an emphasis on recruiting explosive playmakers in the previous two classes, he’s making a change at the top to expedite the process.
“We’re, again I’ll use the word relieved, I guess, to get through this year, this difficult circumstance, but I’m also super excited, to be honest with you, to push and to get better and to continue to grow this program,” Stoops said Saturday night. “I’m really excited about that.”
Eddie Gran helped Kentucky achieve an incredible amount of success over the last five years, unlike many of us have ever seen, yet a change needed to be made to move the program forward.