Eddie Gran toed a fine line in 2018.
Kentucky’s offensive coordinator had the school’s all-time leading rusher lined up behind a first-year starting quarterback. On the other side of the ball, Josh Allen wreaked so much havoc he was named National Defensive Player of the Year. Playing the hand he was dealt, Gran relied on the ground and pound. Not every fan enjoyed that style of play.
“The only thing I could have done last year is screw it up,” Gran said at UK Football Media Day. “That’s it. We have a brand-new quarterback. We could run the ball. We had a great defense. We played great special teams.
“If I go back there and I want to rip it around, because I want statistics? I wouldn’t be here right now because that wouldn’t have been very smart.”
Gran leaned on the ground game and it got the Cats to ten wins. His decision to keep the ball out of Terry’s hands stems from a lesson he learned in his first season at Kentucky.
“I learned more in 35 years of coaching after my first year here. You can remember in ’16, come from Cincinnati, we’re fourth in the country, throwing it all over the place. That was who we had personnel-wise.
We came here, Drew Barker that first game, we’re throwing it. We had the guys around him. We felt like he had the arm to get it done. He got hurt. We had to do something.
“Personnel-wise where were we? Our offensive line was really good. Had some really good backs, tight ends. We had a new quarterback. We got into this wildcat formation, and we tried every week to build around that package. People hadn’t seen it. We ended up with two 1,000-yard rushers. There was a point in there about two or three games, they said, ‘Where did this fool come from?’ Then we ripped off six games, then you become a hero. You’re smart again,” Gran said with a smile.
“I learned more that year about humility. It’s about team. It’s about wins.”
To continue racking up wins, Gran is searching for 2019’s winning formula. That may or may not include 35-40 Terry Wilson passes a game. What it must include is more explosive plays. Gran wants either a 12-yard run or a 16-yard pass once every eight plays. He will not rely on tempo to give the offense more juice. Instead, he’ll lean on Wilson’s arm, Lynn Bowden’s gas and A.J. Rose’s acceleration on early downs.
“What we have to do is we have to be be efficient on first down so we can have more plays. That efficiency in our first couple years was really good. Four yards or more on first down. Now you’re creating more first downs. In Cincinnati, even running the ball at 280 yards a game, 250 yards a game there. We were number one in the country in first downs. We weren’t just playing lightning fast. It was about the efficiency of first downs.”
Kentucky’s offensive coordinator added: “If you get more first downs, you’ve got more plays, therefore you have more chances at being explosive.”
Two wide receivers could significantly help the Cats make more chunk plays. After spending two years on the sideline, Gran challenged Clevan Thomas and Isaiah Epps to bring it this fall.
“We need something out of Clevan Thomas. It’s time for him to be a good. It’s time to Isaiah Epps to be a guy all the time, not just here and there. There is no more time for that. That’s not what we’re looking for here. It’s time to have grown man pants on, then let’s go,” he said.
“Now they’re bigger, stronger, faster. They know this offense. So we should have more production.” Gran added, “You should see something really, really good out of these guys.”