In just a few weeks, Nick Roush and I will be traveling to Birmingham for SEC Media Days. Throughout the summer I’ve frequently been asked, “How can the Cats win six games”? The answer is complicated. There’s no player that is elite enough or in a strategic position that can single-handedly carry UK to the postseason. Thus, this post will address six statistical categories that require improvement:
2015: 24.7 points per game.
2016 Goal: 29.7 points per game.
— One way to score more points is to eliminate dropped passes, especially those of the end-zone variety. With the vast majority of returning receivers having significant game experience, there will be zero excuse for this trend to continue. From Dorian Baker to Ryan Timmons, all eyes will be on the talented yet customarily unreliable group of pass catchers.
— Score touchdowns in the red-zone. Field goals keep you close; touchdowns win games. Do I really need to discuss the Vanderbilt debacle again?
— Lessen required yardage to convert on third down. Conversely, improve yardage gained on first down. On far too many occasions, the Cats played behind the chains.
Rushing Yards Per Game
2015: 162 yards per game.
2016 Goal: 195 yards per game.
— UK runners have to increase their endurance and stamina. Attrition is natural for the position, but the old adage rings true to this day, “can’t make the club in the tub.” Long runs from scrimmage need to finish in the end-zone.
— Eddie Gran inherits a position which I feel was mismanaged in previous seasons. Nonsensical substitution patterns coupled by the mid-season Boom Williams situation, there seemed to be turbulence within the running back corps. I don’t suspect this will be an issue in 2016.
— The Wildcats have four RBs with game experience including Boom Williams and JoJo Kemp, who have combined for 2,701 career yards. The two veterans provide a formidable one-two punch. OC Eddie Gran favors the power run. The Cats’ offensive line strength is at Guard and Center. Of all the categories, I’m most confident in saying that rushing for 195 yards per game goal will be accomplished.
Passing Completion Percentage
2016 Goal: 62.5
— Let’s be perfectly honest, when talking heads and coaches say that UK’s pass completion percentage needs to increase, they are directly speaking of or at Drew Barker. Last season, Barker completed 50% of his passes to go along with 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions, and 364 yards. Even with those suspect numbers, it quickly became obvious that Mark Stoops and staff felt that Barker’s ceiling was much higher than the departed Patrick Towles. Barker showed improvement during spring practice. However, the proof will lie within his results on September 3.
— Barker’s pocket presence and fundamentals must continue to improve. At times against Louisville, he appeared lost. In all fairness, the entire offense had the same facial expression and body language. Having a dedicated quarterback coach (Darin Hinshaw) should cure pocket deficiencies, confidence issues, and improve decision making ability. Again referencing spring practice, there were distinct instances of Barker’s enhanced technique.
— Patrick Towles and Drew Barker faced with far too many 3rd-and-Forever downs. These situations forced both to throw low percentage vertical or deep routes.
— Complete high percentage throws. With confidence comes accuracy. Accuracy initiates momentum. Momentum leads to touchdowns.
Total Yards Surrendered Per Game
2016 Goal: 355
— In the 3-4 defense, nose tackles Matt Elam and Naquez Pringle’s obligation to provide interior push and occupy blockers are paramount tasks. If not successful in one or the other, offensive linemen will have free reign to get their hands on linebackers.
— By estimation, Coach House’s inside linebackers have less than 100 college snaps under their belts. Disciplined key reading and intelligent pursuit angles will come with trial and error results. Courtney Love needs to be who we think he is. In other words, Love needs to take control of the defense.
— 17 Quarterback Sacks and 53 Tackles for Loss were embarrassingly low totals. Forcing action across the line-of-scrimmage, or disruption plays, are principal.
2016 Goal: 28
— Although young, Kentucky’s secondary is as talented and skilled as any UK grouping I can remember from the past two decades. But IF there is no pass rush, an average at best SEC quarterback will pick them apart.
— Southern Miss’ Nick Mullens will test the Wildcat pass rush in week one. Using Mullens as an example, if a 4,000-yard passer is given four to five seconds to dissect coverages, only bad things will happen.
— Courtney Miggins, Regie Meant, Kengera Daniel, Denzil Ware, and others will be called upon to influence opposing quarterbacks on a consistent basis. DJ Eliot may have to institute creative blitz packages if his defensive linemen are not successful. Cornerback and Nickel blitzes can only help, but also places defensive backs in precarious situations. Thus, the front three defensive linemen must win a higher percentage of one-on-one pass rush scenarios.
2015: 39.60 yards per punt.
2016 Goal: 42 yards per punt.
— In 2015, Kentucky finished 14th or bad enough for last in the SEC.
— Inconsistent punting along with substandard kicks in crucial moments of critical games were highly influential in the season’s outcome. No sugar coating this one, the punt team has a great deal of work to do.
— As the only scholarship punter on the roster, true freshman Grant McKinniss has no other choice than to grow up in a hurry.
The goals provided above aren’t intended to place Kentucky at the top of the SEC’s statistical categories. The proposed numbers would rank the Cats in mid-pack. If these benchmarks are met, Kentucky will play in the postseason. If not, then for the fourth consecutive year, postseason narrative could again read “one or two plays away.”