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Can Kentucky be Successful in the Air Against Louisville?

Maxwell Smith lead the Cats with 310 passing yards vs. Miami (Oh)

 

 

It’s no secret that the Air Raid is back in Lexington.  The sounds of sirens were heard all around the Commonwealth this past Saturday, as the Cats earned their first victory of 2013.  They did so in convincing fashion, totaling 675 offensive yards, the third most in the program’s history.  Not only was the offense on fire, but the defense held Miami (OH) to a shutout when excluding the fluke touchdown on special teams.  Things couldn’t have gone any better for UK, well, unless of course you rule out that fumbled punt return.

Four days have since passed, and now we’re only three days away from little brother’s biggest game.  The #7 Louisville Cardinals will make that hour drive down I-64, arriving at Commonwealth Stadium early Saturday morning.  Getting off their bus will be the 12th ranked defense in the nation, only allowing 236 total yards of offense per game.  More specifically, the Cardinals rank 19th in passing yards allowed with just 145.5 YPG.  Compared to last week, this is an exponentially better team on defense (Miami (OH) was ranked 109th before playing the Cats).  Who’s surprised?  This of which brings me to my question. Can UK maintain its offensive success through the air against the Cards?

 

Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow combined for a total of 413 passing yards last weekend, the first time two Kentucky quarterbacks have thrown for 100+ yards each since Jared Lorenzen and Shane Boyd did so in 2001.  Smith finished with 310 passing yards, while Whitlow threw for 103 yards of his own.  With Louisville’s defense coming to town, things aren’t going to look as good statistically next week.  Speaking with just numbers, Kentucky is going to have a hard time throwing the ball down field.  The Wildcats haven’t thrown the ball well against U of L since 2007, and we all know what play comes to mind that year.

“Woodson from the gun, play fake, he’s steppin’ up, he throws deep down the near sideline, he’s got Johnson, 20…10….5….TOUCHDOWN KENTUCKY!!!” 

How can anyone forget that play-call from Tom Leach?  If UK wants to keep up with Bridgewater & Louisville’s high scoring offense, big time plays like the one mentioned above NEED to happen.  From what I have seen out of the Cats this past week, big plays are back.  Long gone are the days of running up the middle and around the ends on 1st, 2nd, & 3rd downs.  Neal Brown’s edition of the Air Raid put a stop to that mess, and now they’re looking to score!  Two plays specifically caught me off guard this past weekend.  The 88-yard TD pass from Smith to Javess Blue, and the 48-yard TD pass from Smith to Jonathan George.   Let’s take a closer look at what happened.

 

georgetd

 

First up, we have the 48-yard TD pass.  Here we had a 3 wide-shotgun formation, with both running backs lined up to the left.  George is lined up as the FB, and Sanders is in the traditional HB spot.  #13 Badet is your strong side receiver and #89 Robinson is lined up in the slot.  Max Smith will send #8 Blue in motion, faking the end-around sweep as the center hikes the ball.  This draws Miami’s free safety in close to the line of scrimmage, leaving an open area down field.  Both Blue and Sanders pick up the linebacker blitz coming from the strong side.  Robinson will run a down-and-out route while Badet runs a comeback.  George holds back to pick up any remaining unblocked defenders, then takes off as the safety valve receiver.  With the left side cornerback covering Badet and ROLB blitzing, this leaves George wide open down field.  The play-action fake to Blue had already burnt the free safety, allowing George to be left all alone and dance his way into the endzone.  Touchdown Kentucky!

Now I know this was a very dumbed-down play analysis, but hey, whatever works.  The key here was the play-action.  With the safety cheating up and the defense showing blitz, all Smith had to do was wait for #25 to get into open coverage.  Louisville will be much more disciplined than Miami (OH) on this play type, but don’t be surprised when Neal Brown calls it Saturday.  It’s very simple and gets the job done if you have the end-around sweep set up.

 

bluepre

 

Next, we see the pre-snap before the 88-yard Air Raid TD pass to Javess Blue.  Again Smith is in the shotgun formation with a 4-receiver set.   Starting from the top, #13 Badet will run a quick comeback route, eliminating his defender from the play downfield.  #1 Timmons will run a short post route, covered by the ROLB.  #85 Steven Borden will run an out route, originally covered by the LOLB but is also picked up by #8 Blue’s defender later on.

It was 2nd and 25 at the time, and I think everyone was expecting the short out-route pass or a draw up the middle.  Neal Brown says “Nope, we’re going deep.”

With Blue’s defender now helping the LOLB cover Borden, the strong safety is assumed to pick up Javess.  Either the SS wasn’t paying attention or Blue just flat out sped by, the end result was a touchdown.  This play would be the 4th longest passing touchdown in Kentucky history, and the longest since an 89-yard TD from Jared Lorenzen to Derek Smith in 2000.

Why this play surprised me?  Well the answer is simple. For years a “2nd and forever” was handled with a short pass or quick draw up the middle.  Very rarely has a Kentucky offense thrown a bomb down field like this, especially when they’re inside their own 10 yard line.  Hats off to Neal Brown, this was the right play call.  I must say, plays like this make me excited about the offense even more.  Again, another simple play, but with broken down coverage it will lead to a touchdown 9 out of 10 times.

Will a play like this happen against the disruptive defense of the #7 Louisville Cardinals?  Most likely not, but just ask Stevie Johnson.  He will tell you otherwise.

 

In the end, only time will tell if Kentucky can successfully pass against Louisville this weekend.  It’ll be a battle of the 25th ranked passing offense against the 19th ranked pass defense.  On paper it looks like a fair fight, but the talent level of the Cards may be too much.  Here’s hoping that Smith & Whitlow, under the playcalling of Neal Brown, can keep up with Bridgewater and lead the Wildcats to a victory over the Cardinals.

What are some of your opinions of Kentucky’s new Air Raid, can they continue to score against tougher teams?

  bluetd

 

@KoryHenryKSR

Article written by Kory Henry

"We will kick, pass, and run, til the battle is won!" Bleeding blue since 1990. @KoryHenryKSR