There are a few plays in the Florida game one can point to that ultimately decided the outcome. Three of them happened when UK had the ball on third and fourth down with just a yard to go.
The first play of the fourth quarter stands above the rest. Broken down by Adam Luckett, there was an obvious missed assignment at the line of scrimmage. Even so, Eddie Gran places some of the responsibility on the running back.
“We had a pretty good play on the fourth and one. It’s really frustrating,” said UK’s offensive coordinator. “Backs have to make sure that they get square to the line of scrimmage, half a man and not straight up, not turn out shoulders and they gotta help them out on some of those goal line stuff. You got guys that are not gonna be blocked. That’s going to happen and you gotta get a yard. It’s partly the back and it’s partly when we don’t block them right. That’s what we gotta do.”
Benny Snell made breaking tackles look natural. For others who struggle to break free, there are techniques that are tried and true.
“They’ve got to go half a man and you can’t go stripe-to-stripe with a guy. You gotta get near-leg, near shoulder. You gotta bring your knees to your eyeballs. You gotta be a full-grown man in short yardage.”
If you didn’t understand Gran’s football jargon, it’s physics. Instead of trying to break through an entire defender, a running back can weaken their ability to tackle by splitting them in half.
Who Gran will turn to in the future is still up in the air. By Jeff Drummond’s calculations, UK is 12-of-24 in “one yard to go” situations this year. A.J. Rose is 3-of-6 and Kavosiey Smoke is 4-of-8. After the game Gran self-scouted the situation and realized that it could be Chris Rodriguez.
“I’m trying to find out, as we talked about Saturday, who that guy is he. Maybe he (Rodriguez) has a role,” Gran said. “Chris is going to be in there regardless, whether it’s a short down situation or not. He’s really earned that right. I think through this whole year when you go through 12, 13 games, we’re going to need him. We got get his confidence back and he’s showing that on the practice field.”
They may not need to hand the ball off at all. It didn’t work out of the Wildcat, but it did work twice when Sawyer Smith ran the quarterback sneak, one of which resulted in a touchdown.
“I thought they were absolutely fantastic,” said Gran. “We had great push. He’s a bigger body, he’s square to the line of scrimmage and we got the yard. We were awful last year at quarterback sneaks. We were bad. Terry had to get better at that. It was something we worked on in the offseason. But Sawyer’s got a knack for it, which is good because that’s important, especially when it’s third and inches or something like that. It’s tough.”
In spite of the short yardage woes, Kentucky is still converting 50 percent of its third downs, tied with Alabama for the third-best mark in the SEC. Where short yardage has reared its ugly head is in the red zone. UK has scored touchdowns on only eight of its 12 red zone appearances, which ranks 12th in the SEC. To reverse that trend, Kentucky has to find a way to earn those tough yards that Benny Snell made look so easy.
“It’s tough down there,” said Gran. “Those backs have to run people over and you’ve got to get a body on a body. It’s a mentality and that’s what we’re trying to get to.”