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Conservative Playcalling Complaints Lack Context

There’s a broad, overarching complaint Kentucky football fans have for the offense: stop being so conservative.  While valid at times, the generalization lacks context.  In the heat of the moment, emotions cause fans to curse, but in the grand scheme of things you should not be so quick to chastise Eddie Gran.

Timely Mistakes Force Change

Simply put, it’s hard to be aggressive when you shoot yourself in the foot.  Early in the season, this mistake often came in the form of a bad snap.  On Saturday it came in the form of a holding penalty at the end of the first half.

With less than two minutes remaining in the half, UK went to the air for a 20-yard gain to Lynn Bowden.  A holding penalty pushed UK inside their own 20 for a second-and-19.  They could have continued to play aggressive in the air, but at great risk.  A sack would give Mizzou better field position and an incompletion would give them more time.

Behind the chains, Gran tried to take away as much time as possible.  Mizzou had the ball in their own territory with just 40 seconds to score.  The defense should be able to get UK to the half with a 20-7 lead.  Instead, they gave up a 58-yard touchdown pass.  That’s not on Gran for being “too conservative;” that’s on the defense for getting beat.

The moral of the story: it’s hard to be aggressive when you’re behind the chains.  When it’s second and short, the entire playbook is open to play aggressively.  It’s difficult to open up the playbook after a mistake, or you’ll run the risk of throwing more gas onto the fire.

Incremental Change

It takes time to correct mistakes in all walks of life.

To use a personal example, when I began writing I struggled with grammar, spelling and typographical mistakes.  Matt told me to fix it.  I proofread each post more vigorously.  It slowly got better, but like any human I still make mistakes.

Eddie Gran started the season by employing the style of offense that brought the Cats seven wins last year.  It took a game or two to realize that formula did not work for the 2017 team.

The Wildcat formation has been extensively dialed back.  It was used less than a handful of times against Missouri, albeit creatively.  If Benny Snell’s pass had three more yards, C.J. Conrad is walking into the end zone with a touchdown.  That’s a pretty aggressive play call by any standard.

Critics said, “The ball needs to be in Stephen Johnson’s hands more.”  That’s happened.  Johnson threw a career-high 36 passes against Missouri.  In each week of the 2017 season, Johnson has thrown more passes than the previous week.

Change happens slower than most would like, but rest assured that change is happening on the Kentucky offense.

Special Teams

If you want to see aggressive playcalling, just look at Special Teams.  It’s not as sexy as the other two phases of the game, nor does it receive the attention it deserves, but aggressive special teams calls have won the last two games for the Cats.

Dean Hood wanted to go for the block on a punt against EMU.  Mark Stoops was initially hesitant, but went with his gut and pulled the trigger.  The blocked punt led to a Kentucky score that put the game out of reach.

Against Missouri, Stoops went with his gut again on fourth down.  With the game tied, the Cats called a fake punt to Kash Daniel that got a first down and led to a field goal that gave Kentucky a three-point lead.

On the following drive, Missouri had an opportunity to tie the game with a 45-yard field goal.  Earlier in the day Lonnie Johnson ran into the kicker and negated a missed field goal, yet he received clearance to go for the block again.  This time it worked.  Playing aggressive paid off and that’s exactly what the Wildcats did.

Valid Grievances

After laying out my case against the “too conservative” criticism, there are still specific complaints that make sense.  They make sense because they’re specific, not sweeping generalizations.

Lynn Bowden had his best game as a Wildcat because he had opportunities to make plays.  He needs more of them and an easy way to do it is with jet sweeps.  To my recollection, UK has ran that play, but only once or twice and neither were to Bowden.

That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but this makes even less sense.  After a turnover, the Kentucky offense doesn’t ride the momentum created by the defense.  Instead of taking a shot to the end zone following a strip sack against Mizzou, Benny Snell ran it up the middle for no gain.  The drive eventually scored on a fade to Blake Bone, but why not try that on the first play?

As long as Kentucky has a football team, there will be criticism.  Some specifics warrant the criticism, but to generalize the 5-1 Wildcats as “too conservative” is misplaced judgment.

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

43 Comments for Conservative Playcalling Complaints Lack Context

  1. UKfanman01
    5:43 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    I’d just like to see more trick plays. Just like the Snell to Conrad play. UK’s offence is also very complimentary to Tight Ends

  2. TBW3011
    5:44 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    Nice piece. The last part of the last sentence should’ve said , “In my opinion” though. Instead you stated your opinion as a fact.

    • KatsKlaws
      6:40 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      The whole article was an opinion piece. The reader should automatically assume it is the writer’s opinion being stated, no need to say “imo” again as that is already assumed. It would be redundant.

  3. UKCatAttack
    5:50 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    The play calling against Missouri was excellent. We had a perfect balance of run and pass. We weren’t predictable out of the Wildcat. The fake punt was a beautiful play. I’ve been critical of both Stoops and Gran in previous games but I’ll give credit where credit is due and they called a great offensive game against Missouri.

    • TBW3011
      9:58 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

      I agree. I also feel like that had a lot to do with Mizzou continually putting the pressure on. We never had the option to sit on it and be conservative.

  4. Ben27
    5:56 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    Even against Missouri, the passing game was effective and the running game not so much. Take away the 71 yard run and we averaged less than 2 yards per carry! When the passing game is working for you, then stick with it. Do not run the ball just to keep your percentages in line. Florida was hurt by our passing game and we allowed them to stop our running game. We are KY, what would it hurt to take some chances every now and then.

    • runningunnin.454
      6:45 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      Well said.

    • callitlikeiseeit
      9:14 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      I agree about not riding mometum after a turnover. Against UF when they changed qb’s we got a quick pick, crowd was crazy, UF rattled but we come out and run run run. Should have tried to hit something there and put the game away.

  5. az1006
    5:57 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    I think you hit the nail on the head at the beginning of the post when you said it’s taken time for the coaching staff to figure out this team isn’t last year’s team. Nobody complained last year when we were running the ball 40+ times per game because the offense was explosive due to our outstanding offensive line. Cole Mosier going down in the preseason forced some significant changes be made to the O-Line, and who knows how many more scoring opportunities we would have had thus far if not for the botched snaps that were so prevalent early on. It appears as though Drake Jackson has taken control of the center position, and if he continues to play well, that can solidify offensive line play and hopefully improve our run game.

    If you do that, it will open up so many other options out of the PA and RPO, which is where Steven Johnson is at his best. It seems as though the fans have not noticed that we are far from reaching our ceiling, and are still 5-1. The fact we’ve struggled and still found ways to win is a testament to what this team is, and what they can be.

  6. The Professor
    6:25 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    The play calling in the Missouri game was an improvement I think in large part because we weren’t far enough ahead to get conservative. In the previous games, once we got a 2 score lead he dialed it back and kept the games much closer than they should have been. He also seemed to be the last person to understand the Wildcat was not working. If we do run the Wildcat, it is quite evident that Bowden should be taking the snaps. It’s like having Randall Cobb back. It gives us an added dimension with his QB experience plus he is a more elusive runner.

  7. m4ff3w
    6:37 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    Hey Nick, I think you often use “timely mistake” when you mean “untimely mistake”

    Timely is a positive, untimely is negative.

    • InigoMontoya
      10:04 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      I love your commentary, Nick, but in this I think M4 is right.

  8. runningunnin.454
    6:52 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    I would think if you can go on 4th and one with a fake punt on your own 44, you could go on 4th and goal from the two.
    Of course, should have taken it in before 4th down…play calling was “conservative” on the goal line.

    • runningunnin.454
      6:53 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      Any lack of context there?

    • 2thepoint
      7:18 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      Exactly. The article appears to be only an argument piece without looking at what down the run game is employed. I scream at my TV almost every time they try the run, especially on 1st down. Our guys can’t seem to make a run worthwhile. I know a run has to be made more than I would like to see it run, but please don’t try to mitigate the problem. Time after time the run only gives us two more downs to make 10 yards instead of 3. KY races downfield via the pass only to see Gran call running plays in the red zone killing chances of a td rather than a field goal attempt. That is the reason we lost the FL game while keeping other games far too close.
      Eddie, find Conrad in those situations!

    7:12 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    Ahhh your opinion isn’t fact! The fact is Benny is carrying the Ball way to much and up until Mizz game the Offense has been way to conservative when we are loaded with weapons! Hell Snell has 50 more carries then the next back in the SEC! Running Wildcat against a 11 man front dont help matters either. That play hasn’t even worked this year!

  10. fairweather
    7:33 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    I think there is too much weight placed on play calling. It’s the team that has the better execution that is successful on any given play.

    • Rembrandt
      6:47 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

      That’s right. If two teams are roughly equal in talent, the team that implements its game plan without making mistakes usually wins. Aside from bad snaps and holding penalties, UK hasn’t been making mistakes with the football. As UK’s OL plays better, UK keeps winning. Most criticisms are coming from people who are sounding off while missing this basic truth. But I think we will see the football in Lynn Bowden’s and Juice Johnson’s hands more often.

    7:43 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    Weaksauce article! Pppffffeewww Sunshine pumping horse 💩

  12. east-ky-boy
    8:30 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    Eddie gran is so vanilla and conservative, I bet he wears khakis and a cardigan when he’s at home while drinking ovaltin and watching pbs while petting a oversized house cat!

    • Collie
      11:52 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      In the school yard two completions were a first down. Nine times out of ten it’s the same in the sec. Get the ball in your playmakers hands quick “Bowden” play loose . The game is not as hard as they seem to play it.there is no reward without risk in football on offense or defense. Play f’n ball!

    • TBW3011
      10:01 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

      It’s not Gran. It’s the head coach. Check out Gran’s offense at his other stops.

  13. 3dcatfan
    10:55 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    So we’re at great risk when we throw the ball??? We might get sacked… Good grief Stoops I mean Nick! The best way to take away as much time as possible is to get a 1st down! It’s no harder to be aggressive if it’s 1st & 10 or 2nd & 19 unless you just convince yourself it is. You can call the same pass play down field in either circumstance. Why is it difficult to “open” the playbook after a penalty? Who said you had to “open” the playbook? Just run a normal pass play and try to chip away for a 1st down. Are you trying to suck up to the coaches or do you really believe this nonsense, Nick?

    • Collie
      11:43 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      Exactly, just play fooball. School yard football, everybody get open. We now have the talent to play that way. That’s what I see other teams doing. Other teams look so fluid where we seem so mechanic. Just play, it’s just a game.

    • Collie
      11:55 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

      In the school yard two completions were a first down. Nine times out of ten it’s the same in the sec. Get the ball in your playmakers hands quick “Bowden” play loose . The game is not as hard as they seem to play it.there is no reward without risk in football on offense or defense. Play f’n ball!

  14. 3dcatfan
    11:11 pm October 10, 2017 Permalink

    Ok Nick you named 1 series that back up your argument. What about getting the ball around midfield twice against Florida and running 3 straight times? What about taking the ball out of the hands of your returning QB against a team you haven’t beat in 147 yrs? Your article lacks context.

  15. whager
    2:24 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

    Speaking of grammar: has run …never has ran.

  16. KYChris
    7:16 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

    Great, article. I believe, as you stated, that it took the staff time to realize we have to play a different style due to O-line issues and the fact Boom leaving took away that 1-2 punch.
    This team is 5-1 and a couple defensive miscues from being 6-0.
    This bye week will allow for deeper evaluation and the mistakes to be worked on and ultimately corrected. This team is tough on itself and they’ll figure it all out.
    Go Cats!

  17. GoatHunter71
    8:19 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

    IMO, I get that mistakes can scare away some play calls and put you in some “conservative” situations like the one mentioned at the end of the first half. The biggest one I see tho is the entire 2nd half pretty much against Florida. Plenty of opportunity to step onb their throats and they took the air out of the ball. Playing not to lose is what has killed Kentucky for years since the Mumme days. If he makes a mistak, then atleast we are not here still wondering “what if”.

    • CatFaninNC
      8:55 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

      This. Context driven analysis is what this is. The second half against Florida totally pissed me off. Up 13 and you start playing not to lose. The conservative play calling cost us the game and there is really no pretty spin you can put on it. The last drive when we were down 1, we played completely differently than the previous drives that cost us the game. And we still had a chance to win it without the penalty. Too little, too late. We should be 6-0 and “in my opinion” the play calling has caused a few of these games to be closer than they should have been. They need to be playing like they they’re behind all the time, because if they don’t, they’ve proven that they can certainly be behind.

      I’m happy to see that the wildcat has been curtailed to a great degree and there has been more options used out of it, that shows at least a willingness to adjust based off what’s working, but they have to STOP playing not to lose when they have a lead in the 3rd and 4th quarters.

    • 3dcatfan
      9:02 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

      You’ll notice he doesn’t mention all the other times in which we weren’t “behind the chains” and still played very conservatively. How bout 2nd half Florida for context Nick? Explain that one to us! I wish KSR would get better writers that actually give good insight on football….

    • TBW3011
      10:03 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

      Yes. Like on first down. The behind the chains argument is silly.

    • Nick Roush
      10:45 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

      The biggest beef I had in the second half vs. Florida is mentioned at the end: After Darius West’s interception they did not immediately go for the throat.

  18. Waterview1
    9:18 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

    “To my recollection, UK has ran that play, but only once or twice and neither were to Bowden.”

    Good article….BUT YOU HAVE TO STOP THIS!!!!

  19. Jayy
    9:34 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

    Fussing about Offensive Play calling is the worst. The only play I am mad about is the delay of game vs FLA on 1st and 5 from the goal line. Now don’t get me started on Defensive play calling. Leaving WR’s uncovered twice. Giving up another TD to a team with less than 1 min left in the first half. The total disorganization subbing players in and out on defense.

  20. catsby90.1
    9:47 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

    You can still throw the ball and burn clock. Getting first downs burns the clock and ultimately gets you in field goal range. And when you do that like we did against Missouri don’t settle for a field goal on the 1 yard line. That’s the most conservative play that I’ve seen all year. Stop with the wildcat unless it’s we expand the plays we run in it. Everyone is catching on. There’s some context for ya.

  21. Nick Roush
    10:39 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

    Here’s a fun analogy I could (and probably should have) included:

    If Kentucky is playing Louisville in basketball and the Cards are on a 7-0 run, UK can take a quick three, regain momentum and end the run. But, a miss only fuels the fire and extends UofL’s drive. It’s a great risk for a reward that you can also get by being conservative to get a shot near the rim.

    That’s applicable to the first point. If you’re stuck behind the chains, you can get way ahead by taking a chance, but at great risk. Taking a risk every once in a while is a good idea, but if you do it all the time you’ll create a monstrous fire that’s out of control.

    • catsby90.1
      10:50 am October 11, 2017 Permalink

      Depends on percentages throughout the game in my opinion. If the short passing game has been effective all game, then take the risk. Plus, with an athlete like Bowden, we can make conservative plays work, as we all saw against Missouri.

    1:21 pm October 11, 2017 Permalink

    This sunshine pumping BS article is still on the website after it just got molested and abused by all the readers who know football it seems way better this this dude! Weaksauce article!