There’s no denying the importance of the run game in the Governor’s Cup: 18 consecutive victors have also won the rushing battle. Keith Wynne of the Card Chronicle has a stat about the UK running backs that is vomit inducing: all of UK’s running backs average 5* yards per carry, but none average more than 7 touches a game, compared to 14 rushes per game from Patrick Towles. (*Jojo Kemp is actually just shy of 5 at 4.7)
That’s even more aggravating when you think back to the pre-season talks of Kentucky’s stable of running backs. Wynne’s scouting report is excellent, covering every position package as though it were his own team, however he blames the stat above to Neal Brown’s incompetence as a play-caller. I disagree. Here’s why:
1. Count out Jojo. I love the guy and wish he’d play as well as he did when he was the team’s leading rusher last year, but the dude hasn’t done much outside of one game. His Wildcat heroics vs. South Carolina will be remembered for a long time, but he has only been effective in that package.
2. True freshmen. I cannot blame Brown for being hesitant to feed them the ball at the beginning of the year. Halfway through the season, Brown entered the Mississippi State game with wrinkles, packages and plays set to get Mikel Horton more touches. On his first snap, he fumbled the ball. The coaches admitted afterward they shouldn’t have strayed away because of one mistake, but I would have probably done the same. Boom Williams has been the biggest Boom for the offense, but a concussion and a suspension have kept his carries to a minimum.
3. Getting Towles in his groove. After Towles’ feet nearly ran the Cats to a victory over #1, we learned that Pat likes getting hit early. He can get a little anxious in the pocket with happy feet, but when he can take a hit early on a QB draw, it settles him down. That’s why they’ve started most of their games with a draw in recent weeks.
4. The offensive line. Herein lies the source of the problem. The interior offensive line has been flat-out bullied in the latter part of the SEC schedule. The sad truth is that a stalemate at the line of scrimmage has been considered a victory. Watching pulling guards try to open up holes inside for Boom and Braylon has ONLY been frustrating. What’s happened is that Brown is using the defense’s penetration as their weakness. With Towles deep in the shotgun, he has sat back and watched the DLine penetrate before finding the gap on the DLine and taking it up the field. It’s been a “not too bad” alternative, but it likes like dogpoop on paper. You would think they could do something similar with a hand-off to the running back – using zone blocking out of the full house formation with Boom as the deep back – but the holes just haven’t opened up inside the tackles.
Wynne’s stat points our the frustration of the run game this season, never finding a groove but continually beating our head against a table to try to get something started. Today they’ll try to get the run game going against the nation’s #3 rush defense. If the Cats can earn yards against these guys, they deserve a shot to win.