Let me just say I’m a fan of Kentucky’s eight-man punt return for several reasons.
Is it unconventional? Yes. Very much so. But Bill Walsh was unconventional when he introduced the West Coast offense. And then he won three Super Bowls.
Let me explain:
First and foremost, it gives three players a much-needed rest in the closing minutes of a tight ballgame. By using only eight guys on the return — as opposed to the 11 traditionally used on, you know, every play in a football game — it allows three additional men to catch a breather and a swig of water on the sideline. That can be the difference in an extra burst of speed or effort, or cramp prevention, later in the game. Stoops was simply looking out for his team and planning ahead.
Second, it tells Auburn they’re weak. It sends a message of superiority and dominance. Playing outmanned says, “We don’t need 11-on-11, we’re fine with the eight we have right here. Kick that thing, bitch.” I imagine that’s what was running through Stoops’ mind at the time.
And then there’s the confusion aspect. Auburn players are looking at each other, wondering why Kentucky has only eight men on the field. They’re fluster. Discombobulated. Now they’re vulnerable to attack. While it’s a ballsy call by Stoops, it’s an aggressive one. Mindf*** the opponent and then pounce when they’re on their heels.
Unfortunately, Kentucky did not field the punt. Not this time, at least. But I don’t think it’s the last time we see Stoops new octareturn.
Change the game!
(But seriously, what were they doing?!)