The source behind the struggles of Kentucky’s slow moving offense were firmly placed on the passing game. Whether you believed it was Terry Wilson’s fault or the wide receivers, something had to change after the offense accumulated only 157 yards in the victory over Mississippi State.
“It was a long week for us. (Wide receivers) Coach Bo (Bouknight) really got after them. He was embarrassed after the Mississippi State game, as we all were,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Tuesday.
If you take away Josh Ali’s two receptions on pop-passes, a glorified jet sweep run, the UK wideouts had just two receptions for five yards against the Bulldogs. Not only were they dropping passes, they weren’t blocking either.
“If you look at our perimeter blocking in this Tennessee game compared to the Mississippi State game, it was night and day. There was an urgency, there was a fight and there was technique,” said Gran. “That’s what we have to have every week.”
The sense of urgency was especially evident in the second half. After one deep Ali pass was overturned, he took a slant 16 yards down the field. Two plays later Allen Dailey had a 14-yard reception. The offense rolled down the field until Dailey reeled in his first touchdown of the season, a fade caught in the corner of the end zone.
“I can’t tell you how jacked up I was for him. Not only that, but for everybody on the sidelines. They’ve put in a lot of time and it was nice to see them be rewarded. He ran a great route. It was a great throw, great catch. Those are the contested catches that we’re going to have to make from here on and so to have somebody else out there that Terry feels comfortable with and you got Bryce (Oliver) back now, and I think all of those guys feel, not only a sense of urgency as we went into this, but we’re getting the ball out a little more.” Gran added, “I think we got a chance, I really do.”
Searching for a second option at wide receiver, Dailey appears to have filled that void while Oliver slowly returns from a hamstring injury. Dailey caught all three passes thrown his way for 25 yards and a score. The wide receivers accounted for 70 of the receiving output against Tennessee.
The Wildcats will not be a pass-first team in 2020. They do need the wide receivers to catch balls down the field to provide some offensive balance. Once that started to happen in the second half against Tennessee, the running lanes through the middle of the Tennessee defense grew exponentially. Gran described it as a “night and day difference” for his offense.
“The grind, grind, grind, then you try to get third down, grind, grind, grind. It’s good sometimes when it’s working. It’s not going to work all of the time, not in this league. When you get those first down chunks and you can get to second and two, you can throw it again. We got some good first down drive starters, made good decisions. It was good throw and catches and it just opens everything up and so it’s huge. It’s huge in what we do.”
The offense’s second half performance against Tennessee revealed how Kentucky can effectively move the ball against SEC opponents. The key is making sure that steady balance isn’t just available for one half.
“I think it’s consistency from the top to the bottom at every position. We need to stay consistent,” said Gran. “We’ve gotta put 60 minutes together. This first half, second half stuff, that’s gotta end now. That’ll be the big urgency for us is be more consistent, whether it’s throwing, catching, blocking, our technique and fundamentals, that’s what football is.”