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Freddie’s Take: Shannon Dawson’s Tenure

(Photo: Darrell Bird, 247Sports)

For one season, Shannon Dawson directed a Kentucky offense that had sufficient skill player talent but lacked the offensive line to establish a resemblance of offensive identity. Predictability was commonplace as 1st and 10 resulted in too many 2nd and longs. Along with predictability, Dawson’s offensive Achilles heel was loss-of-yardage plays. Kentucky allowed 30 QB sacks and 84 tackles for loss. With those two numbers, sustained drives and momentum were all but an impossibility.

Last season wasn’t all bad for Dawson. He called a near-perfect half against South Carolina and his unit racked up nearly 500 yards vs. Auburn. Following the Thursday night loss to the Tigers, his group displayed a violent downward trajectory. Down the stretch, Dawson’s offense was just plain hard to watch. Starting in Starkville and running through the Governor’s Cup second half, the BBN lost faith that non-Charlotte touchdowns were on the horizon.

Question now is will Mark Stoops hire another “Air Raid” disciple or will he go in a different direction and hire a pro-style play caller that better fits his desire for balance and clock management? Is Stoops more interested in managing field position than quick strike scores?

I stand by my statement that Neal Brown is a Top 20 offensive mind in college football. Years of production and points scored support that theory. I worried that his replacement wouldn’t build upon the groundwork that Brown had left at the Nutter Center. Let’s take a look at a Dawson-Brown comparison:

Dawson’s offensive output compared to Neal Brown

Neal Brown 2014

Total Offense: 384.3 yards per game

Rushing Offense: 153.17

Passing Offense: 231.2

Points per game: 29.2


Shannon Dawson 2015

Total Offense: 372 yards per game

Rushing Offense: 162.67

Passing Offense: 209.3

Points per game: 24.7

Numbers indicate a decrease in scoring, passing, and total yardage per game. Year three offensive digression was not a good look for the Stoops’ regime. Argument can be made that changing a coordinator after one year is counterproductive. But 2016 is not a normal year. UK Football has painted itself into a corner. The Wildcat’s backs are against the proverbial wall.

Two factors will describe Mark Stoops’ tenure in Lexington. The first is the success or failure of the 2014 recruiting class. The second is his pending offensive coordinator hire.

Being in the minority on this opinion, I feel the Air Raid has run its course in the SEC. While its inventor, Hal Mumme had vast success, modern-day defenses have figured it out. Air Raid evolutions such as the pistol formation has taken its place. Gimmicks are fun to watch, when they work. SEC defenses are too fast and athletic to consistently trick into gaining offensive advantage.

In 2015/16, offensive balance has supplanted Run and Shoot variations. Kentucky does not have offensive linemen on its roster to sustain blocks to become a straight ahead ground pounding team. However, Kentucky currently possesses skill players that surround a young quarterback to take the strain off Drew Barker’s shoulders to execute a well-rounded, balanced attack.

So where does Mark Stoops go from here? His new offensive coordinator’s style will be the first indication of not only what type of offense he intends to use, but also a gauge of his personnel. The new offensive leader will paint the picture of a Mark Stoops-led football team. I’m not certain Stoops was ever comfortable with an all-out rapid tempo passing attack.

Argument could be made that a more traditional offensive scheme would have secured the 2015 Wildcats a bowl game. For example, two first-and-goals against Vanderbilt totaled zero points. A simplistic power approach could have netted at least one score that would have sealed the UK victory. After going up 24-7 against Louisville in the Governor’s Cup, a contemporary approach could have produced more than two second half first downs which would prevented the Cardinals sufficient time to mount a 31-0 scoring run that cost UK the football game.

With more coaching turnover than I can remember, now is the time to secure the right fit that matches Mark Stoops’ vision for his football program. But, quality offensive coordinators come at a steep price. Will a proven coach take a chance on the Cats after seeing Shannon Dawson shown the door after one year? Conversely, with a talented yet underachieving group of skilled players, a coach may see a promising opportunity. Regardless, for Mark Stoops to succeed, the new offensive coordinator has to be his last offensive coordinator. The Bill Curry era proved that a coordinator revolving door is a precursor to unemployment. Let’s hope he gets this one right. 

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

41 Comments for Freddie’s Take: Shannon Dawson’s Tenure

  1. Mathlete
    2:25 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Freddie nailed this post. Running the air raid offense in the SEC is like running the Tampa-2 defense in the Big XII (or really just about anywhere at this point). It just doesn’t match up well with the capabilities of the opposition and it’s been decoded to the point that it’s not hard to beat anymore.

    Stoops wants to be an offense-controls-the-clock, defense-wins-championships kind of team. Anybody in the Air Raid tree isn’t going to be a philosophical match with what he’s looking for, and the results will be the same mixed bag (at best) we’ve had over the last 2 years. Stoops needs someone on the same page or this whole experience is going down in flames.

    • BluKudzu
      3:57 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      I think Freddie hit it on a couple of points. I also think this is just a minor step towards turning around a football team, that due to inefficiencies, on special teams and defense, had to score 30-35 points per game, just to have a chance to be competitive. The new hire of an offensive coordinator, will not get UK over the hump to 6 wins. it will help, but it is far from the fix.
      Make no mistake, I was not a Shannon Dawson fan, and the zero points at first and goal at Vandy, sealed it for me. That was all I needed to confirm he was not “the guy” going forward. Having said that, the opportunity for fielding a better product, will be done with a change in defense. If that means a change in schemes, or coordinators, or both, please, make it happen. We will never win more than two games in the SEC, playing defense as atrocious as we have done for the last 3 years.
      Further, special teams. There were so many breakdowns all season long. Stoops can defend his 8 guys on the field as having no impact, but it did happen. What else happened, is the opponents returns for touchdowns. Even the best may give up one or two a year, but multiples in a single game are totally inexcusable. Special teams gave up significant yardage too often, and gave up too many scores.
      This is a first step, but I hope there are more significant changes coming. This change is not the answer, it is just a piece of it.

    • UK Big Board Update
      4:14 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      BluKudzu December 17, 2015 at 9:04 am | Permalink
      Like It (0)

      Obviously bowing down and listening to redneck fans that know zero about football, should tell you a lot about the skill sets of this coach and his staff.

    • BluKudzu
      7:24 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      @UKBBU – Don’t try to drag me into the troll business. If you have the time to post only a portion of what I wrote, and in doing so, making it completely out of context, take the time to post the entire stream. Include the comment you contributed as well.
      Thank you in advance.
      Merry Christmas.

    • UK Big Board Update
      12:46 am December 18, 2015 Permalink

      No, its in perfectly understandable context. 😉

  2. kentuckyrld
    2:31 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Freddie’s points are no doubt correct, but the fundamental problem with this team will not be fixed by replacing the coordinators. The head coach is the problem and the sooner he is replaced the better.

    • Catsby80
      3:08 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      you post a lot of nonsense on here… a lot of nonsense that has zero merit.

    • inside info2
      3:22 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      I’m sure Catsby80 was all in on Joker too.

    • Catsby80
      3:45 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Oh yeah.. I really loved those 2-10 seasons. You idiots that think turning a perennial losing football program into a successful one can happen overnight need to go cheer for Alabama. Think about it, we are the northernmost school in the conference, we have zero tradition, and we are labeled as a basketball school… etc. It takes time to overcome all of those things.

      If we run Mark Stoops out of here, who the hell would come coach here? You all have zero clue.

    • UK Big Board Update
      4:09 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      After years of Sugar Bowl victories and Heisman winners, inside info2 demands excellence from our football program.

      I say hire Bill Belichick. He’s just waiting on the call…. If not, well, fire Mitch. 😉

    • Kat 308
      4:56 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Yay another offense for our guys to learn

    • The Professor
      5:09 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Ky simply does not have the level of in-state high school to sustain a top level program. A couple of years ago I looked at the list of FBS signees on signing day in Georgia and there were over 60. That year in Kentucky there were 8. Those were split among UK, UL, WKU and a couple of out of state schools. How many schools have top level football programs without an excellent in-state recruiting base? Notre Dame, Oregon (but they have NIKE) and who else? It is not impossible but improbable.

  3. CatFan26
    2:39 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Are there any names already being talked about as possible replacements?

    • fatbrat
      3:21 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Randy Sanders is one of the best QB coaches in the nation..LoL.. Dawson never had a real chance here. This being Stoops 3rd year and with all the expectations surrounding the program., There probably wasn’t a tougher OC job in the country. Who ever we get will need to be able to coach up the QB’s.

  4. dean winchester
    2:39 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Spot on Freddie. Old tape of Couch shows a ton of checkdowns to rbs and bubble screens that worked bc linebackers/de xoukd not cover fast enough….it was using athleticism to defeat strength. Matchups basically. Check downs to a rb dont have nearly the effect on a defense it did when Mumme was here. Look at how many times Couch threw to AWhite or D homer. Linebackers werent running 4.5s like they do now. The matchups are no longer a distinct disadvantage for most defenses because athletic defenses are everywhere now.

    • Sentient Third Eye
      3:35 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Tim Couch and Hal Mumme are the reasons SEC defenses have so much speed at linebacker now. They adapted late in the Mumme era to be able to defend the original Kentucky Air Raid.

    • Stopover
      11:28 am December 18, 2015 Permalink

      Ha-ha…. Mumme and Couch is the cause of linebacker speed….ha-ha. Will wonders never cease with our fan base?

  5. CatFan26
    2:41 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Hey Freddie, who are some of the OC’s out there you believe would be a good fit for this UK team?

  6. Beauregard Ulysses
    2:58 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Any of these names being talked about? Notables that might be interested in an SEC vacancy

    Eddie Gran, Cincinnati
    Tyson Helton, WKU
    Bryant Vincent, South Alabama

    • UKinIN
      3:29 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Doesn’t Brohm call the plays at WKU?

  7. abgunz
    2:59 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Maggard needs to host a UK Football podcast.

  8. secrick
    3:30 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Isn’t Randy Sanders doing a good job at Tenn? It’s not the coaches it’s Ky.Not sure why.

    • Sentient Third Eye
      3:36 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Because even the best jockey can’t win if he doesn’t have the horse to compete.

    • fatbrat
      3:43 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Sanders is at Florida State and he has national championship rings from both UTK and FSU. I guess he is doing pretty well.

  9. fatbrat
    3:40 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    What about the Memphis OC Darrell Dickey? I thought Memphis had a sweet offense. I hope that Stoops doesn’t wait six months before he hires one. I think that special teams may be another area to take a long look at.

  10. Piedma Schwartz
    4:09 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    why would anybody worthwhile want to come be the OC when this could be Stoop’s last year (and therefore the OC’s only year)?

    • Angelo
      1:55 am December 18, 2015 Permalink

      Good question, unfortunately. Another question. Was our offense worse than our defense?

  11. tippytoe
    4:13 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Hiring a new OC is probably the right move, but defense wins in the SEC. And Stoops needs to look in the mirror and figure out how to improve and preferably take over the defense. Keep Eliot if he must, but only as a consultant.
    It’s embarrassing what happens when we go up against a running quarterback!

  12. wickedgood
    4:16 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    I Believe dave nichol from ECU will be ky wildcats offensive cord just guessing HE worked at texas tech .baylor, arizona st, ecu has done a great job moving from many COLLEGE TEAMS and taking a better job from wr coach to off cord

  13. wickedgood
    4:41 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    i wish matt jones would come back i was listening to matt and rob gidel when they started. Matt made a terrible mistake sticking obama down our throat on ksr & it blowed up in his face.
    now he stays away from ksr on the internet doing just the radio while only using certain people calling into him and he also band me from his twitter many years ago because he was wrong about obama. i would still love him to be on the internet and he is welcome to keep me banned from his twitter . Because he was very excellent keeping us connected to the wildcats football and womens bb and baseball while espn keeps the cats bb flying

  14. katmancsm
    4:59 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Yes we need an OC. We also need a Special Teams Coach. All of that won’t matter unless we continue to recruit athletes that can compete in the SEC. As stated above, we cannot stop a dual threat QB. Our problems continue to be a lack of elite players. We always have 3 or 4 on both sides of the ball. Our SEC opponents have 8 or 9. Cal wouldn’t make Final Fours with 3 and 4 star players. Stoops won’t see the Promised Land without matching our opponents talent.

  15. sportspot
    5:23 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    No suggestions for the new OC, but he must be someone who can enable KY to put up at least 40 points per game because as long as Elliott and Stoops are running our defense, we are going to give up 4 – 6 touchdowns per game. That is unless we are facing a running quarterback and then the opponent can score at will. Perhaps, Stoops should consult YouTube for defensive schemes.

    • UK Big Board Update
      5:35 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      Wow….. Just, wow…………

  16. wickedgood
    5:50 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    i want to think the professor for knowing very little about anything of sports but his typing ability and also must be living with his parents

    • Beauregard Ulysses
      6:53 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

      I’m with you WickedGood. TheProfessor probably don’t understand anything about of sports or jus’ how real the struggle is when you tryin’ to type and spell and stuff to get your comment posted while dealing with spotty dial up cause you’re stealing internet off them sumbitches in the singlewide next door and you’re afraid your Mt Dew Code Red is going to get warm if you don’t git your comment done fast ’nuff. I hope his feelings is hurt good and I got your back anytime. Gotta go. My pointer fingers is gettin’ tired after all that typin’

  17. Smyrna_Cat
    6:04 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    When my wife (a big UT fan) and I would watch the games, I would tell her, “in this situation we typically do this” … and the we would run that play. I would then say, “now, we typically do this” … and we would run that play. I understand we didn’t have a good offensive line, but this was the most predictable offense I have ever seen. Why would you tell Towles not to run? And RUN! Don’t jog forward and slide on your butt two yards short of a first down! How many good QBs in the SEC can run the ball? Answer … almost all of them. I think it was a good decision to replace Dawson. If you don’t have a power Alabama offense, you have to keep the other team off balance with your play-calling. Not only did or offensive play-calling not help us win, and almost guaranteed we weren’t going to win.

    This was a good call by Stoops … now get the best OC we can, pay him incredible well, and get out of the way. Focus on D and special teams. Do that, and you will win the fan base back.

  18. CATandMONKEY
    6:24 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    …and penalties. Shows lack of discipline and no accountability. “You negate a 27 yard gain AND bring us back 15, because you were hit? OK, sit for two quarters.”

    Was willing to give Dawson another year but with the right hire, who tailors his scheme to the personnel on the field (not who we wish we had) we might be able to generate enough offense to keep us competitive. Special teams needs an overhaul too.

  19. roundball fool
    7:54 pm December 17, 2015 Permalink

    Nice post mortem Freddie. I think Coach Stoops had to make some kind of “big” change. I’m not sure if this is enough but it might give hope for a better “next year”?

    As has been pointed out, there were problems on both sides of the ball. I’d like to see the same sort of comparison – 2014 vs 2015, comparing our defensive effectiveness.

    Go Big Blue!

  20. Buddy Love
    9:52 am December 18, 2015 Permalink

    Freddie saying Neal Brown is a top 20 Offensive Coordinator is a joke.

  21. kbsport
    12:32 pm December 19, 2015 Permalink

    Our Offense reflected the personality of Dawson, (lethargic and unaccountable). The under use of the Tight End was completely inexcusable. How does an SEC Team hire a Coordinator who has never called any plays ?? This could only happen at KY, and the Athletics Director should be somewhat accountable, but speaking of over-rated. It is also very bothersome to hear Stoops harp on “Balance”, which part of being “stuffed” on goal line play after play does one think about the definition of “insanity”.

    Living in Nashville I watched James Franklin out scheme is competition, maximize his talent, minimize his weakness, never tried to play “balanced” and he won NINE games back to back in a short 3 year period. Re-read that last sentence; and dont be a UT Ignoramous, “the SEC was down”, if so it was cause Vandy beat them down! He ran multiple trick plays every game, Multiple Blitzing Packages, his players played with confidence and enthusiasm. If it can happen at VAndy, it can happen HERE!! We need to play on the edges, not Jeff Fisher Ball up the middle on 1st and 10.