A multitude of in-game errors can be blamed for Kentucky’s 2-4 start to the 2020 season. Looming larger over the entire team is the Wildcats’ passing problem. Ranking 97th nationally in passing yards per game, Kentucky has not thrown for more than 200 yards in a game since the season-opener against Auburn, three times failing to even surpass the century mark.
“We all know our passing game needs improvement. There’s no getting around that,” Mark Stoops said today.
Kentucky’s head coach has shared at length that the passing problems do not just fall on the quarterbacks’ shoulders. The pass catchers and pass protectors on the offensive line are also to blame. Instead of playing the blame game as they look back at the first six games of the season, Kentucky’s coaches are trying to find what worked well. Once they identify what went right, they’ll use those same plays in many different formations to try to confuse the defense, while keeping it simple for the quarterback.
“We’re trying to get five, six, seven concepts and maybe do them in different ways where the quarterbacks can grab onto and get better and improve,” said Stoops.
Which quarterback will take the offensive reins has yet to be determined. Terry Wilson returned to practice from injury, but Joey Gatewood’s performance against Georgia cannot truly speak to his talent. The Dawgs’ defense is so stout, he must be graded on a curve.
“If you look at just this past Saturday, none of us are happy with three points on the board. I was happy with certain drives against arguably the best defense in the country. They covered us up. They covered up some shots. We tried and tried to get the ball down the field. We didn’t get it done. We need to. Those are the type of teams that don’t give you anything easy. You have to fit it in a small window, give your receivers an opportunity to make a big play. It looks like they’re covered all the time but we have to anticipate and give them an opportunity once in a while.”
Quarterbacks have to take more chances. If the receivers can’t get open, offensive coordinator Eddie Gran is searching for ways to give them more space before he ball is even snapped.
“Obviously we’ve regressed. That can’t happen. We gotta go back and they looked really good today, much better. It’s a combination of things. Certainly it’s us; schematically, what can we do to put them in a position to be successful? Let’s give them some options that the quarterbacks like. We have to present and give them formations where we can create space for the wide receivers and we have to get open and make competitive catches as well. And we have to protect. It’s fair to say we’ve been such a physical team and such a good running team that we haven’t exactly protected the way I expect to as well. Maybe that comes with opportunity, and we gotta continue to work on that, and it all goes hand in hand.”
Until Kentucky’s coaches can create the right formula for passing success, there will be criticism. Stoops and Gran take responsibility for the problem, just as they’ll happily receive praise if they find a solution.
“It goes with the territory. Fair or not fair, it’s not for me to say because it is what it is. It’s never going to change. We understand that goes with the job. We accept some of that criticism and that responsibility. There’s no question. That’s on us,” Stoops said.
“I can promise you Eddie is a big boy. He’s coached in this league and has thick skin, has been around a long time. We’re disappointed but I can promise you nothing’s going to rattle him or me.”