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How UK’s Wide Receivers are Transitioning Back to a Balanced Offense

Jacob Noger | UK Athletics

Jacob Noger | UK Athletics

The success of Kentucky’s 2019 season fell on the shoulders of wide receiver Lynn Bowden. Many believed that entering the season but nobody thought it would be because of his ability to take snaps at quarterback. Eddie Gran proved he can adjust on the fly as an offensive coordinator. Now Kentucky’s offense is adjusting back to a balanced attack.

Once Bowden became Kentucky’s signal-caller against Arkansas, over the final eight games of the season UK completed only 38 passes, under five per game. Those numbers will obviously increase in 2020. By how much exactly, Gran isn’t quite willing to put a number on it.

“I think for sure that we want to develop the passing game,” Gran said last week.

“You just don’t want to have, like last year, we had 55 runs in a game and two passes. That’s not balance. We’re going to be able to, because our passing game is getting better, to mix it around a little bit more and keep people off balance in just a different manner than we did last year.”

Instead of zero quarterbacks, UK’s coaching staff is now confident they have three guys who can lead the offense, starting with Terry Wilson. The return of the Wildcats’ injured quarterback has put extra pep in Josh Ali’s step this preseason.

“It’s been great. We’ve been getting back in the rotation. His arms getting much stronger and we just — we’re getting our timing down right now,” Ali said last week. “I can’t wait till everything starts up.”

The last we saw of the UK wide receiver, he was catching the go-ahead touchdown from Bowden in the waning seconds of the Belk Bowl. On that final drive he also caught a spectacular fourth down pass near the turf that kept the game-winning drive alive. He carried that momentum into the offseason where he spent most of the summer rekindling his relationship with Wilson.

“We worked out with our individual groups and he was in my group so we threw a lot over the summer. It’s just throwing each other the ball, playing catch. It’s the timing — knowing when I’m going to come out of my routes, knowing what spots I’m going to be at, things like that,” said Ali.

In addition to timing, Ali has put an emphasis on improving his mechanics. New wide receivers coach Jovon Bouknight was brought in to harp on the little things to the talented, albeit underused position group.

“He’s really detailed with coaching, our routes and our assignments and everything,” said Ali. “That’s good because that builds perfection. That’s one thing he brought in with us. He’s just really passionate about everything and he’s a great coach.”

The passing game can only work if the quarterback has time to deliver the ball. The Big Blue Wall has developed into a behemoth as the best group of mauling run-blockers in the SEC. This year Kentucky’s offensive line must prove that they are just as good at protecting the passer.

“Obviously there was a little rust when we came back from not practicing for a couple months and last season not throwing the ball that much,” offensive guard Kenneth Horsey said on Tuesday, “but it’s all about Coach Schlarman harping on us to be able to be well-rounded, to be able to display that we are not just a running football team. We can run the ball, we can protect our quarterback, we can do it all.”

A theme for this Kentucky football team has developed in the preseason — prove it. These Wildcats have all of the tools to be one of the best in the league. Now it’s time to put the pieces together to show the world what they can do. It’s even more important for guys like Ali and Wilson who aspire to play on Sundays.

“It’s really important and it’s important for Terry too now that he’s back. This is my last year and I’m pretty sure he’s going to make this his last year,” said Ali. “Both of us want to go to the next level  and there’s some other guys that wanted to be there last year so it’s really important. Coach Gran has helped us. He’s thrown in a lot of pass plays for everybody to get open. I think it’s going to be great. I’m excited and I’m going to do the best I can and I’m going to work as hard as I can to get to that level.”

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR