Through three quarters on Saturday night, Kentucky dominated the football game. The Wildcats owned an 11-point lead heading into the final quarter and if it wasn’t for some ball security issues, they might have pitched a shutout. The offense was rolling, but the Wildcats needed to pickup a 4th-and-1 at the Florida 38 to move the chains and land a knockout punch.
Before we take a look at this unsuccessful play, we must take a peek back to last season. A.J. Rose received some short-yardage opportunities out of the wildcat formation and they didn’t have much success.
Fresh off a Penn State touchdown, Kentucky needed to move the chains to stem the momentum the Nittany Lions were building in the fourth quarter. On their first third down of the drive, they went with a wildcat formation look with A.J. Rose in the backfield. On the split zone, Rose does not allow his blocks to set up and runs right into the Mike linebacker at the line of scrimmage. Fast forward to last weekend and we saw more of the same.
On the most important offensive play of the game, Kentucky comes out in 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end, three receivers) with trips lined up in the field. Right before the snap, Sawyer Smith motions into the boundary while Florida’s free safety sneaks into the box to give the defense an eight-man look against an obvious running formation. What comes next is one of Kentucky’s biggest staple plays.
What differs split zone from inside zone the kickback block element. On split zone, the playside tight end/H-back/fullback will be responsible for the backside defensive end/outside linebacker in order to prevent a chase down tackle on a slow developing play and/or create an alley for a backside cut if the defense over pursues. That’s why you see Justin Rigg run out of the picture.
In theory, Drake Jackson will work on the nose with left guard Logan Stenberg on a double team and then climb onto the Mike linebacker while right guard Mason Wolfe handles playside defensive end/outside linebacker who runs a twist stunt on the snap with the defensive tackle.
If Kentucky does all of that, there’s a great chance that this play turns into a touchdown. However, Florida nose tackle and former UK recruiting target makes a great move Tedarrell Slaton on the stunt call by Todd Grantham.
Slaton is lined as a shaded nose in between Drake Jackson and Mason Wolfe in the playside A gap. Before the snap, Jackson is thinking he’s going to have a one-on-one block with Logan Stenberg coming down to help. This will allow A.J. Rose to sneak right in behind the two for the first down. However, Slaton pulls out a great inside swim move and jumps from one A gap to the other. This catches Jackson off guard and off balance. That means it is Rose vs. Mike linebacker David Reese for all the marbles since the double team has now been neutralized.
Instead of taking his time and waiting on the blocks to develop, A.J. Rose decides to plow straight forward to pick up the yards to gain. That may work if you’re a 240-pound power back, but that is not Rose. There are not many backs in the country that are going to win that matchup with David Reese in the hole and the result ends up being a fourth down stop. If Rose hesitates and use a jump cut into the B gap (between the guard and tackle), he may have been off to the races if he could just slip one tackle.
This was not a bad play call. The wildcat formation has worked well for Kentucky in the past and it’s clear that the head football coach loves to use it. He forced Shannon Dawson to run it in 2015 after two months of not using it. It’s been a staple since Eddie Gran arrived in Lexington and has been a very successful short-yardage option in the past. However, the running style of Rose gives UK a small chance to convert in these situations.
In the zone run game, vision is the most important attribute a running back can have. There is no assigned gap for this play to go through and that is important to remember. You are running a track and you have to adjust on the fly to take what the defense gives you. Despite the center being blown up, there was still an alley for Rose if he could’ve made just one man miss. Instead he tried to steamroll one of the best inside linebackers in college football.
You can bet that Kentucky is going over this play ad nauseam in their team meetings this week. This is the most used run play in Eddie Gran’s playbook and it is one the Wildcats must be able to go to no matter what the defense is doing on the other side. Outside of Drake Jackson, the play was actually blocked fairly well. The center lost his individual battle and the running back did not react quick enough to help move the chains.
The wildcat formation is not going anywhere and UK is still going to use it in short-yardage situations. Expect Drake Jackson to adjust and correct this mistake, but if Rose cannot start reading the play better it may be time to give Kavosiey Smoke or Christopher Rodriguez, Jr. a shot as the primary short-yardage back.