If you did not see the score and just looked at the stats from Saturday’s game against Auburn, you probably would have thought Kentucky won.
The Wildcats had more passing yards, more rushing yards, more first downs, longer time of possession, fewer penalties and a better third down conversion percentage than Auburn, yet still lost the football game. That statistical anomaly has not happened in a loss since #19 Tennessee defeated UK in four overtimes in 2007.
“It makes you sick. It makes you ill,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of three turnovers that ultimately cost Kentucky the game.
“Coach Stoops always talks about this: In a 60, 70, 80-play game, you don’t know which one play will affect the outcome and we had about three, three to four that really could’ve changed it. That’s our point of emphasis this week is fundamentals and just do your job. We had a couple guys that tried to do their own thing instead of doing their own job and it affected the game.”
Veterans and underclassmen, the mistakes did not discriminate. In the first game of the season, Gran saw too many players trying to do too much.
“Some were from older guys and some were from younger guys, just stuff that was uncharacteristic. You get into a game like that and you just have to do your job. You don’t have to be a hero. You don’t have to do somebody else’s job, try to make a play. The plays will happen.”
Mark Stoops was critical of his pass-catchers during his Monday morning press conference. One of those receivers statistically played the best game of his career. Senior Josh Ali had nine catches for 98 yards, both career highs. It’s the most receiving yards against a top-10 opponent on the road since Chris Matthews’ game at Florida in 2010. When asked to evaluate his performance, Ali was his own harshest critic.
“I made a lot of mistakes,” said Ali. “It’s a couple plays that I could’ve made or I could’ve did differently that would have changed the game. Overall, as a first game I don’t think I did so bad, but I have a lot of things to work on for this next game.”
Watching the film from the Auburn game appears to have a ignited a fire inside this team. The Wildcats are angry, ready to right their week one wrongs against Ole Miss.
“We definitely were frustrated because I don’t think they beat us. I think we beat ourselves,” said Ali. “There’s a lot we have work on and that’s what we’re doing today and the rest of this week in practice. Honestly, I believe that we only beat ourselves. We have a great team right now. We’ll see.”
Grading the Big Blue Wall
Eddie Gran was happy to see the way UK’s offensive line started the season… for the most part. Drake Jackson flawlessly steered the ship through turbulent waters to provide exceptional pass protection for Terry Wilson. The unit uncharacteristically ran afoul in the run game.
“I didn’t like the way we came out in the second half. We had two three-and-outs and then our third series we went 11 plays and scored. That’s just too long. You can’t come out that way in the second half,” said Gran.
Gran’s Experience Coaching with Kiffin
Kentucky’s offensive coordinator cut his teeth coaching for Tommy Tuberville at Auburn. Gran really didn’t spread his wings until he coached alongside Lane Kiffin for one year at Tennessee.
“I had just gone 14 straight years with Coach Tuberville. It was one of the scariest times of my life, if you will. I left, I didn’t know anybody really well. Ed Orgeron I had coached with at Miami, so I really didn’t know anybody else, Jim Chaney a little bit. I didn’t know what to expect,” said Gran.
“His (Kiffin’s) organization, his play-calling ability, he’s really good. He’s one of the best I’ve ever been around. I coached with Bobby Petrino and Noel Mazzone and some really good coordinators and play-callers and he’s up there with the top two or three in the country. His mind is different. I learned a lot. It was good for me to get out of comfort zone and it was good for me to go out and learn. I learned a lot in a year. It really helped me in my maturation process as a football coach.”
Using the Tight Ends in Different Ways
Yes, Kentucky will be throwing the ball to the tight ends in 2020. It was evident by how many played and where they were used on the field.
Justin Rigg, Keaton Upshaw and Brendan Bates all received significant snaps at Auburn. At times it appeared as though 12 personnel (one running back, two tight ends) was UK’s base formation. Even though there were more tight ends on the field, UK was rarely in a “jumbo” look. Sometimes they were split out wide as receivers, other times they had their hand in the dirt in a traditional look, and they also were used as an H-back, essentially the modern-day equivalent of its almost extinct ancestor, the fullback.
“We tried to get the ball to those tight ends. They had seven targets in the game and it didn’t get to them. That could be due to coverage, the quarterback not seeing them and so they’re going to pinpointed,” Gran said. “They’re going to be guys that we’re going to throw to, but they didn’t get open or the coverage brought Terry somewhere else. You can spread people out in two tight ends and one tight end and sometimes that’s an advantage for us. When you see them out there like that (split out as a receiver), it’s usually because it’s what the defense is dictating for us.”
One person you may see split out quite often this Saturday is Upshaw, who will be wearing No. 22 to honor his roommate, Chris Oats.