Over his five years at Kentucky, warranted or not, Eddie Gran has been one of the polarizing figures in the program. Not because of anything he’s said or done, but because a lot of fans don’t agree with his type of playcalling. No coach is immune to that. Regardless of what you think of Gran, you can’t deny his success at Kentucky. The biggest part of his success has been the ability to find an offensive identity each and every season. From Benny Snell grinding out a defense and letting Stephen Johnson make the heroic plays, to letting Lynn Bowden run wild on opposing defense, Eddie Gran always has a certain ‘go-to’. Through the first three games this season, Gran struggled to find that go-to, to find an identity, but after Kentucky’s 34-7 victory against Tennessee, Eddie Gran may have found his go-to in the second half.
That go-to is Chris Rodriguez.
In the first half, Gran tried out the AJ Rose experience again, but after only getting 22 yards on ten carries, it was evident he shouldn’t be a feature back. Now, don’t get me wrong, from a fan’s perspective you’d be crazy to think there’s not a place for AJ Rose in this offense, but the biggest takeaway from Saturday is Chris Rodriguez is that dude in the backfield. It’s trendy to call him ‘mini-Benny’, but he’s earned that with his running style and the ability to wear down a defense. On 13 carriers yesterday, Rodriguez rushed for 75 yards and a touchdown averaging over five yards a carry.
In the first half, Kentucky’s drive chart went: punt, fumble, punt, field goal, punt.
On those five drives, Rodriguez touched the ball only three times, once on 2nd & 11.
When Kentucky’s offense came out on the field for the first time after halftime, the defense had just forced a three and out, and Kentucky would lead a death march of a drive going 76 yards in 11 plays to extend their lead to three possessions. On that drive, Rodriguez toted the rock five times for 36 yards, extending the drive on a 3rd & 1 en route to Kentucky’s first offensive touchdown in four quarters.
Two drives later, Rodriguez got the ball five times and gashed the Tennessee defense for 30 yards, capping it off with a touchdown to put the dagger in Vol Nation, solidifying himself as the lead back in the offense.
This is the deepest running back I room I can ever remember at Kentucky. When Kavosiey Smoke gets back into the fold Kentucky will have 4-5 running backs who can all bring something to the table, but from where I’m sitting, Chris Rodriguez is now the go-to guy for this offense. If Rodriguez can consistently wear down a defense as he did on Saturday, that leaves room for AJ Rose and Kavoisey Smoke to hit their home runs once or twice a game, reminiscent of what Benny and Boom did in 2016. Throw that rushing attack in with a successful short passing attack that worked yesterday, and Terry Wilison’s rushing ability, this team can grind out some victories, as long as they’re not behind the chains.
Chris Rodriguez is this offense’s new go-to, and now that Kentucky finally has an identity, I fully expect this offense to get moving in the right direction.