For the first time in who knows how long, the Kentucky Wildcats dominated an SEC opponent in all facets of the game… in football. It was fun, it was exciting, and it essentially secured a spot for UK in post-season play. The atmosphere around Lexington is electric right now, and for once it’s not just because of the basketball team. UK now has a solid football team, and it’s a beautiful sight.
Most of the attention has been on the duo of Boom Williams and Benny Snell, where they managed to combine for 377 yards and three touchdowns in the 35-21 victory against Missouri, and rightfully so. They’ve been unbelievable, and have put up record-breaking numbers. That being said, not enough credit is going to the group that’s making it all happen: the guys up front.
Against Missouri, the entire cast of SEC Network commentators analyzing the game claimed UK had one of the top offensive line units in the SEC, with one saying the group was the fourth best in the conference. It was an immediate “tweetable” moment, as we aren’t used to hearing such high praise for a unit that has struggled for so many years.
At the time, Kentucky’s impressive stable of running backs was dominating against Missouri, so it was easy to buy into the hype without thinking much about it. After the game, however, the statistics proved that though the commentators’ praise was nice, they actually may not have given the unit enough credit. UK’s offensive line is actually ranked among the best in the entire nation.
TJ Beisner tweeted this gem today, highlighting John Schlarman’s dominant unit compared to others in the nation.
Football Outsiders' "Adjusted Line Yards" stat rates UK's offensive line as fifth-best in college football this season.
— TJ Beisner (@Beisner_cn2) November 1, 2016
Per Football Outsiders, UK’s OL ranks as the 5th best in the country in adjusted line yards, 3rd in power success rate (“percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown”), 9th in standard down line yards (“raw, unadjusted per-carry line yardage for a team on standard downs (first down, second-and-7 or fewer, third-and-4 or fewer, fourth-and-4 or fewer”)), and 18th in opportunity rate (“percentage of carries (when five yards are available) that gain at least five yards, i.e. the percentage of carries in which the line does its job, so to speak”). Not too shabby for a unit with just one senior on the two-deep depth chart.
On that note, let’s talk about the line’s youth. It’s unheard of for a team in the SEC to thrive on the offensive line with just one senior on the depth chart, yet they are making unbelievable plays to create holes for UK’s running backs and allow Stephen Johnson time in the pocket. Kentucky will be returning nine of ten offensive linemen on the two-deep of the depth chart next season, a ridiculous statistic for any team in the country, let alone an SEC team fighting for a shot at an SEC East title. Because of this, UK is now able to redshirt top talent on the line in future years, only building the group deeper and stronger. Guys like Drake Jackson and Tate Leavitt, four-star prospects coming into the program, are able to get the necessary time in the strength and conditioning program to build strength and cut fat, in addition to working with position coaches for an entire year to refine technique before stepping onto the field.
John Schlarman has been thrown under the bus since he got to UK for his group’s lack of success, but with some added talent, that narrative has completely turned around. The formula for success has finally been solved, and it seems it will stay that way in the near future.
Not only are they proving to be among the best in the nation in terms of success, they have become extremely disciplined as well. Penalties on the unit have nearly disappeared entirely, a complete 180 degree turnaround from last season. Last year, it seemed a flag was thrown on every other play for either a holding or false start infraction, forcing stalled drives and punts more often than not. Since the New Mexico State game back in September (11 penalties), Kentucky has averaged just 3.2 penalties per game as a team, with even fewer penalties coming from the offensive line alone. Silly penalties can immediately halt all momentum on offensive drives, and thankfully for us, they’re just not committing them anymore.
Boom Williams and Benny Snell are freak of nature athletes, and deserve all of the praise being handed to them. The offense’s success, however, wouldn’t be what it is without John Schlarman’s thriving line, and it’s time to give credit where credit is due.
Now if only one really popular offensive lineman right down the road decided to join in on the action.