It was a cold, windy morning, but it didn’t keep a couple hundred fans from the Tim Couch Practice Fields to watch Shannon Dawson’s offense put on a show. There wasn’t a better way to start an Elite 8 day. Here’s a rundown of today’s offensive awesomeness.
1. The running game works, with a little misdirection
Shannon Dawson’s running game looks completely different than Neal Brown’s, and it’s not because Jacob Hyde is lining up at fullback. Today was filled with big plays from all three backs, getting into open space easier than ever before. It wasn’t because the line was blocking better or the backs were running faster; they were successful because of the scheme.
Neal Brown believed too much in the old-fashioned lead play. If the offensive line didn’t drive their man out of the hole, the play was dead in the water. When Dawson ran the drive-block plays early in practice, they weren’t very successful either. Today’s big plays came out of misdirection in the shotgun, using fake screen passes and pulling guards to bait the defense before the running back found a huge hole to bust through.
A little rundown of the best runs of the day…. Jojo’s cutback near the end of practice was good for 60+ yards or so, outdoing his big 30 yeard touchdown run from earlier. Mikel Horton was the first to make an eye-opening play today, nearly running an 80-yard touchdown before getting caught inside the 10-yard line. Boom brought as many Booms as usual, but his most surprising was a wheel route down the sideline for 60+ yards.
Simply put, they’re a lot more fun to watch make moves when in open space.
2. Patrick Towles is confident
Towles’ role is a bit different this year, commanding total control of the offense when it comes to communicating the plays. It’s helped them move much faster and I believe it’s made him more aware. When the defense tried to throw him off guard with the blitz, he countered by getting it out of his hand quickly, or changing the snap count to draw the defense offsides.
The deep ball wasn’t executed too well today, but I can let it slide considering it was their first big scrimmage of the year (and the cold weather had guys a step slower). What Pat had going for him was the 10-18 yard pass, hitting deep outs, comebacks, and squares routinely. Just when the defense thought they had a stop, he’d hit Garrett Johnson or CJ Conrad in the middle of the field for an easy first down.
His confidence is probably what’s most important. The defense was starting to get a little chummy, when Pat decided to tuck it and scramble. Not allowed to take him down, they shoved him out of bounds. He still won that round, “That was a first down,” Pat said.
3. Even in a scrimmage, Stoops wasn’t letting the Refs off easy
Jeff Badet received some contact from Kendall Randolph on a fade route in the end zone. Randolph didn’t get his head around quickly, making it an easy pass interference call for both referees. Still, Stoops wasn’t satisfied, “That ball wasn’t catchable,” he pleaded. “The ball was under thrown five yards. Ain’t no way he’s making that catch. It’s not a flag.”
The man has his DB’s backs.
4. Red Zone Weapons
Let’s see if this scene sounds familiar. The Cats have let an SEC opponent get into the Red Zone, but have stuffed the run two plays in a row. Now third down, they can get out of there with a field goal if they can just get one more stop. The next play a 6’6″ receiver makes an easy fade catch for a touchdown over Kentucky’s smaller cornerbacks.
This year WE GET TO TURN THE TABLES! Blake Bone could have played better today, but still had two easy touchdowns from inside the red zone. Another weapon we haven’t been used to in awhile is a great pass-catching tight end. C.J. Conrad is only six practices into his college career, but Sweet Jesus he’s going to make an impact on the field. He had two touchdown grabs off play-action rollouts that appeared effortless. The only time I saw him drop a ball was after four people hit him in the middle of the field (it hurt me he got so many times).
5. Jeff Badet is faster than you
I never realized how fast Jeff Badet was until watching a practice a few weeks. Today, he surprised me yet again. Someone around the team was telling me, “I didn’t think he could get faster, but after injury he somehow got faster.”
His route-running is exceptional as well and will help him make a push to start at outside receiver. I also appreciated his improvisation, diving for a nice catch after the ball was tipped at the line of scrimmage.
6. A little something, something on the defense
I decided not to say much about the defense because their butts were thoroughly handed to them after a solid start. But it’s still worth mentioning Ryan Flannigan’s improvement. He’s thinking less, helping him react quicker. I was unsure if he’d be a suitable Will linebacker, but his play today proved me wrong.
Here’s how the starting front seven looked, from left to right: C.J. Johnson, Melvin Lewis and Farrington Huguenin. At linebacker: Denzil Ware, Josh Forrest, Ryan Flannigan and Jason Hatcher. The secondary is pretty fluid, but A.J. Stamps, Blake McClain and Kendall Randolph will all play big roles.