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Ground and Pound: UK Offense Preview

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South Carolina v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images
South Carolina v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Kentucky is in the midst of an unprecedented run midway through thethe season. They are 5-1, tied at the top of the SEC East, and with six games left, they will be the favorite in five of them (Georgia is the other). Their only loss comes in OT against a top 20 Texas A&M team.

This success is built upon an elite defense and a run based offense that wears out defenses through dynamic line play and two home run hitters in the Benny Snell JR and QB, Terry Wilson. Take a look at Bud Elliot’s breakdown of several of UK’s running plays.

Kentucky reached offensive rank singularity by ranking 95th in both Total Offense and S&P+. They average 369 yards per game and 5.86 yards per play with 22 touchdowns. 223.5 yards per game and 16 TD’s come on the ground.

They are ranked 47th in time of possession behind the likes of such offensive luminaries like Michigan, Michigan State, Ohio State, Texas A&M (Jimbo is the slowest), the rest of the BIGTEN, all the service academies, and Georgia State. Meaning, most teams who shorten games with option play or because they have inferior talent, especially in the passing department.

Snell is 11th in the nation in total rushing. He has 699 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s been held under 100 yards twice in conference games: South Carolina (99) and TAMU (60). Snell was bottled up in the middle of the game, but also had four possessions where he received zero touches. Point is, even his worst conference games, he can get chunk runs of 11, 11, 10, and 9 in addition to getting the tough yards in the between the tackles.

Snell gets the ball on first and second down the most with 107 carries of his 128 total. It fits with Kentucky’s offensive strategy, stay ahead of the chains and own time of possession. They average 30 points per game, which is plenty for their defense to hold their opponents under. However, in conference, that average drops to 24.75. Average margin of victory against conference opponents is 10 points. It is essential for the Cats to gain a lead and bleed the clock via the ground. The more carries Snell gets, the greater chance he’ll break a long one. He has longs of 52, 44, 36, 23, and 22 this year.

South Carolina v Kentucky Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Wilson is primarily a running QB who facilitates the offense with the threat of run. When defense sell out to stop he or Snell, Wilson throws to either Lynn Bowden or CJ Conrad. Wilson is 75 of 113 for 703 yards (pppsstt that’s only 4 yards more than Snell has on the ground). His completion average is 66.4% and is averaging 6.22 yards per attempt. That’s not great, but it is effective enough to keep the offensive success rate up.

Wilson has only 3 TD’s to his 5 INTs. The picks are little misleading because he had two in the first game of the year. Since, he has been relatively clean, especially considering the defenses he has faced. He has been sacked nine times, but those stats can be difficult to determine with running QB’s. A fascinating little nugget about his passing habits is he has 84 of his 113 attempts between the 20’s. He rarely throws in the Red Zone areas. He is about 60% from his own 40 to the opponent’s 20. But from his own 20 to 40 has a 70% completion rate. May not mean much, but it portends to play action in an unsuspecting spot for defenses.

Their receivers are not terribly productive. Bowden, their best pass catcher has 27 receptions for 273 yards and two touchdowns. His two biggest games came against Murray State (89 yards) and UF (79 yards). He catches most of his passes (14) on the Kentucky side of the field, but has 140 yards between the 40’s.

Conrad is 16 for 114 with a long of 23. He’s a steady pass catcher with two or three receptions per game. He has chunk plays of 23, 17, and 16 but is not a home run threat.

As evidenced above, their OL is vicious. Their size ranges from 6-3” to 6’7” and all are 305lbs or bigger. Experience is their favor with five of their six top OL from last year.

Kentucky has trouble scoring quickly and relies heavily on their run game. If they fall behind, oh say 21-3, they might find themselves in a world of hurt. Then again, their insistence on possessing the ball and wearing out defenses could give them the advantage in the fourth quarter as they hope to put away game.