In just over two weeks our Penn State Nittany Lions will face off against a plucky Kentucky Wildcats squad in the Citrus Bowl. The Cats surprised most folks with their top 15 season and runner-up finish in the SEC East. Let’s kick the tires on Kentucky’s offense, to see what we can expect before heading down to Florida.
Kill The Lights
First things first - prepare to read the name Benny Snell Jr a whole bunch. Ready? Okay let’s being.
Benny Snell doesn’t wow you with long speed, but he does wow you with quick feet in the hole. In the gif below, he turns a simple inside zone run blocked for maybe two yards, into an 8-yard gain. These types of runners are generally popular with offensive linemen.
Snell’s a physical, tough inside runner. Here Kentucky is backed up in the shadow of its own goal line. To this point in the game, this personnel group and formation for Kentucky has been “inside zone run” 100% of the time. I know what’s coming. You know what’s coming. Mississippi State knows what’s coming. Everyone in the stadium knows what’s coming. Snell makes it work, anyhow.
But more than nimble feet or power through the hole, Snell’s best attribute for this Kentucky offense is his patience. First, count the seconds - and it’s literally seconds (plural) - from the snap of the ball until Snell chooses a hole in this outside zone run. It’s an eternity. Then, watch Kentucky’s right guard, who makes full use of those precious seconds to reach the second level, and seal the backside linebacker. The playside action gets stuffed quickly, but Snell’s patience transforms mediocre blocking into good blocking, and from good blocking into an explosive play.
Alright - so you’ve read enough about Benny Snell and Kentucky’s rush offense. How about it’s passing offense? Great question. Here’s 2nd down and 11 - a clear passing situation. What passing concept does Kentucky use? You guessed it - a lead draw, to their lone speed player on offense, quarterback Terry Wilson.
Okay then, you got the point: Kentucky likes to run the dang ball. But seriously, what about their passing offense? Well, friends - it’s not great, and there’s plenty of blame to go around.
The offensive line is not great at pass blocking. In the gif below, the center whiffs on a nose tackle’s arm-over, and grabs him around the waist. And their left tackle is - shall we say - unorthodox is his drop, and perhaps less well balanced than you might like in a LT.
Of the small handful of throws Kentucky’s QB was asked to make in the game against Mississippi State, nearly all went outside the numbers - almost nothing got thrown between the hashes. The forward pass is not Kentucky’s preferred offensive tool - seemingly for multiple good reasons. To wit:
Of course, about the time you think you’ve got it figured out, and are completely unafraid of Kentucky’s passing threats, then Kentucky shows you a run-heavy personnel group (3 tight ends!), and arm-punts a play action pass behind you. Though the execution looks absolutely hideous, the takeaway, friends, is that it worked.
But lest anyone read this post and forget the primary, secondary, and tertiary points, they are this: 1) stop Benny Snell; 2) stop Benny Snell; and 3) stop Benny Snell. Neither game score, nor down, nor yards to go will likely prevent Kentucky coaches from handing Benny Snell the rock. He’s their horse, and they ride or die on his back. (Note: Snell’s a pretty good horse to ride).
Hit The Lights
If you’re looking for some type of B1G comparison, you could do a lot worse than to think of Iowa. Kentucky’s offensive scheme - though shotgun spread, rather than under-center pro set - was fairly vanilla against Joe Moorhead’s Miss State Bulldogs. Personnel groups and formations were limited - so nothing like Michigan. Motion was used only sparingly, and thus wasn’t like Maryland or Pitt. And most of the runs were either inside zone or outside zone, which is Iowa all day long, rather than Wisconsin (who primarily runs power). It also doesn’t hurt the comparison that Nate Stanley couldn’t hit the broadside of a barn passing the ball against Dear Old State.
Brent Pry will likely enjoy prepping for this bowl game. At the very least, he won’t be mystified about what Kentucky will try to do. And for a defensive coordinator with a few Gary Busey / mad scientist tendencies, coming up with wild ideas for stuffing the run on early downs should be a pretty good time - like slanting your DL into gaps and sending your OLB off the edge.