Last week Film Room looked at Kentucky’s 92nd S&P+ ranked offense, and found a run-heavy scheme featuring one brilliant player, running back Benny Snell. This week’s focus turns to Kentucky’s 21st S&P+ ranked defense, whose best player is - arguably - running back Benny Snell (hat tip to ckmneon).
Kentucky’s #21 defense (5.23 ypp) is one of only two S&P+ Top 25 defenses to allow more than 5 yards per play. (The other is 7-5 Auburn.) How can a defense that allows, on average, more than half of a first down per play rank 21st in S&P+? Well, it certainly does not hurt that Kentucky’s defense faced 146 fewer offensive snaps than did Penn State’s #16 defense (which allowed a very nice 4.69 ypp). That’s two full games worth of snaps. (Thanks, Benny Snell.)
But enough of statistics. Let’s look at some film.
Kill The Lights
Most foosball coaches are not complex animals. Yes, most now walk upright on two legs rather than on all fours. Few still carry clubs made of wood or bone. But neither are most solving quadratic equations in their free time, or making masterful strokes on their cave walls. If a coach believes that running the dang ball is important on offense, then that same coach invariably believes stopping you from running the dang ball is important on defense. Or in other words, for most foosball coaches, chicken tastes like chicken.
It should come as no surprise then, friends, that Mark Stoops knows exactly what chicken tastes like. In the gif below, Joe Moorhead presents a tight 2x2 spread formation. That’s all the invitation Mark Stoops needs to deploy his favorite defense - the 2002-era eight-man box in front of a traditional cover 3. Kentucky’s boundary safety, #25, sneaks down toward the line of scrimmage from 12 yards deep on the hash, looks for all the world like a 4th linebacker, and provides Coach Stoops with the run-stuffing power he craves (though #25 just misses the TFL in the backfield).
Below is another 2x2 look from Coach JoeMo on 1st and 10, though the 2 WRs to the field take a much wider set. Against this spread look, UK sticks with its Cover 3 look, more or less. For our arm-chair purposes, focus on boundary safety #25 and his footwork, as he reads the tight end’s split zone action directly in front of him.
Against Mississippi State, and unlike what you’re used to seeing from our Nittany Lions, Kentucky frequently flipped their safeties based on the placement of the ball and/or coverage. #25 was UK’s designated “hero”, aka box safety, usually located toward the boundary. As shown in the gifs above (and others below), any hint of run action from the offense, and #25 launched himself toward the line of scrimmage. Thus, an RPO - like this one (below) from Blue-White three years ago - might come in handy (then-safety Koa Farmer comes up on the play fake as the secondary rotates to a cover 3; McSorley reads Farmer, pulls the ball and throws it to WR Chris Godwin on a skinny post).
The gif below shows one more 1st and 10 from Mississippi State, but in a much wider 3x1 formation. Kentucky remains in zone coverage. Nick Fitzgerald, the SEC’s all-time leading rusher as a QB, fools Kentucky’s #41 Josh Allen (and safety #25) with a nifty fake on the read option to pick up a nice chunk of yards.
Did UK ever play man coverage? Actually, yes - but only sparingly. Below shows a 3rd and 14 for Mississippi State, and a wide 3x1 set. Kentucky removes one block-eating defensive lineman for a 5th defensive back, and rolls with a single high, man-under coverage. The Cats rush only three, keeping OLB #31 near the LOS to spy QB Fitzgerald. Note that hard charging box safety #25 is the lone DB without 1-on-1 man coverage responsibility, as the single-high safety. You can take the player out of the box, but you can’t take the box out of the player.
You’ll also note that UK’s designated ‘cover’ safety, #7, draws the inside slot receiver one-on-one (//looks in KJ Hamler’s direction). But, as shown in the gif below, it’s not #7 trailing the shallow cross by a few steps who gets burnt, but rather the boundary CB who gets smoked by a full three yards on a simple 15-yard dig route (which may point toward one reason UK favors zone despite facing a spread ‘em out team). Although - ahem - you, dear Penn State reader, will no doubt notice that the WR drops the well thrown ball.
Hit The Lights
If you want to play this game in under 3 hours, Mark Stoops will be more than happy to accommodate you. Both teams can watch the play clock tick down before snapping the ball. Both can smash into each other three times and punt-to-win, split a total of just 14 possessions, and see who wins on a late, fatal turnover, and/or last second field goal, 6-3, or something similarly low scoring. Coach Stoops, we suspect, will take that all day long if you’re offering it.
Alternatively, if you’re willing to risk some first down throws, and late-pull RPOs from a run look, then friends, there will be plays available to make on this 21st S&P+ ranked Kentucky defense. Cover 3 presents some significant holes to a fancy pants, modern spread offense like Dear Old State’s - despite the paltry 7 points Joe Mo’s Cowbellers put up.
What’s your choice? Do you trust the PSU receivers to make those grabs? Or do you lean toward the grind-it-out game plan?