On November 10th, 2018, the 11th ranked Kentucky Wildcats (7-2) travelled to Knoxville looking to snap their 17-game losing streak at Neyland Stadium, against a feeble Tennessee squad with a 4-5 record. Kentucky’s offensive plan was the same as always - run Benny Snell, chew up the clock, and score one point more than Tennessee.
The defensive plan was a tiny bit riskier. Against UT’s spread offense, Kentucky would start out playing single high man under coverage, stacking the box to the greatest extent possible to stuff the run, and wagering that Tennessee QB Jarrett Guarantano couldn’t throw the football well enough to beat them. Ask any man, anywhere, on November 9th, 2018, if this was a sound idea, and you’d likely not have heard much objection.
Kill The Lights
Contrary to most of Guarantano’s time in Knoxville, and despite an abundance of history pointing them in the opposite direction, first year coach Jeremey Pruitt’s staff embraced the challenge of Guarantano completing passes. Here is 1st and 10 on UT’s initial possession of the game. Kentucky gives Tennessee single high safety, man coverage - and the Vols run play action, throwing a go route on the outside. Note the Vol tight end running past the Cats’ single high safety.
And here is the same play, with a camera isolated on Kentucky’s field corner vs Tennessee’s X receiver. He whiffs on the jam, lacks the speed to catch up, and never looks for the ball. True to scouting, Guarantano is far from accurate, badly under-throwing the go route. But the Cat CB plows into the WR, and draws an easy 15-yard pass interference.
One bad play isn’t any reason to abandon a carefully considered defensive game plan. So on the next possession, 1st and 10, we get a repeat of the play above. This time the play action pass goes to UT’s slot receiver on a corner route, matched up against Kentucky’s “cover” safety, #7.
Here’s the isolated camera view. It’s not that #7 misses a jam, or gets fooled by a double move, or blows his assignment. He simply can’t run with the slot receiver down field on this corner route - despite the ball being a little underthrown.
Two bad plays aren’t enough to abandon a carefully considered defensive game plan. Here’s another 1st and 10, play action pass, against - I’m not really sure what coverage this is, frankly, and it might be a bust. But cover safety #7 runs across the field trailing the slot receiver, and safeties usually set the coverage, so lets call it man.
Three bad plays aren’t enough to abandon a carefully considered defensive game plan. So you guessed it - here’s another 1st and 10, play action pass, against single high man coverage, thrown directly into that single high safety on a post route to the outside receiver. The field corner is beaten by at least two steps. The deep safety is also beaten. But the ball is - you guessed it - underthrown. And the receiver let’s the ball go between his two hands, and ricochet off of his face, incomplete.
Fool me four times, shame on you. But you’ll not fool me a 5th time. On the 1st and 10 below, Kentucky abandons it’s carefully considered defensive game plan, and backs out of their man coverage (whose purpose was to stuff the run). Tennessee, as luck would have it, finally decides to run the ball on first down. Hilarity ensues.
Technically, the snap below is 2nd and 10. And I suspect that Tennessee’s jet sweep motion / play action fake caused a blown coverage (note #9 pointing frantically just prior to the snap of the ball). Kentucky’s defense is clearly rattled at this point. But we’re including the gif below because, you know - good times.
Hit The Lights
But Kentucky, you are not alone in proving foresight may be vain. The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry, and leave us nothing but grief, pain, and a 24-7 loss to a feckless Vol squad - for promised joy.