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No Quick Fix For Kentucky’s Offense But Help Is On The Way

Guest Author Brad Woodcock

Perhaps Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown said it best earlier in the season, after a tough loss to Western Kentucky in Nashville.

“I knew what I was getting in to when I took this job,” he told reporters who questioned him about the inadequacies of his offense.

Neal hasn’t always been in tough situations like this.  At Texas Tech, he was taking over an already prolific offense run by Mike Leach.  All Neal had to do was add his own wrinkles.  The product wasn’t finished, but it was a lot closer than here at Kentucky.

You see, Neal Brown and Mike Leach came from the same coaching tree.  Mike learned from Hal Mumme.  Neal learned from Hal as well.

Coming to Kentucky though, the offense had a long way to go to get up to the same place where Texas Tech was during Neal’s tenure.  The terminology was different, and the players at Kentucky were brought in for a more physical type of offense, built to run the ball.  Though both offenses featured a short passing game, there was almost nothing else similar between the two.

Now though, Neal comes in to a situation where he’s trying to fit a square peg in to a round hole.  Years of offensive struggles can’t just be washed away with a new system.

Before Neal Brown got here, to say that Kentucky’s offense had struggled would be an understatement.  Kentucky was shut out by Vanderbilt, at home; as well as on the road at Florida.  Oh, and there was that 10-7 game they won against Tennessee, that had the result been different, may have gone down as one of the worst fan experiences at a UK football game, possibly ever.  It was torture watching Matt Roark try to run the offense.  No offense to the kid, he was doing the best he could, but the point remains the same.

Last year was much the same.  Kentucky’s total offensive rank for the 2012 season was 115th in the country.  That’s out of 124.  The word inept could be used to describe it.

Conversely, Neal Brown’s Texas Tech’s team was 13th in the country.  Potent may be used to describe his offense.

Still though, UK fans expected Kentucky to put up numbers similar to Texas Tech’s from last season.  After all, the coaching staff was basically the same, right?

Well, not exactly.  The unfortunate reality for UK fans is that the talent level left here by the former staff was just really not that good, especially on the offensive side.  Although the Quarterbacks were relatively highly touted and recruited, especially Patrick Towles, the Wide Receiver unit returned no one who had ever caught a touchdown pass.  The running back corps had shown promise, but largely had been inconsistent.

To put it bluntly, the new coaching staff, and Neal Brown had a long way to go.

Still, there have been positive signs out of the current teams offense, and the improvements are relatively easy to see.  Despite drops and miscues against Louisville, the team moved the ball consistently and put themselves in positions to score against what is currently the #1 scoring defense in FBS.  Had Kentucky managed to catch a few more balls, or keep from putting a few on the ground, it’s no unreasonable to think the game would have been a lot closer.  In fact, it would have been.

Currently Neal Brown’s offense ranks 25th in the country, coming in at just under 500 yards per game.  That’s with Freshmen and Junior College newcomers leading the way.  The top three receivers for Kentucky thus far this year are all newcomers; Javess Blue, Ryan Timmons, and Jeff Badet.  Three newcomers make up for 5 of the passing touchdowns so far this year; Javess Blue, Jeff Badet, and Alex Montgomery.  In the rushing department, two newcomers make up the top 4 in rushing yards; JoJo Kemp and Ryan Timmons.  In fact, JoJo Kemp actually leads Kentucky in rushing yards through 3 games.

It will get better for the Cats, though.  Help is on the way.

Kentucky currently sits at #7 in the Rivals.com team rankings, including six four star rated offensive players.  Two wide receivers (Thaddeus Snodgrass, Blake Bone), two running backs (Mikel Horton, Stanley “Boom” Williams), a top 10 quarterback (Drew Barker), and an Offensive Lineman (Nick Richardson).  Those 6 go along with a host of other highly recruited lineman and skill position players, ready to step in and make an immediate impact for Kentucky’s offense.

Kentucky has been able to shore up their defense from last year with an influx of Defensive talent and a simpler scheme, though Kentucky has used a bit of smoke and mirrors to confuse offenses so far.  It helps that two of the best defensive minds in the country inherited a defense with a Senior middle linebacker and some veteran presence.  Those things help defenses to turn things around a little quicker.  Though if you asked Mark Stoops today, he’d tell you they’ve got a long way to go.

On Offense though, it’s more obvious the hill that is left to climb.  UK has made some strides, but there’s still a long way to go.  The good news is there may not been many Offensive Coordinators better equipped for the challenges, or Head Coaches better equipped to recruit the level of player needed here to turn things around.

It won’t be a quick fix, but things will get turned around here.  And who knows?  Maybe sooner than later.

Brad Woodcock is the Lead Football Writer for Kentucky Sports Connection (kysportsconnection.com, @KySportsConnect), who occasionally comments about funny .gifs and bemoans the fact he was ever born a Cincinnati Bengals fan.  You can follow him on Twtitter at @KSC_Brad.”

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Both Smith And Whitlow Expected To Play QB In Kentucky’s Opener

uk-qbsHead coach Mark Stoops and offensive coordinator Neal Brown have made up their minds on who should run Kentucky’s new Air Raid offense.  Only it’s not just one guy, it’s two.

Stoops told The Lexington Herald-Leader yesterday that both Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow are likely to see action against Bobby Petrino’s Western Kentucky squad in 10 days.  According to the first-year Wildcat coach, “We haven’t made a decision on the starter yet.  We have narrowed it to two, and I think both of those guys will play in the first game; I know both of those guys will play in the first game.”

For their careers, here’s how the two QBs stack up:

 

  Player   Comp.   Att.   Yds.   Comp. %   TD   INT
  Smith   187   303   1794   61.7   12   8
  Whitlow   87   161   801   54.0   3   2

 

If you’re looking to categorize the two players, Smith would be the passer and Whitlow would be the runner.

And former Kentucky Mr. Football and fan favorite Patrick Towles would be the guy on the bench behind the other two.  “He’s got as much talent as any quarterback we have on campus,” Stoops said.  “But it’s just a matter of letting him grow into the situation a little bit.

If Smith, Whitlow or a combination of the two can hold down the fort for the Cats this season, Stoops added that Towles would be open to taking a redshirt this year.  Towles’ father was very much against a redshirt for his son last year as a true freshman.  All three UK signal-callers are sophomores this season.

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SEC Recruiting Headlines 5/11/2013

recruiting-headlines-gfx1. South Carolina loses out on highly-rated quarterback Drew Barker - what’s next for the Gamecocks?

2. Kyle Tucker on Barker committing to Kentucky: “A ton of credit goes to offensive coordinator Neal Brown…”

3. John Clay: Of all the positive moves (coach Mark) Stoops has made so far, locking the in-state gates ranks among the most impressive.

4. Defensive end Justin Thornton will announce his decision on Sunday.  Could be Auburn’s fourth player in the 2014 class from the Mobile area.

5. JUCO safety Derrick Moncrief has committed to Auburn.  He also had offers from Kentucky and Oklahoma State. Moncrief’s teammate -  D’haquille Williams – has committed to LSU. He’s the Tiger’s 10th commitment in the class of 2014.

6. Texas A&M has offered Plaquemine (La) defensive end Davon Godchaux. “I know Florida and A&M would be in my top three. USC, Florida State and Ole Miss are schools I like, as well. Everybody wants me to go to Alabama or LSU but I have to make a decision for my own self. I’m really liking Texas A&M right now”

7. Tennessee has a verbal commitment from 2015 offensive line in-state prospect Jack Jones.

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Kentucky Football Ticket Sales Booming… Yes, Football Tickets

need-tickets-signIf the crowd of 50,000 on hand for Kentucky’s spring game wasn’t enough to get your attention, check out these numbers:

First — 35,342.  Second — 21.4%

The first number represents how many football season tickets Kentucky has already sold for the 2013 football season.  The second number represents the expected increase in season-ticket sales over the 2012 season, Joker Phillips’ final year as the Wildcats’ coach.

When new coaches take over programs, there is usually a revival in interest in the program.  Indeed, Kentucky, Arkansas, Auburn and Tennessee — all with new coaches this season — all finished among the top five in SEC spring game attendance.  (Defending BCS champ Alabama also placed in the top five.)

Kentucky seems to be feeling more than just new-coach zeal, however.  Mark Stoops has certainly raised expectations and raised the Cats’ profile on the recruiting trail, but his choice of offensive coordinator has played just as big a role in renewed fan interest.

In December, Stoops named 33-year-old, ex-UK player Neal Brown as his coordinator and quarterbacks coach.  Brown is a proponent of the up-tempo, throw-it-all-over-the-yard style taught by the coaches he played under in Lexington — head coach Hal Mumme and assistants Mike Leach and Tony Franklin.  As a result, the UK athletics department has wisely taken advantage of the return of the “Air Raid offense” in every way imaginable, including in this Super Bowl ad trotted out in the Commowealth State this past February:

 

UKFootballTix.com

 

Judging by the season tickets sold to date, that air raid siren is being heard loud and clear by Wildcat fans.

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Kentucky In Final Three For JoJo Kemp

Running back JoJo Kemp from DeLand (Fla.) High School has narrowed his list to three schools: Kentucky, Pittsburgh and West Virginia.

Kemp’s decision will likely come down to the style of offense he prefers, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

“Kemp said Monday he needs to decide if he wants to play in a pro-style offense, like that at Pittsburgh, or in the spread, like that of the offensive attacks at West Virginia and Kentucky. The Wildcats may even have more of a passing attack than what Kemp is looking for with new offensive coordinator Neal Brown at the helm under former FSU defensive coordinator Mark Stoops, now the head coach.”

Kemp, who previously committed to South Florida, had also considered Tennessee, where his cousin, Marlin Lane, plays running back.

UPDATE: It appears two more teams should be included in Kemp’s list of finalists. He tweeted a message Tuesday afternoon that included hashtags for Tennessee and South Florida.

Kemp told Volquest.com earlier this week that he plans to visit Tennessee on Jan. 18. It looks like that visit is still on.

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UK To Hire Brown As Offensive Coordinator

Last week, new Kentucky coach Mark Stoops announced that former Florida State assistant DJ Eliot would join his program as the Wildcats’ new defensive coordinator.  Now he’s on the verge of hiring former UK receiver Neal Brown as his offensive coordinator.

Brown — who played under Hal Mumme at Kentucky before transferring to UMass — served as Tommy Tuberville’s O-coordinator at Texas Tech last season.  The Red Raiders were second in the nation in passing offense, averaging 362 passing yards per game.  They were also #16 in the nation in scoring offense (37.8 points per game).  During his three seasons in Lubbock, Texas Tech finished 15th, 13th, and 12th in total offense, improving in national rank each year.

Brown is a native of Danville, Kentucky.

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UK Player Tweets That FSU’s Eliot Coming as D-Coordinator

It’s been rumored for a while, but this afternoon a Kentucky player “confirmed” via Twitter than Florida State defensive ends coach DJ Eliot will be taking over as UK’s defensive coordinator.  Linebacker Bud Dupree posted this afternoon that the hire is official.

Eliot coached with new Wildcats coach Mark Stoops at Florida State the past three seasons.

There are still rumors that Texas Tech offensive coordinator Neal Brown is being pursued to coordinate UK’s offense, but his name is also being kicked around in connection with some head coaching vacancies.

We await and official confirmation on the Eliot news.

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