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.”