John Clay: Hard week of practice jump-starts Kentucky's Air Raid

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistSeptember 7, 2013 

Get ready, get set, go, go, go, go.

There's little time to breathe in Neal Brown's version of the Air Raid offense where it is one snap after another (no huddling) and an end-around followed by a bubble screen followed by a seam route and quarterback Maxwell Smith is running out and quarterback Jalen Whitlow is running in for a designed draw and the next thing you know here comes Maxwell Smith back in and the defense is gasping and — boom — there's an 88-yard touchdown pass and 675 yards of total offense.

No time for punctuation either.

So is this the way Neal Brown's Air Raid offense was supposed to look all along?

"Yes," said the Kentucky offensive coordinator after the Cats gained 675 yards — the third-most in the school's history books — in a convincing 41-7 victory over Miami (Ohio) on Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium.

This was not the way Neal Brown's Air Raid offense looked last Saturday in Nashville — "We didn't get enough first downs to get the tempo up," Brown explained — when the Cats ran just 60 offensive snaps in losing to Western Kentucky.

Only here's the thing: The Kentucky offense wasn't awful. It gained 419 yards last week. It rushed for 216 yards. It scored 26 points.

"I thought we had some moments," Brown admitted last week.

And yet, (a) it didn't win and (b) it just didn't look or feel like what we were led to believe Brown's mode of attack would be once the former UK receiver migrated from Texas Tech to join Mark Stoops in Lexington.

"I thought the difference today was the kids came out and had a different aura about them," Brown said. "We were really hard on them this week in practice. I didn't think we played with the tempo we wanted to last week. We didn't play as hard as a unit as we played at the other stops I've been. We didn't play as physical.

"So Tuesday and Wednesday we practiced really, really hard. We didn't give an inch."

Not giving an inch led to lots and lots of yards.

First quarter, Kentucky gained 246 yards on 22 plays and scored 24 points. The pace slowed in the second quarter, yet Kentucky had 410 yards by halftime. That's more yards than UK gained in nine entire games last season.

In the fourth quarter, as Kentucky was putting some serious separation between itself and the 600-yard mark, Matt Smith, starting center on last year's team, hit send on the following tweet:

"Can I have one more year of eligibility to play in this offense?"

"Our No. 1 goal," Brown said, "was to be excited to play, and I thought they were from the first drive on."

By game's end, only an offense coordinated by Brown's old coach, Hal Mumme, had put up more yards in a single game — 801 against Louisville and 679 against Vanderbilt, both in 1998.

Make no mistake, however, this is not Mumme's offense. Mumme never used two quarterbacks as Brown did Saturday, alternating Smith and Whitlow. As fast as Mumme's Air Raid offense played, it didn't snap the ball at the breakneck pace Brown craves.

"We didn't play as many plays as we want to," said Brown. "No. 1, because we got some penalties that were lack of discipline penalties and No. 2, we were scoring."

They scored by the long ball. Besides the aforementioned 88-yard TD pass from Smith to Javess Blue, Smith hit Jonathan George out of the backfield for a 48-yard touchdown and Jeff Badet for a 56-yard touchdown. UK had five runs for 15 or more yards and completed five passes for 20 or more yards.

In the interest of full disclosure, this offensive outburst came against a Miami defense that allowed 591 yards to Marshall last week.

And, though the yardage total ranked in nose-bleed elevations for a UK offense, Brown's Texas Tech offense produced two bigger numbers just last year. The Red Raiders gained 702 yards against New Mexico and 676 yards against West Virginia.

"Obviously," Brown said, "everybody in that stadium knows we've got a long way to go."

As in go, go, go, go.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Email: jclay@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com.

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