Jon Toth is an analytical, film-devouring nerd.
But when the senior center was asked about why the wildcat package has been so effective for Kentucky this season, he responded like a kid in the corner wearing a dunce cap.
“I don’t know,” he said, smiling. “But it’s working.”
Indeed it is.
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In the Cats’ last two games, 27 percent of their plays have been run out of the direct-snap formation and UK has gotten 243 yards and four touchdowns from it.
Georgia went into the game against Kentucky last week allowing just 109.8 yards a game on the ground, but UK ended up with 119 yards out of that wildcat package alone on Saturday against the Bulldogs.
Kentucky’s ability to adapt and alter the formation each week seems to be the secret to its success.
“So many different plays they can run out of this wildcat package,” ESPN analyst Jesse Palmer marveled on the broadcast Saturday, “power, counter, zone, jet sweeps.
“Every week that Eddie Gran’s been calling these wildcat plays, he’s been adding a new wrinkle.”
Maybe the UK offensive coordinator is being modest, but Gran credited a lot of what UK is doing out of the non-traditional formation to head coach Mark Stoops.
As a defensive coach, Stoops tried to come up with the plays that have been hardest to go against in his career. He passed those along to Gran, and the Cats spent much of their bye week putting in new plays, new wrinkles.
“He’s unbelievable at that,” Gran said of Stoops after the Missouri victory, in which UK went to the wildcat 20 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. “He does a great job of that, he sees stuff in practice and suggests it and it’s been really great for us on offense.”
Both scores against the Tigers were from freshman Benny Snell, but even Boom Williams got in on the action and had two of the larger gains out of it that day on runs of 20 and 28 yards.
In some ways, the wildcat package is a running back’s dream, said former UK star Moe Williams, who is a student assistant for the Cats this season working with the backs.
“You get one guy out of the box, and then as soon as you get the ball as the running back, you get to pick your hole,” said Williams, who ran for 3,333 career yards at UK, second most in school history.
“Sometimes when you take the handoff, the quarterback — there’s probably a nicer way of saying it — is in the way of your vision to the left,” he continued. “When you get the snap directly, you can see everything.”
Each week, Gran, co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw and their staff have taken what’s worked and built on the package.
“There’s always some different options and different packages we can do out of the wildcat,” Stoops said on his radio show Monday night as Kentucky prepares to go to Tennessee on Saturday.
“There’s so many different things we can do and have done. We’re always looking at options.”
Before facing Georgia this week, Stoops said he wondered if it would be as effective, knowing that the Bulldogs had seen some of the wrinkles.
Kentucky will continue to try it until it doesn’t work, though.
That’s a Stoops mandate.
“I always say to (Gran), being a defensive guy: ‘Prove it. Make them prove it,’” Stoops said. “This is what you’re doing well. You go in and do it and make them stop you. … You’ve got to prove to me that you can stop it before we’ll get out of it.”
The most common question usually involves whether or not Snell, who has been responsible for 95 percent of the wildcat snaps in the past two games and has scored all four touchdowns out of it, will ever pass out of the formation.
Stoops and Gran want to keep people guessing on whether there’s a Tim Tebow-esque jump pass ready for use.
“We’re always building,” Stoops replied slyly.
That building has included putting quarterback Stephen Johnson in motion out of it, then throwing back to him or reversing it to him.
That constant wildcat package reconstruction is enough to keep opposing coaches guessing, Tennessee’s Butch Jones said Monday. He was asked several times about the prospect of facing a Wildcat team so well versed in running the wildcat.
“They do a good job with that,” Jones said. “I think it’s a belief that they have. Very, very talented group of running backs that have a good feel for it.”
Kentucky’s players have a real knack for it, which not every running back does, Jones explained.
“They have to take the shotgun snap,” he said. “They have to be able to communicate with the offensive front, call out the cadence and they have to be able to catch the ball before they go to their run read.
“So there’s a different skill set it takes in a running back in that situation. And they have two individuals who are very, very comfortable in that.”
But it’s been about more than that for UK, Jones said.
“They do a great job with that and it’s just a physicality with which they play with,” he said. “It starts up front. They’re very, very physical.”
Kentucky at Tennessee
Noon Saturday (SEC Network)