Fresh off a successful two-year run led by quarterback Andre Woodson, running back Rafael Little and receivers Keenan Burton, Steve Johnson and Jacob Tamme, the University of Kentucky had stamped itself and marketed itself as a multiple, pro-style offense.
That approach paid dividends in recruiting, as the Wildcats landed commitments from two highly ranked quarterbacks in Morgan Newton and Ryan Mossakowski.
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UK Coach Rich Brooks said the program is still committed to the pro-style offense, but injuries and attrition have forced the coaching staff to temporarily change course.
Kentucky has scrapped a good portion of the prototypical sets it has run the past several seasons in favor of the spread option, shotgun formations that have become commonplace in today's college football landscape.
A big reason for the change is that much of the personnel UK thought it would have is no longer around. The projected starting quarterback, Curtis Pulley, was dismissed from the team just before the start of fall practice and transferred to Florida A & M. UK's top returning receiver, Dicky Lyons Jr., suffered a season-ending knee injury in the sixth game, and a group of true freshmen have struggled to fill the void. And the Cats' most versatile back, Derrick Locke, went down with a knee injury in the seventh game against Arkansas.
With the season hanging in the balance, Brooks and offensive coordinator Joker Phillips decided to hand the offense to freshman Randall Cobb and rely more on the quarterback run game. UK has gotten a lot of mileage out of the "pony backfield," which has Cobb in the shotgun with a tailback lined up on each side of him. Cobb then has several reads: He can give it to the tailback on the dive, fake the dive and keep it himself, or run the option with the outside pitch man. Phillips said the offense is similar to what West Virginia does with quarterback Pat White.
Thirteenth-ranked Georgia had no answer for UK's option attack. The Cats racked up 226 yards and five TDs on the ground. The only other games they went over 200 yards were against Western Kentucky and Norfolk State.
"We're trying to win games right now, and we're trying to do it the best way we can with what we have available," Brooks said. "We would like to keep the same offense we've had the last couple of years. Having said that, if you're not throwing it and catching it, you've got to do something else to help you win games, and that's what we're doing right now. This offense has taken a little bit of a turn, and Randall has provided us a different kind of way to move the football."
Phillips knows that "option" can be a dirty word around these parts, where fans have grown accustomed to the passing exploits of Woodson, Tim Couch and Jared Lorenzen. But instead of forcing a square peg into a round hole, Phillips said the staff decided to make the necessary adjustments to maximize its potential this year.
"We've got to win differently this year," Phillips said. "We've got to win by grinding out drives, moving the chains, converting third-and-shorts, punting the ball when we have to and playing great defense. If you ask any defensive coordinator in the country what his biggest fear (is), it's trying to defend the option," Phillips said. "We've been booed running the option, but I didn't hear any boos last week when we were gashing (Georgia) for 18, 20 yards."
Phillips said Cobb has the tools to eventually be a pro-style quarterback, but said that doesn't play to his strengths.
"I don't know why you'd want to do that," Phillips said. "He's so effective running the ball. That's what scares people, and that's what he does really well. Can he drop back and throw it? Yes. But if you've got him as your quarterback, that's not all you want to do. He throws the ball well enough to be a quarterback, and the way he runs the ball will help him throw it."
Vanderbilt Coach Bobby Johnson acknowledged the difficulties that Cobb presents at quarterback.
"He just gives you all kind of headaches," he said. "You've got to take care of all those different things, it just keeps you from concentrating on one or two things that you've got to take away."
Newton and Mossakowski are expected to arrive on campus, and while Brooks won't speculate on the future of the offense or the quarterback position, the option is here to stay for the time being.
"We'll assess where we are in spring practice and early fall next year, but for right now, you see what we're doing, and we're going to continue to do it," he said.
Lindley expected to play
UK junior cornerback Trevard Lindley made it through practice without major problems on Tuesday and is expected to be available for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt. Senior defensive tackle Myron Pryor missed practice after re-aggravating a high ankle sprain against Georgia and is listed as questionable to doubtful. Junior middle linebacker Micah Johnson, who became ill before the Georgia game, could not finish practice.