Former Kentucky offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson declined to meet with media on Saturday after guiding Southern Miss’s offense past the Cats.
But during his regular meeting with the media in Mississippi on Tuesday, Dawson broke down some of the thinking that helped the Golden Eagles fight back from a 35-10 deficit in the first half to upset UK 44-35 at Commonwealth Stadium.
“Coach (Jay) Hopson on the sideline never panicked and that just bled over to the whole group,” said Dawson, who was fired after one season by UK before taking over the same position for the Eagles. “You could see in his eyes, you could see in our players’ eyes.”
Dawson said the comeback, which included amassing 520 yards of offense including 262 yards on the ground in 96 plays, wasn’t anything special.
“Nothing they did different, nothing we did different other than just basic execution,” he said.
Shortly before halftime and after having the ball picked off three times while trying to go for big plays — “Our shots weren’t working out very well,” he smiled — Dawson said he opted to just start trying to wear down Kentucky’s defense on the ground.
“The nature of their defense is they play coverage,” he explained. “They play a guy in the middle of the field, they don’t want to give up post, so when people play that, you’ve got to be patient as a play caller. You’ve got to put the ball in play underneath.
“That’s why we were throwing slant routes. That’s why we were throwing glance routes. You try to put the ball in play in pockets and run the football. So that was the plan at halftime really.”
Getting the ground game going courtesy of Ito Smith and George Payne was the second part of his offensive plan against Kentucky and ultimately it was the most effective plan.
Dawson said: “When you get down like that, the fight as a coordinator is not try to get it back in one play. You only overcome a deficit like that by slowly chipping away.”
Perhaps without meaning to, he also might have explained why Kentucky’s offense had such a bad second half after a masterful first half that included 387 yards and four touchdowns.
“It happens sometimes when you have a quick success early, you fight through a little bit of a lull sometimes because when stuff seems easy, players seem to think it’s easy and they kind of relax a little bit,” he said.