Among the topics discussed on our Monday podcast, fellow sports columnist Mark Story and I talk about whether UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran became too conservative with his play-calling in what became Kentucky’s 28-27 loss to Florida on Saturday.
Mark believes Gran did, saying the OC took the ball out of Stephen Johnson’s hands when the Kentucky quarterback was having a good night.
I’m more willing to cut Gran a break -- and Mark agrees its easy to second-guess after a tough defeat -- but let’s take a closer look at the play selection when the Cats were trying to nurse a second-half lead.
Forced to settle for a field goal and a 24-14 lead with 5:51 left in the third quarter after having a first-and-goal at the five-yard line, Kentucky got the ball back quickly when safety Darius West picked off a Luke Del Rio pass at the UK 46-yard line. Here is Gran’s play selection:
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▪ 1st-and-10 from the 46: Benny Snell ran up the middle for one yard.
▪ 2nd-and-9 from the 47: In the play that killed the drive, Sihiem King was trapped around right end and dropped for a six-yard loss.
▪ 3rd-and-15 at the 41: Instead of risking a turnover, Gran played the safe bet, sending Snell off right tackle for six yards.
▪ 4th and 9 at the 47: Matt Panton followed with a 53-yard punt that found the end zone for a touchback.
The Gators picked up a couple of first downs before being stopped by the Kentucky defense on a fourth-and-three at the Florida 49, turning possession of the ball back to the Cats. Gran called:
▪ 1st-and-10 from the UF 48: Stopped up the middle, Snell bounced right and gained 11 yards for a first down.
▪ 1st-and-10 at the UF 37: Snell ran up the middle for two yards.
▪ 2nd-and-8 at the UF 35: Snell went off left tackle for three yards.
▪ 3rd-and-5 at the UF 32: Johnson tried to hit wide receiver Tavin Richardson on the left hash but the pass was broken up by Florida’s excellent freshman corner C.J. Henderson.
▪ 4th-and-5 at the UF 32: Austin MacGinnis kicked a field goal to extend the Kentucky lead to 27-14 with 11:33 remaining in the game.
Florida answered with a trick play as freshman wide out Kadarius Toney, a former high school quarterback who had already scored on a 37-yard run out of the wildcat, took the ball on an end-around, stopped and hit wide out Tyrie Cleveland with a 50-yard pass. Six plays later, Brandon Powell ran six yards to the end zone from the wildcat formation to cut the UK lead to 27-21 with 7:58 left in the game.
After a touchback, Kentucky took over at its own 25. The play calls:
▪ 1st-and-10 at the 25: Johnson gains two yards on a run up the middle.
▪ 2nd-and-8 at the 27: Johnson is sacked by Florida linebacker David Reese, a sophomore, for a seven-yard loss.
▪ 3rd-and-15 at the 20: Johnson’s pass to Richardson down the right sideline falls incomplete.
▪ 4th-and-15 at the 20: Matt Panton’s punt is downed at the Florida 42-yard line.
With its offense having run just 10 plays on its last three possessions, Kentucky’s defense looks tired. Florida takes advantage and drives 58 yards in 13 plays to take a 28-27 lead when, for the second time on the night, UK fails to cover a receiver. This time, Freddie Swain catches a five-yard TD pass from Del Rio.
To UK’s credit, taking over with just 43 seconds remaining, UK drives from its own 25 to the Gators’ 35 before offensive guard Nick Haynes is called for holding on a run in which Snell reached the Gators’ 25.
You know the rest. MacGinnis’ 57-yard field goal falls short of the goal posts at the buzzer and Florida wins its 31st straight game in the series.
Afterward, when asked about his play selection, Gran says he needed to make better calls, but also says he considers UK to be a running team and his mindset was to run the football.
As I wrote after the game and repeated again on the podcast, my biggest problem was the delay of game penalty after having first-and-goal at the Florida five-yard line in the third quarter. First-and-goal from the 10 is much different than first-and-goal from the five. With the ball at the five, Kentucky needed to score a touchdown.
After that, you can argue that Snell is UK’s best player on offense and Gran rode his best player. It didn’t work out so he is second-guessed. That’s the life of an offensive coordinator.
Kentucky’s offense game-by-game under Eddie Gran
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