Football is measured in yards, but it’s the inches that count.
Just ask Kentucky’s offense, which felt like it was tiny units of measurement off at Southern Miss on Saturday.
“The one thing that was consistent is we were just a fraction off across the board,” Coach Mark Stoops said Monday. “It was one guy here, one guy there. And you can’t have that.”
While coaches can’t break down every breakdown that occurred on that side of the ball Saturday, there are some key examples.
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On at least one play, center Bunchy Stallings blocked the wrong direction. And as Stoops pointed out: “When one person goes the wrong way it can make a play look very ugly, very quickly.”
That was the case in the season opener, in which UK ran just 55 plays and only a handful of those went exactly as planned.
“It was a little bit of a discombobulation in there and we got it fixed at times and when we got it fixed, we looked like us,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “When we weren’t right, we didn’t look like us. It was not good.”
Not counting the final play where UK took a knee as the clock ran down to zero, the Kentucky offense had 13 series and went three-and-out five times.
Its longest drive of the day was five plays for 70 yards, nearly all of those yards coming on one play: a pass to C.J. Conrad that the junior tight end took 59 yards to near the goal line before the Cats fumbled it away.
Remove that one big play on that one long drive and Kentucky averaged 3.7 yards per play compared to the 6.3 yards per play the Cats averaged last season.
“We had issues at every position,” co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw said. “It wasn’t just one guy.”
There was another play where quarterback Stephen Johnson had a chance to hit a wide-open wide receiver for a long ball and that play was literally a toe off.
“Stephen just has to open his toe on a slant and it’s a 30-yard gain and he overthrows him,” Hinshaw continued. “It’s just something like that that’s silly, but he didn’t open his toe to his target and you have to. That’s an example of something that totally changes the game on offense.”
Plays were inches away from just hitting the big runs, the big plays happening. That’s the way things go. It was always one person messing up. Sometimes it was me. Sometimes it was the line, but it’s always close.
There were some key overthrows on third-down plays, which were about timing.
It wasn’t just happening with the positions discussed, but at nearly every spot on the offense.
“Just people going different ways, me overthrowing a couple guys, some routes that were just a little too far down the field that should have been a little bit different,” Johnson said. “We were just a little off Saturday.”
Sometimes it was offensive linemen overanalyzing what they were seeing from an active Southern Miss defensive front. All of that chatter before the snap seemed to start a chain reaction of poor timing all around.
“Get up, get down, get set, make the calls and let’s go,” is the simple fix for that, Gran said.
“Too much talking; there’s going to be times when we don’t have the perfect play. Let’s just get on a body and let’s go.”
It wasn’t always the line, running back Benny Snell said.
“Plays were inches away from just hitting the big runs, the big plays happening,” Snell said. “That’s the way things go. It was always one person messing up. Sometimes it was me. Sometimes it was the line, but it’s always close.”
Or that botched snap early in the game? It led the Kentucky offensive coaches to go to the blandest playbook they could dream up after that. They eliminated some of the motions and jet sweeps that made the Wildcats’ version of the wildcat package so effective last season.
Talk about throwing you off track, just a snap alone on the second play of the game. Those are things that really stopped us and hurt us — coming up yards short, inches short, and getting us behind the chains.
There’s a different snap count when motions are involved, and after that issue on the road, UK played it safe.
“We said, ‘Let’s just forget the motions right now and go back to base,’” Hinshaw said. “It helped us with the operation. We had guys (making mistakes) that they’d never done, but it was first-game mistakes that are very easily cleaned up. That’s at every position.”
Stoops referenced that botched snap on his radio show Monday. It was a game-changer in the worst possible way for Kentucky.
“Talk about throwing you off track, just a snap alone on the second play of the game,” he said. “Those are things that really stopped us and hurt us — coming up yards short, inches short, and getting us behind the chains.”
The offense watched those 55 snaps together as a group on Monday. The coaches showed them where being inches off created big problems. They seem confident that much of it can be fixed.
It was by the end of Tuesday’s practice, Johnson said.
“We had a really productive practice today, everybody kind of going full speed, getting their right assignments,” he said. “Everybody looked really, really good today.”
Eastern Kentucky at Kentucky
Noon (SEC Network)