The bye week can be a useful time for a little renovation.
Most seasons, it’s the equivalent of doing some grout work or painting a room a different color, but for Kentucky’s offense last season, it was nearly a gut job.
Without injured Drew Barker there to lead what could’ve been a pass-happy attack, UK was forced to rebuild from the studs.
The offense, which didn’t run a single play out of the wildcat package in the first spring under offensive coaches Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw, suddenly had lots of wildcat plays.
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There were more motion and trick plays put in to keep opponents off balance and a lot more devotion to the power run game behind a strong offensive line along with running backs Boom Williams and Benny Snell.
So exactly how much retooling did UK’s coaches do this season during their bye last week before beginning preparation for Mississippi State on Saturday?
“I don’t want the toolbox out (where) we have to reinvent the wheel. That’s not fun,” Gran said recently. “There’s no panic. We’re close. We were close at this time last year and it all came together.”
This past week, the Cats looked back at what has and hasn’t worked for them offensively in the first six games, Hinshaw said.
“We’re going to keep adding some stuff,” he said. “I don’t know if you’re going to see a full renovation, but you’re going to see some different things out of the bye week. But you don’t want to do too much where you end up messing up what you are doing” well.
So there was a strong focus on Kentucky improving in the red zone, where the Cats are No. 28 nationally, connecting on 90 percent of their plays inside the 20-yard line.
The coaches would like to see more of those connections equal seven points than three. UK has scored points on 18 of 20 trips inside the red zone but only 11 have yielded touchdowns.
Kentucky wants that TD percentage to be closer to 65 or 70 percent instead of the current 55 percent, Gran said.
“Field goals help us, but we wanna put touchdowns on the board,” quarterback Stephen Johnson said last week, just a few minutes after the Cats had worked on some red-zone packages. “Just being able to score offensively really helps us out to extend the lead on some teams and not fighting until the last second again.”
It’s not just retooling on the offensive end, either, Stoops said.
After Kentucky eked out a 40-34 win over Missouri on Oct. 7, Cats coaches and staff started breaking down what worked and what didn’t in the previous six games all day Sunday and most of Monday.
“This is the only time during the season that you really can sit back and look at the whole season,” Stoops said. “See what we’re doing good, what we’re doing bad, continue to improve in the areas that we can and we’re doing well.”
There hasn’t been much change for quarterback Luke Wright during the bye week, which is good news after his scary collapse on the UK sideline during the Missouri game.
“All the reports that are coming back have been positive and things look good, or are looking better,” Stoops said of Wright, who had a seizure, quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw confirmed last week.
“Everything has been steady since that episode he had on the sidelines so hopefully he’ll continue to recover well. They’re checking to see whether he can travel with us this week.”
☆ The Kentucky head coach sounded hopeful that players who would have been doubtful a week ago will be ready to go for the game Saturday.
“We were banged up,” Stoops said of the previous week after UK had played six straight games. “There (were) probably a few guys who wouldn’t have been able to play last week. So, I think that’s helpful. I really don’t wanna get into specifics on those guys. But there (were) a couple starters that probably wouldn’t have played last week.”
Depth chart moves, other news
After a couple of weeks without much change, there were several updates on the latest Kentucky depth chart for Saturday’s game.
The most significant is the return of weakside linebacker Jordan Jones, who has missed the past four games with an undisclosed shoulder injury. Jones, who led UK in tackles last season, is listed as an “OR” with Eli Brown at that position.
Brown has played well in Jones’ absence, Stoops said, and has earned a bigger role. “It’ll be nice to have both of those guys.”
☆ Jamar “Boogie” Watson, who was moved to inside linebacker to spell Brown while Jones was away, has moved back to outside linebacker behind Josh Allen.
☆ There was some movement on the Cats’ offensive during the break, including moving Bunchy Stallings from center to starter at right guard. The center spot now is listed as Nick Haynes and Drake Jackson.
“We’re starting to find a good mixture the way we have it now with Drake playing at center and Bunchy playing more guard,” Stoops said. “I think that helps. I think Nick’s situation and his health is a big key to us as we move forward. Trying to get Nick, his weight and his strength back up.”
The left tackle spot is now listed as Landon Young “OR” senior Kyle Meadows. Meadows also is listed as the starting right tackle alongside an “OR” with George Asafo-Adjei.
☆ Kentucky’s next home game versus Tennessee on Oct. 28 will be played at 7:30 p.m. on the SEC Network, the league office announced Monday.
Kentucky at Mississippi State
4 p.m. (SEC Network)