Kentucky’s offense had a list of goals before it started spring practice and on that wish list was to increase the number of so-called “explosive plays.”
The Cats took a step back in that statistical category — which in UK terms is a run play for 12 or more yards or a pass play for 17-plus yards — a season ago, managing to be explosive just once in every nine plays.
The 2016 season, which featured a flashy ground attack of Benny Snell and Boom Williams, as well as some timely long passes from Stephen Johnson to players including Jeff Badet, UK was able to be explosive once in every seven plays.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to the Lexington Herald-Leader
So Kentucky set its goals to meet in the middle with a big play in every eight plays for this season.
That looked like a bit of a pipe dream after the first game, a 35-20 victory over Central Michigan to open September, when UK had just five explosion plays (three runs, two passes).
After the season-opening victory, Cats coaches lamented that a few seconds more of protection could have been the difference between a quiet evening and an explosive one.
“It was one guy each time,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said of the roadblocks in the Central Michigan game in which UK managed to be explosive just once every 14 plays behind new quarterback Terry Wilson.
Said Mark Stoops of those big plays missed: “The pass game, we had five big plays — and I’m not saying you’re going to hit all of those — but they were set up where you at least expect to hit three of them.
“If we get a touch more protection, we have some big plays in the pass game. We have to start putting that together and we will.”
Kentucky’s head coach wasn’t wrong.
After a stellar night at No. 25 Florida that included Stoops giving the game ball to offensive line coach John Schlarman and his group for their strong effort, UK was able to finish with 13 explosive plays.
UK’s nine runs of 12 yards or more coupled with four pass plays of 17 or more yards worked out to an explosive play every 4.4 plays. Wilson was responsible in some way for eight of those 13 explosion plays, including three that ended in a touchdown.
“This game, with the time we had, we hit those plays,” Stoops said on his coach’s show Monday night. “The 54-yard touchdown pass on third-and-16 is hard to do and it started with great protection. (Wilson) had a great pocket.”
The Florida game has Kentucky much closer to staying comfortably on pace for Gran’s goal of an explosive play every eight plays, with one in every 7.1 plays so far this season.
Why are those explosive plays so important? Because for the last 10 years of running their offense, Gran and co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw have found that there is a high percentage chance that a team will score points when there’s at least one explosive play in the drive.
“That’s why we say we have to have explosive plays,” Hinshaw explained of the emphasis on it in the spring. “They help create touchdowns; they help create field goals.”
That explosive play number is likely to only go up against Murray State (0-2), whose opponents are averaging 445 yards per game so far this season.
“We’re creating a balance, obviously,” UK’s Stoops said on the coach’s show Monday night. “When you’re rushing for over 300 yards, you’re going to have an opportunity to hit one over the top and fortunately we did.”
Murray State at Kentucky
Noon (SEC Network Alternate)