UK Football

One stat is ‘the key to the whole game’ for UK’s offense. How are the Cats doing it?

Kentucky’s Benny Snell is averaging 108.8 yards a game this season and would need to get right around that average versus Penn State in the Citrus Bowl to break the UK career rushing record.
Kentucky’s Benny Snell is averaging 108.8 yards a game this season and would need to get right around that average versus Penn State in the Citrus Bowl to break the UK career rushing record. aslitz@herald-leader.com

It’s just two games, which is a small sample size, but there’s one stat this season that jumps off the page for Kentucky.

If the Cats can keep their third-down conversion numbers at their current place (62 percent) then the offense might be something special.

UK’s third-down conversion rate is seventh nationally and among the best in the Southeastern Conference. It’s quite a leap from a season ago when UK was No. 72 nationally, converting on just 39.3 percent of its third-down attempts.

While that stat leaps off the stat sheet, it’s more about the stat within the stat, Kentucky’s offensive coaches said.

“First-down efficiency,” offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said. “We were phenomenal on first-down efficiency, that’s the key to the whole game, in my opinion.”

Just how phenomenal was UK on first down versus Florida on Saturday? The Cats averaged 7.9 yards on first-down plays. If UK’s offense can get 4 or more yards on one of those plays, then Gran calls it a success.

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That means UK was successful 53.8 percent of the time against the Gators and has been successful 55 percent of the time through two games.

Solid first-down efficiency coupled with the explosive plays every five plays like the Cats had in Gainesville could make for a special offense this season, their coordinator said.

How did Kentucky get so much more efficient on first down?

“Did you see the line of scrimmage?” Gran asked the media crowded around him on Tuesday.

It also helps to have a running back like Benny Snell.

“We’ve got a running back — let me use the right word — he’s really good,” Gran smiled. “And he’s tough and he gets you hard yards and when there’s nothing there, he gets you yards. That’s how you become efficient.”

After practice on Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2018, Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran talked about star running back Benny Snell.

Some timely quarterback runs from Terry Wilson haven’t hurt, either, co-offensive coordinator Darin Hinshaw said.

“We’ve kind of condensed the offense and used some different eye candy for the defense,” he explained of UK’s success on first down this season. “And keeping them a little bit off balance with a couple shifts, a couple motions, a couple this and our offense is still doing the same plays.”

Kentucky still has a ways to go on first-down passing plays, though, connecting on just 47.4 percent of them, which is last in the league.

But on third down, UK has connected on nine of its 13 tries (69.2 percent) when it’s thrown the ball, including a pretty, 54-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to Lynn Bowden last weekend.

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Mark Stoops credited the offensive line again with making that long third-down touchdown work.

“That was a clean pocket; he had time to sit in there and be patient and step up and make a great throw and that starts with the protection,” the head coach said. “That’s a big deal.”

The Cats haven’t been too shabby on third-down run plays, either, averaging 7.9 yards per rush on that down.

Herald-Leader sports columnist John Clay contributed to this report.
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