Kentucky’s wide receivers have been mostly quiet about how lopsided the offense has been this season.
Quiet that some 64.5 percent of the Cats’ production has come on the ground. Quiet that only two players have double-figure catches seven games into the season.
Quiet that they’ve been blocking more than catching.
The UK head coach, while fielding more quarterback questions Monday than most 6-1 coaches with No. 12 national rankings are answering, acknowledged that wide receiver morale is an issue.
“I wouldn’t say it’s bad, but I’d be putting my head in the sand if I said it doesn’t need to be talked about,” Mark Stoops said of wide receiver happiness. “We appreciate what they do and how hard they’re working, but we also need to improve in the pass game.”
Before the Cats face a Missouri team that is worst in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense, allowing 287.4 yards per game (with 15 touchdowns and just four interceptions), Stoops said he’s been paying attention to the UK wide receivers.
“Tell me a great wide receiver that doesn’t want the ball, so we understand that,” he continued. “That’s part of the culture within the team and within the offense and some of the things we need to work on.”
Wide receiver contentment is definitely on the mind of new position coach Michael Smith, a former wide receiver himself at Kansas State. He gets the frustration.
“We’re wide receivers,” Smith said last week, before UK threw just nine passes and completed three against Vanderbilt on a blustery, windy night. “We want to catch the ball.”
There have been few balls to catch. Only one wide receiver, Lynn Bowden, is among the top 50 pass catchers in the league with his 30 receptions for 291 yards and three scores.
With his 16 catches for 114 yards, tight end C.J. Conrad is the only other UK player with more than nine receptions.
Of UK’s 891 receiving yards this season, 49 of them were on the trick play for a touchdown by Zy’Aire Hughes, which was more of a handoff than a pass.
Only seven other teams nationally — and many of them are run-heavy triple-option programs — have fewer pass attempts this year than Kentucky’s 137. Only six other schools in the country have less than the 891 yards of UK.
Only seven other teams average fewer attempts per game than the Cats (19.6).
Kentucky’s coaches are trying to stress that the most important stat is six wins and one loss with five more games to play in the regular season.
“We’re a … football team with an opportunity to do something that’s never been done before at the University of Kentucky,” Smith said. “The other thing is that, ‘Fellas, this is a team sport and there’s only one ball out there.’”
And that ball has gone to star running back Benny Snell a bunch.
“Benny Snell’s a pretty damn good football player and he’s going to get his touches,” Smith continued. “And our guys understand that. Being a former wide receiver, I get it. I wanted the ball every play, too. But you have to be unselfish and do what it takes to win football games.”
Stoops seemed confident that the offense would find some balance in this second half of the season, maybe even starting this week. The head coach even discussed looking at other options at quarterback to get the passing game going.
Opponents are passing the ball 34.1 times a game against the Tigers this season and averaging 8.4 yards per attempt. So the chances to jump-start the passing game will be there.
The head coach also was asked if the lack of a passing attack has hurt UK in recruiting wide receivers.
“Anybody is going to do what they have to do to win a football game,” Stoops said. “Sometimes you see people throwing the ball 70 times and they have to recruit a running back, too. So, you have to do what you have to do in certain situations.”
Previous offenses run by Eddie Gran and Darin Hinshaw — like their most recent stop at Cincinnati — were more balanced and leaned more heavily on a pass attack.
And the way the Vanderbilt game unfolded — two early turnovers by the Cats’ quarterback and a crazy wind — made it more complicated, Stoops said.
“You have to do what you have to do to win football games. I think most recruits understand that.”
No. 12 Kentucky at Missouri
When: 4 p.m (EDT)
TV: SEC Network