UK Football

Could Sawyer Smith provide a quick fix for one of Kentucky football’s problems?

Could Sawyer Smith be the solution to Kentucky’s short-yardage woes?

Smith in his first start as UK’s signal caller twice carried the ball up the gut for positive gains. His first sneak was across the goal line for the Wildcats’ second touchdown against Florida; his second was a 3-yard gain on a third-and-1 on the drive that ended with him throwing his second interception (the one he saved from turning into a Gators TD after a 72-yard return).

The push Smith got on those attempts was great, co-offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said Tuesday. Smith’s bigger body helps make him a more natural fit for those types of conversions than Terry Wilson.

In Gran’s words, Kentucky was “awful” on quarterback sneaks last season.

“We were bad,” Gran said with a laugh. “Terry had to get better at that. It was something we worked on in the offseason. But Sawyer’s got a knack for it, which is good, especially when it’s third-and=inches or something like that. It’s tough.”

A.J. Rose is 3-for-5 on third-and-1 situations this season; the latest miss came against Florida, and was followed up by a failed fourth-down conversion out of a wildcat formation. Kavosiey Smoke failed on his only third-and-1 attempt and Smith is 1-for-2 (his non-conversion was on a botched snap that turned into a fumble last weekend).

Gran indicated that Chris Rodriguez, who hasn’t had a carry since fumbling twice against Toledo, could soon be used in those situations, among others.

“When you go through 12 games, 13 games, we’re gonna need him,” Gran said. “We’ve got to get his confidence back and he’s shown that on the practice field.”

Kentucky three times lined up in a wildcat formation against Florida and ran the ball, netting a total of 1 yard on a Lynn Bowden rush. In addition to the aforementioned halting of Rose, Bowden rushed another time for no gain.

UK before that game, though, made some things happen out of the formation: Smoke rushed for 13 yards and then Bowden threw a 32-yard pass to Wilson on back-to-back wildcat plays against Eastern Michigan. Smoke against Toledo didn’t gain anything on his first wildcat run but picked up 3 yards on a fourth-and-1 near midfield on his next; Rodriguez on that same drive would have scored out of the wildcat had he not fumbled the ball into the end zone (Justin Rigg recovered that to score for UK).

It sounds like those formations will continue to be part of UK’s game plan for the foreseeable future.

“We did a lot of different things that they hadn’t seen,” Gran said of using it against Florida. “We want to get in and out of stuff and show ’em different things, whether it’s on goal-line or short-yardage. It’s all there. It’s not magical. We’re still gonna be a wildcat team at times. Are we gonna show it a lot like we did with Benny (Snell) his first year? No. But it’s still gonna be in the package, for sure.”

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Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.