These days, everybody’s a play-caller. The offensive coordinator should have run the ball when he passed and passed the ball when he ran. A fan recently told me, “I could call better plays at home sitting on my couch.” These days, everybody’s a player-caller with 20-20 hindsight.
Welcome to the world of Eddie Gran, though he could be any current OC in the USA. Kentucky’s offensive play-caller claims to not read what we write or hear what is said, and he sure doesn’t need a scribe defending his job performance, but we’ll take a deep shot anyway.
Gran has been an effective play-caller in his two years as Kentucky’s offensive boss, even this campaign when the Cats are 106th nationally out of 130 FBS teams in total offense, 79th in scoring offense. And, yes, the same review goes for last Saturday’s 37-34 loss to Ole Miss when the offense was included in the search party for scapegoats.
Before Saturday, UK was 14-3 under Coach Mark Stoops when it scored at least 34 points. It’s now 14-4. Before Saturday, UK was 16-4 when it rushed for at least 200 yards. It’s now 16-5. Stoops has been circulating data that shows the team rushing for more yards in an SEC game wins 80 percent of the time. The percentage increases to 85 when the rushing margin reaches 50. UK outrushed the Rebels 219-91 and joined the losing 15 percent.
Is every Gran play grand? No. What’s hurt UK this season is the lack of big plays. In 2016, Kentucky ranked 24th nationally in plays of 40 yards or more. This year, the Cats are 94th. And, yes, UK did suffer four straight three-and-outs Saturday when it had a chance to blow the game open.
When Kentucky had to have a scoring drive, however, it found a way. Down 30-27 with 8:36 left, starting from the 5-yard line, Gran’s 12 play calls ended with Benny Snell scoring from a yard out for a 34-30 lead with 2:14 left.
Too much time left, it turned out. Ole Miss covered 71 yards in 14 plays for the winning score with five seconds left on a fabulous catch. Tip your hat to the Rebels, who in a game of who-has-the-ball-last, had the ball last.
Could Gran/Stoops have milked the clock more on UK’s final possession? Yes, but that’s easy to say, tough to do. Job one is to score a touchdown. Mission accomplished. Unfortunately, the defense couldn’t hold up its end of the bargain.
Plus, Saturday was not the first time Kentucky has made a final-quarter drive when it needed a final-quarter drive. “I think it goes back to Mississippi State last year,” Gran said Tuesday.
Down 38-37 with 1:02 left, UK took over on its own 21 and gained 56 yards in seven plays for Austin MacGinnis’ 51-yard field goal that beat the Bulldogs 40-38.
A month later, at archrival Louisville, the Cats took over on their own 11 with 1:45 remaining and seven plays later celebrated MacGinnis’ 47-yard field goal with 12 seconds left for a 41-38 victory.
This season, two weeks back, trailing Tennessee 26-21 with 4:43 remaining, Kentucky took over on its 28 and marched 72 yards as Stephen Johnson scored an 11-yard touchdown with 33 seconds left in a 29-26 victory.
Nor was Saturday the first time UK has made a clutch drive only to lose anyway. Last year against Georgia, UK made a nearly eight-minute sausage-grinder of a drive to set up a MacGinnis 25-yard field goal for a 24-24 tie with 2:47 left only to lose 27-24. This year, with 43 seconds left against Florida, UK marched from its 25 to inside the Gators’ 30 only to be yanked back by a holding call and lose 28-27.
“We’ve been there before,” said Johnson of the mindset for that final Ole Miss drive. “Everyone’s on board.”
Bottom line, Ole Miss won, Kentucky lost, opening all doors for criticism, including the one to Eddie Gran’s office. He says he’s old enough to know it goes with the territory. These days, everyone is a play-caller. Only one, however, has to call the play before the outcome is known.
Kentucky at Vanderbilt
When: Saturday, 4 p.m. (EST)
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville
TV: SEC Network with Taylor Zarzour, Andre Ware and Olivia Harlan
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel