Sometimes you talk yourself out of one thing and into another thing.
And that other thing doesn’t work out.
That’s what happened to Eddie Gran on Saturday night. Kentucky’s offensive coordinator faced a third-and-2 at Texas A&M’s 17-yard line in overtime at Kyle Field. He placed star running back Benny Snell in the wildcat formation for a direct snap, but he didn’t like what he saw from the defense and called a timeout.
During that break, Gran switched the play call. He dialed up a pass play for quarterback Terry Wilson with two options — tight end in the corner, receiver in the flat. Neither presented itself immediately. Aside from a turnover, Wilson did the one thing you cannot do in that situation. He took an eight-yard sack.
Pushed to the limits of his leg, Miles Butler’s 43-yard field goal hit the crossbar and bounced backward instead of forward. Texas A&M took over. Four plays later, Texas A&M won the game 20-14.
“As you look back,” said Gran afterward of the third-and-2, “that wasn’t a good decision.”
Hindsight is brutally 20/20. Instead of dancing with the one who brought you to 5-0, Gran put the game in the hands of a sophomore quarterback whose sixth Division I start was shaky at best. It didn’t work. UK is no longer undefeated. Twitter trolls and online experts have had a second-guessing field day.
I’ll resist joining the rock throwers. I can’t see what Gran on the field and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw in the coaches’ booth saw before calling timeout. I wasn’t at the practices where Gran said that pass play worked time and again to perfection.
I am going to say this: Eddie Gran has a problem. His offense isn’t working. The scheme that synched so well with UK’s stellar defense is spinning its wheels. The numbers tell the tale. After gaining 427, 454 and 528 yards the first three games, the Cats have gained 300, 327 and 178 the last three. UK’s last 17 offensive possessions have produced all of seven points.
“We can’t go 2-for-13 on third down,” said Gran on Saturday.
That too was the continuation of a troubling trend. The first three games, UK converted 22 of 38 third downs for 57.9 percent. The last three, the Cats have converted eight of 36 for 22.2 percent. That’s how you fall to 98th nationally in total offense.
Here’s the thing: Even when Kentucky was running the ball so effectively, you knew a time would come a time when the Cats would have to prove they could throw the football. Saturday was that time, and Kentucky couldn’t do it.
Thing was, the coaches knew it. Texas A&M entered the game ranked sixth nationally in run defense. It was the Aggies secondary that was deemed shaky. Thus UK threw the ball on each of its first three plays. There were five called pass plays on the first possession. Texas A&M defensive coordinator Mike Elko had an answer, however. He rushed four and dropped seven into coverage, forcing Wilson to make tough reads. The quarterback was too often indecisive. When he did tuck-and-run, the Aggies’ rallied for the tackle.
Take out the 54-yard pop/flip/shovel touchdown pass to Lynn Bowden and Wilson was 12 of 19 for all of 54 yards. That’s less than three yards an attempt. That won’t get it done.
Meanwhile, Snell ended up with a season-low 13 carries. Head coach Mark Stoops blamed that on the fact his team ran just 50 offensive plays. But Snell carried the football over 40 percent of the plays in UK’s three previous SEC games — 47.4 percent vs. Florida; 41 percent vs. Mississippi State; 42.4 percent vs. South Carolina. He carried it 26 percent of the plays on Saturday.
“We have to go back to work and figure it out,” Gran said Saturday.
For him, the off week could not come at a better time. Texas A&M won’t be the last team to force the Cats out of Plan A. From here on out, the Cats are going to need a better Plan B.
Vanderbilt at No. 18 Kentucky
Saturday, Oct. 20 (Time and TV TBA)