You don’t need the clairvoyant powers of former NFL quarterback turned CBS analyst Tony Romo or the photographic memory of Los Angeles Rams boy wonder Sean McVay to know what the Kentucky football team must do Saturday afternoon at Kroger Field.
It must score points. And then score points. And then score points. And, oh yeah, almost forgot, score points.
Simple as that.
If Mark Stoops’ Wildcats are going to win the program’s most important game since a young coach named Bear Bryant walked the UK sidelines, the Cats are going to have to find the end zone in order to knock off the Georgia Bulldogs and secure the school’s first berth in the SEC Championship Game.
That’s no knock on Kentucky’s all-world defense.
Truth is, there’s no knocking the UK defense, the pride-filled unit that went the entire second half without allowing a single first down during last week’s 15-14 miracle win at Missouri. The Cats now share the stage with Clemson as the nation’s stingiest defense, allowing a scant 13 points per game.
It’s just that in this game, facing the defending national runner-up, a team with NFL-caliber talent on both sides of the ball, you can’t assume the Kentucky defense is going to hold the big, bad Bulldogs under two touchdowns.
Thus the UK offense has to score more than two touchdowns. And the last few weeks, that’s been a bridge too far for an offense that now ranks 104th out of 130 FBS teams in total yards per game and 93rd in points per game.
“We’ve got to do our part,” said UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran this week. “That’s the bottom line, especially in this game.”
These days, Eddie Gran is not real popular. Continuing a long-standing Kentucky football tradition with regard to the offensive coordinator, Gran’s play-calling has received considerable second-guessing. At one time, there were 50,000 aspiring offensive coordinators in the stands who believed they could dial up better plays. Now, thanks to social media, they all have Twitter accounts and/or Facebook pages.
Not that Gran pays any attention to any of that, of course. He’s been around the block. He knows better than to listen to the praise or the criticism. There’s too much work to do, too much to fix. Especially this week.
“We’re going to have to play a sound football game,” Gran said Tuesday. “We can’t have the blunders that we’ve had to go out and execute against this defense.”
Really, the offense has struggled since being blanked in the second half of the 24-10 win over South Carolina. In four quarters and an overtime at Texas A&M, they managed one touchdown. They scored but twice against Vanderbilt. They went 58:36 without producing a touchdown at Mizzou.
And then, out of nowhere, that final drive happened. Trailing 14-9 with 1:24 to play, backs firmly against the wall, the UK offense looked like a completely different offense. Terry Wilson made pinpoint throws. David Bouvier made clutch catches. Lynn Bowden was a play-maker. Eight plays covered 81 yards. By now, you know how the story ends, C.J. Conrad grabbing a perfect 2-yard TD pass from Wilson on an untimed down.
“You can’t put a price on it,” Gran said Tuesday of the confidence a struggling offense can gain from such a successful drive. “I think you saw it today in our seven-on-seven (drill). We were really sharp.”
They must be razor sharp Saturday. Georgia head coach Kirby Smart is a former defensive coordinator who learned at the knee of Nick Saban. The Bulldogs are 12th in scoring defense, 13th in pass efficiency defense and 14th in total defense.
True, the Dawgs have had some trouble stopping the run. In their lone loss, 36-16 at LSU, Georgia was gashed for 275 yards on the ground. And Kentucky does have a certain running back named Benny Snell. But then, these past few games, having Snell hasn’t guaranteed points.
Saturday, that has to change. For the Cats to win, they have to score. Simple as that.
Said Gran, “We have to come with a different edge.”
No. 6 Georgia at No. 9 Kentucky
When: 3:30 p.m.
At stake: SEC East Division title