Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky football: Eddie Gran proves Bobby Petrino’s equal (or better)

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, left, hugs running back Jojo Kemp after Kentucky defeated Louisville 41-38 on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.
Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, left, hugs running back Jojo Kemp after Kentucky defeated Louisville 41-38 on Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. Lexington Herald-Leader

Louisville coach Bobby Petrino might be the best offensive play-caller in the nation. He proved that more than once on Saturday. Take the Cards’ opening drive, when Louisville opened with a 42-yard pass from Lamar Jackson to Jaylen Smith on the way to an 84-yard, five-play touchdown drive. Or take the perfect third-and-eight shovel pass from Jackson to tight end Cole Hikutuni for a 24-yard TD pass in the second quarter for a 24-14 Louisville lead.

Only here’s the thing: Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran was every bit as good as Petrino on Saturday, if not better, in UK’s 41-38 win.

After Louisville had taken a 7-0 lead, Kentucky’s first play right out of the gate was a perfectly executed 75-yard touchdown pass by quarterback Stephen Johnson to Garrett Johnson.

“Three days ago,” said Gran when asked when he knew that would be UK’s opening play.

Gran and quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw had seen something in the video about the way Louisville rotated its secondary to a certain UK set. The coaches thought they could take advantage and, thanks to Juice’s rout and Stephen’s throw on the Johnson-to-Johnson connection, Kentucky did take advantage.

That wasn’t all, however. The story line coming into the game was that Kentucky needed to use its rushing attack to control the football and keep it away from Jackson, U of L’s dynamic quarterback who might still win the Heisman Trophy.

Those who had watched Louisville play all year, however, said that U of L fielded a stout run defense, but the Cards’ secondary was vulnerable. It was uncertain whether Kentucky could exploit that, however. Thanks to Gran, Hinshaw and Johnson, UK was able to not just take shots down the field, but hit shots down the field.

Another example was the 35-yard TD pass from Stephen Johnson to Dorian Baker with 14:19 left in the game that gave UK a 38-31 lead. Baker had dropped a key pass in the second quarter that would have given Kentucky a first down. But the junior came back with the big fourth-quarter catch on a ball he had to adjust to in the end zone.

“He didn’t panic,” said Hinshaw, who said that often Baker is so anxious to make a big play he loses focus.

But back to Gran, who coached with Stoops at Florida State before being the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati the past three seasons. After failing before, Stoops finally persuaded Gran to join him in Lexington this past off-season. In turn, Gran brought along Hinshaw, who might have made the recruiting decision that saved UK’s season.

It was Hinshaw who found Johnson, the junior college transfer from California, after Stoops told his two new coaches to go out and find another quarterback. Hinshaw watched tape of more than 20 quarterbacks before deciding to pursue Johnson. It also was Hinshaw who worked tirelessly to correct a flaw in Johnson’s throwing motion. (The quarterback dropped the ball too low before throwing it.) Stephen Johnson’s throws during the season did not resemble the Stephen Johnson throws we saw during spring drills.

Drew Barker was Kentucky’s starting quarterback to open the season, remember. He was the quarterback who Gran and Hinshaw counted on all off-season and through fall camp. Then, just like that, one series into the third game, Barker was out for ultimately the season with a back injury. In came Johnson, who has played far beyond any optimist’s hope.

In addition to that, Gran tweaked his scheme to better fit his personnel, going from a big play, chunk-yardage offense to one that relied on a strong running game to chew up yardage and give Stoops’ young defense time to rest and make adjustments.

That also played a big part in Saturday’s win over Louisville. In the third quarter, after Louisville had gone back in front 31-28, Kentucky embarked on a 13-play, 60-yard drive that consumed more than six minutes of clock and ended with an Austin MacGinnis 35-yard field goal for a 31-31 tie with 2:43 left in the quarter.

One offensive play later, UK’s Mike Edwards intercepted a pass, giving the ball right back to the offense. The Cats then drove 60 yards in seven plays, with Johnson finding Baker for that TD and a seven-point lead with just over 14 minutes left in the game.

Next series, Kentucky again came up with an interception. This time senior Blake McClain, who had dropped an interception in the season-opening loss to Southern Miss, made the pick of a tipped ball at the goal line to keep Louisville from scoring.

Two series later, UK linebacker Courtney Love recovered a Jackson fumble to stop another Louisville scoring threat -- this time at the UK 11-yard line with 1:45 left.

From there, Gran used the clock and his calls to perfection. Johnson hit Jeff Badet for a 29-yard gain on the second play to put the ball at the 48. Johnson then ran for 15 yards. After a two-yard Jojo Kemp run, Johnson hit Ryan Timmons for four yards. Another two-yard run put MacGinnis in position for his game-winning 47-yard field goal with 12 seconds left.

Louisville entered the game with the nation’s No. 1-ranked offense, but Kentucky outgained the Cards 581-561. Kentucky ran for 229 yards and threw for 352 yards. On a day when UK’s running game was expected to be key to their chances, the Cats averaged 20.7 yards on their 17 completions and 12.1 yards per attempt.

So, yes, Bobby Petrino is a terrific offensive coach, but Eddie Gran proved Saturday he knows a thing or two about calling plays, as well.

Kentucky-Louisville football series

Date

Opponent

UK

UofL

Dec

9/3/94

Lexington

20

14

W

9/2/95

Lexington

10

13

L

8/31/96

Lexington

14

38

L

8/31/97

Lexington

38

24

W

9/5/98

Louisville

68

34

W

9/4/99

Lexington

28

56

L

9/2/00

Louisville

34

40

L (OT)

9/1/01

Lexington

10

36

L

9/1/02

Louisville

22

17

W

8/31/03

Lexington

24

40

L

9/5/04

Louisville

0

28

L

9/4/05

Lexington

24

31

L

9/3/06

Louisville

28

59

L

9/15/07

Lexington

40

34

W

8/31/08

Louisville

27

2

W

9/19/09

Lexington

31

27

W

9/4/10

Louisville

23

16

W

9/17/11

Lexington

17

24

L

9/2/12

Louisville

14

32

L

9/14/13

Lexington

13

27

L

11/29/14

Louisville

40

44

L

11/28/15

Lexington

24

38

L

11/26

Louisville

41

38

W

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