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Kentucky Football: Possibility For Explosive Plays Against Vanderbilt

South Carolina was able to expose Vanderbilt's vulnerabilities in the secondary. Kentucky should be poised to do the same, but must stop Vanderbilt pressure so Towles has time to make accurate throws.

Rob Foldy

Kentucky football is currently tied for third in terms of net explosive plays, and has a total of 15 explosive plays using SDS' metrics. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has given up a total of 7 explosive plays, and that number would have been higher if South Carolina was able to connect on several deep passes when their receivers had Vandy beat but just couldn't haul in the pass. Kentucky's offensive firepower should be capable of exposing this weakness of Vandy on Saturday.

Watching the South Carolina-Vanderbilt game, I noticed that Vanderbilt plays a fair bit of tight man-to-man coverage. Vanderbilt also switched to Quarters coverage in 3rd-and-long situations, which can essentially become man coverage when enough deep routes are run by receivers. Redshirt freshman cornerback Tre Bell (#4) and true freshman safety Khari Blasingame (#23) did not play their best games against Carolina, and will probably be targeted by UK this weekend.

Carolina did show a "3x1" formation at times against Vanderbilt, and UK also likes to show this formation frequently.  At 5:57 in the first quarter, with 3rd-and-11, Carolina even ran a play very similar to what Neal Brown calls "98":


Allow me to briefly explain the image above. The X receiver (will be Javess Blue or Dorian Baker for UK) is running a "read" route, which is to say, if the corner plays him tight he either runs a Vertical or Skinny Post route. If the corner plays him soft he runs a Hitch. Prior to the snap, Patrick Towles will read the deep safety on the X receiver's half of the field. If the safety is cheating too far towards the middle of the field (or if there is only one safety deep), Towles first option is to throw to his X receiver who he trusts can beat his one-on-one match-up.

The Y receiver (will be Joey Herrick or Garrett Johnson) is running a Dig route. The H receiver (Ryan Timmons or TV Williams) is running a Whip route. The Z receiver (Demarco Robinson or Blake Bone) runs a Banana route. The order of Towles' read priorities are listed 1-3 with the deepest route being his first option. That Banana route is usually open at two different points: upon first bending, and later in the route when the Z approaches the hash mark.

When Carolina ran this play the Z receiver beat the coverage but didn't make the catch leaving major yardage on the field. UK cannot afford to do that. UK's "98" differs in that the Y receiver runs a Vertical route of his own which would put additional pressure on Vandy's secondary especially one in Quarters.

When South Carolina ran this formation they reduced the splits of the receivers on the trips side (Y, H, and Z) moving the Z receiver 2-3 yards inside of the numbers. UK doesn't do this because of Towle's arm strength, and wider receiver splits can lead to more space and stress for a secondary.

Against Carolina, Vandy often disguised a blitzed from their nickel back covering the inside receiver, and rolled their safety up to take his man. If UK can pick-up this blitz they'll have one-on-one coverage across most of the field, and so far this season UK has shown the ability to capitalize in these situations.

What can throw a wrench in UK making plays down the field? The major cause for concern is Vandy's ability to get after the quarterback. Vandy has some very good defensive linemen and linebackers led by Caleb Azubike, Vince Taylor, and Adam Butler. Towles needs 2-3 seconds for deep routes to open up, and those passes will be much harder with defenders in his face. The offensive line will have their hands full again on Saturday. Also, Vanderbilt's secondary is very good at looking to strip the ball upon receptions. They forced three fumbles against Carolina, and UK's receivers must protect the ball.

If Towles is given time, and if the receivers hold onto the ball, I'm confident UK has a mismatch against Vandy's secondary that can be exploited. Vanderbilt's offense is probably not to a point yet where they can effectively play from behind, and so points by UK's offense will in turn help UK's defense.