Somewhere in the first half of Kentucky's 52-21 drubbing at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers I took to Twitter and for the first time all season joined the chorus of those asking for Drew Barker to be given a shot on the field. Right now BBN appears to be of two minds on the issue.
Some believe that Patrick Towles, while not perfect, is the least of the offense's problems. The thought process goes, no quarterback would look good playing behind this offensive line and suffering the number of drops Towles has from his receivers. This camp trusts Mark Stoops and Co. to make the right decisions about playing time based on what they see in practice.
Others see that the season is slipping away and while Towles is certainly not the offense's only problem, that alone doesn't make him untouchable. The thinking goes that while Towles has shown flashes of being a very good QB, we are far enough into his tenure to know he is not consistent enough to be a winning SEC quarterback. These folks would like to give Barker a game or at least 2-3 series to see what he might generate.
Complicating this within the confines of the Tennessee game were two unfortunate facts. One, it sounds like Barker wasn't available due to injury. Two, the defense and special teams played so poorly, by the second half the whole discussion was moot.
With all that said, this column isn't about replacing Towles with Barker. Not really, anyway. Rather, what I think we really need to be discussing is how this offense can be quasi-successful over the last four games of the season given the loss of Boom Williams and the (let's face it) abhorrent play of the offensive line.
The plan involves Towles, not because of what he has done this year, but because of what he hasn't done.
(The rest of this piece comes with a caveat. I am about 3-17 lifetime as an assistant tackle football coach and have never coached anyone older than 13. While I'm confident in what I'm about to say, I'm not pretending to know more about football than Shannon Dawson or Mark Stoops.)
For Kentucky's current offense to work the way it is supposed to, three things need to happen that aren't currently happening. The offensive line, in particular the tackles, need to pass block with some level of competence. Compared to that, the other things, while important, are almost on the margins.
Receivers need to cut down on drops. As a group, the WRs are the most talented players on the team. That they continue to make so many mistakes is turning what should be a huge positive into just another problem.
Finally, Towles needs to be more accurate with his throws. It isn't just incompletions and missing receivers, it is also throwing better balls on passes that are completed and designed for the receiver to catch and run. There may also be a chicken and egg thing going on here with the receivers. I can't speak for Garret Johnson, but I wonder if him picking up the dropsies might have something to do with being crushed more than once on bad balls throughout the year.
These points are all somewhat pedantic and obvious, but I mention them to say this: none of these things are going to change appreciably over the next month. Hoping everyone can "do better" isn't going to get it done. All of these kids are trying their darnedest, and unfortunately for the time being, they are who they are.
Rather, Kentucky needs some schematic changes or "wrinkles" over the last four games of the season, ones that play to their strengths while minimizing their weaknesses. If a lot of this sounds familiar, it should. The truth is, Dawson has abandoned some things that Kentucky did well in 2014. I don't necessarily blame him. But it may be time to recognize that, given Kentucky's current problems, those things give them a better chance to win.
I'd start with the proposition that Kentucky cannot drop back to pass 35-40 times a game and expect success. Pass protection has been awful in a way that isn't rectifiable. The Cats have tried every option and with the exception of center Jon Toth as a constant, has shuffled the offensive linemen every conceivable way. While Stoops will need to make some tough decisions about what to do about the offensive line this offseason, for now it is what it is.
With Boom Williams out, at least this week against Georgia, Kentucky can beef up its running attack in two ways.
The first is, Patrick Towles needs to carry the ball on designed runs a few times a game. That in itself can happen a number of ways. If I have a complaint about the Dawson offense, it is that the 'Cats' signature run play is essentially a modified zone read with all of its drawbacks and none of its advantages. Kentucky runs a slow developing hand-off up the middle where, in a zone read, the quarterback would read the defensive end. If the end crashes to tackle the running back, the QB keeps it and runs to the vacated spot. When Kentucky does this, though, Towles literally never keeps the ball with the intent of running, even when the end has crashed all the way into the hole.
Sometimes Towles will fake the hand-off and throw, but that is a simple play-action pass that doesn't keep the defense honest in quite the same way.
It happens enough that it has to be by design. There is no option on this play. Going forward, I think there needs to be. If Towles has proven one thing, it is that he's a very capable runner for his size. With things around him literally and figuratively collapsing, this option needs to be there. If nothing else, make it something the defense has to respect.
As it is, I think this play is far too easy to defend.
Along with that, Kentucky would do well to get Towles rolling out of the pocket on more plays. I doubt he throws as well on the run, but how often does he really get to throw with his feet set anyway? Not only does this give him more time when his Left Tackle gets beat (which is often), but it offers more opportunity to run if no one is open.
In more of an homage to 2014, Kentucky needs to get Jojo Kemp more involved, specifically in the Wildcat package that he had so much success with last year. Since 2014 started, Kemp has averaged 13.7 carries in UK's four SEC wins and 4.2 carries in their eleven losses.
With Williams out, Mikel Horton is the presumptive starter at RB. Still Kemp is likely to see more carries. Why not have him do what he is most comfortable with? This makes even more sense when you consider the troubles on the offensive line in a traditional scheme.
I understand that none of this can be implemented overnight, particularly Towles learning to train his eyes at the defensive end on the zone read. But if putting another wrinkle or two in the offense results is a couple (or even a few) mistakes, is anyone really going to notice at this point?
If it gives Kentucky more of a fighting chance to consistently move the ball without magically hoping that everyone just plays a lot better, I'm more than willing to take the chance.
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