Kentucky played an underwhelming game last weekend against Southern Miss, escaping Hattiesburg with a narrow 24-17 win.
Much of the concern from last week’s performance centers around the offensive line and their inability to gain any traction against Southern Mississippi’s defensive front. Once considered the offense’s biggest strength, has now become the hot-topic issue on a football team one week away from SEC play.
The offensive line was praised in the preseason for its depth and legitimate SEC level talent. Cole Mosier’s ACL tear was thought to be a big, but manageable loss to overcome. Yet Saturday painted a much different picture of the offensive line.
The biggest issue was their inability to move the defensive line in the run game. Their technique seemed off, and the Southern Miss defensive line didn’t have much of a problem matching up to Kentucky’s physicality.
Though a southern school, Southern Miss isn’t recruiting even close to on-par with Kentucky. So what was the root of the problem?
One answer is simply the offensive line lost some of their continuity when Mosier went down with an injury. Offensive line play is just as much, if not more, about how the unit functions as a whole rather than the individual talent of the unit. My issue with that is Coach Stoops and Coach Gran have been on record as to saying they like to play as many offensive linemen as they can. They are used to rotating positions and snaps as a unit.
Another answer could be a dependence on the Wildcat formation. Big Blue Nation saw the lack of production that came from the formation, and knew something was not working. That something was the inability of the offensive line to create a push up front. The offensive line had trouble opening holes, or putting penetrating defenders on their heels.
That, though, wasn’t entirely the offensive line’s fault. The Wildcat formation puts an inherent disadvantage on the O-Line. The defense knew Benny Snell wasn’t going to pass and if the offense were to pass that it would take a complicated design. The defensive line didn’t have to react to the play. They could fill their gaps, plug their holes, and let the rest play out, which it often did favorably for Southern Miss.
Benny managed only 67 yards on 20 carries, while the offense averaged a poor 2.23 yards-per-rush. The play-calling could have incorporated more jet-sweeps and misdirection to make the defense react, but most of the plays ended with Snell plowing into creaseless offensive front.
Overall, I’ll say (hopefully) that the problem with the line was simply that it was the first game. It was Kentucky’s first test against a team other than themselves, and getting thrown different looks by different players than they are accustomed to can make the game speedup in a bad way.
There are positives to take away from the game. Landon Young played well, and the line has some spectacular executions, like the quarterback draw that lead to a Kentucky touchdown.
Going into Saturday’s game against EKU, there are only a few real concerns. Bunchy Stallings suffered an injury against Southern Miss, but it doesn’t seem to be serious.
The other is Aaron Patrick. Patrick is a player that caught my eye in last year’s home finale for Eastern, and rightfully so. Patrick made first team All-OVC as a true sophomore, and he’s built much like LSU defensive ends of years past. I project him to make an impact Saturday.
Other than that, Kentucky should have no problem with EKU’s defensive font. The line needs to look good Saturday to quell concerns before their away game against South Carolina.
My bet is they will.