Walking into work after a satisfactory football Saturday is an outstanding feeling. But the over years, being a snakebit UK football fan, I have learned to wrestle with my emotions quite often regarding the blue and white.
After the kind of up-and-down performance Kentucky displayed in its season opener, I think it's safe to say a good amount of the BBN might be experiencing a mix of emotions right now.
Some might be feeling overly prideful that UK took care of business in Week 1 and didn’t poop the bed like other unfortunate teams in the SEC. Others might feel regretful they bet the under season win total or maybe partied a bit too hard in the blue lot postgame. A decent amount might be anxious about some of this team’s vulnerabilities and whether or not to get their hopes up. Hell, there’s a pretty decent chance you experienced all of that since Saturday.
Regardless how you feel, the Cats accomplished goal numero uno; they won, baby. Plus, if you were so inclined to have some entertainment purposes placed on the action, the final score was something that made plenty of Wildcat wallets more full.
That being said, Kentucky played far from perfect. When you are favored by multiple scores, it is never a good look to be in an early 14-7 hole - especially if your offense isn’t known for climbing out of deficits. UK displayed spurts of dominance and moments of ineptitude in both the run and pass games throughout the afternoon. But of course, you know the good guys prevailed in the end.
So instead of focusing on the momentary lapses of judgement or concentration, let’s focus on the X’s and O’s. I mean, come on. It’s like 80 hours or something like that since the game ended. You all know what happened.
It was hinted all offseason that the Cats would stick with more 12 personnel. Before that morning caffeine headache is accentuated, let me explain what that means. Simply, 12 personnel is shorthand for what kind of players are on the field.
The first figure refers to the number of backs and the second refers to the number of tight ends on the field. So, 12 personnel translates to having one running back and two tight ends in action.
Even outside of the chatter and coach talk, some key stats screamed UK should use more of these sets. When throwing out of 12 personnel last year, Terry Wilson was the third-most accurate downfield quarterback while being the most successful passer situationally among SEC starters (via SEC Stat Cat).
In general, UK was 13% more successful on average out of his personnel grouping compared to their overall success rate. With the work-in-progress that is Wilson’s arm production, leaning into anything to make his job easier is a pretty sound move — wouldn’t you agree?
Quick sidebar: You will read the phrase “situationally successful” throughout. In short, all yards are not created equal. Gaining five yards on 3rd and short means much more than on 2nd and long. In order for a play to be successful, half of the yards to gain have to be seized on first downs, 70 percent on second downs, and 100 percent on third and fourth downs.
Okay, back to the good stuff.
Well, that inference was confirmed Saturday. In 2018, about one out of six plays were out of 12 personnel. About 40% of their plays against Toledo were out of that set - a massive increase in usage. This personnel group was responsible for over half of the Wildcats’ gains with nearly two-thirds of such plays being situationally successful.
Kentucky did what UK’s offense has done the past few years - they leaned heavily on their inside zone read game with some powers and counters mixed in sporadically. The BBN also saw a couple of wildcat plays. It was business as usual with the ground game carrying UK’s offense. Even though they only averaged 5.2 yards per carry, 59% of UK’s runs were successful.
Rose’s stat line doesn’t jump off the page, and a quarter of his runs went for a loss. But he ended up with a 50% rushing success rate. As far as sizzle plays were concerned, the other two backs in the rotation had more. Chris Rodriguez was successful on all five of his carries, and Kavosiey Smoke finished averaging over 11 yards per pop with a score.
Wilson as the read runner only kept it once and only attempted one RPO throw. I get not wanting to put a lot of things on tape, but Wilson is quickly solidifying his reputation as a gunshy game manager despite his high-end athleticism.
It has been no secret UK’s passing game has been hella thirsty for some downfield playmakers. As buttery and dynamic as Lynn Bowden can be, this offense cannot reach its peak without someone else taking attention away from him. Only Vanderbilt’s Kalija Lipscomb received a higher percentage of his team’s total targets within the SEC last season than Bowden.
Perhaps a scarier stat - of dudes who commanded at least a fifth of their team’s targets last year, only South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel and Bryan Edwards had a worse receiving success rate.
But, some new faces might be ready to answer the bell. Though known as a pass interference magnet, Ahmad Wagner created a nice yards after the catch gain for himself and exhibited why he is such a handful against man coverage.
Redshirt freshman Bryce Oliver came up with UK’s first aerial score of the year off a 50/50 ball. Junior and self described “smooth” wideout Josh Ali made an acrobatic grab for another score.
Pivoting back to Wilson, his stats reflect a better afternoon that what he actually had. That isn’t to say he didn’t play pretty okay - because he certainly did. But like an AT&T TV spot, you should want more than just okay.
Both of his two long completions were created by his targets making outstanding plays with the ball in the air. Both were fades and both were underthrown. Wilson also overshot Josh Ali on a cross - his deep inaccuracy left him with a depth adjusted accuracy percentage under 33% despite an adjusted completion percentage of 76%.
So while balls were caught, they weren’t necessarily delivered on the money. But Wilson had a couple of good intermediate third down completions in the heart of the defense, which was a glaring issue in his game a year ago.
Overall, the concept that netted the most yardage for the Cats was Counter reads with 77. Next came the slot fades, bluff Reads, inside zone reads, and curl flat combos to round out the Top five.
Other looks that saw multiple reps were comebacks, scissors, and waggles - all of which were some of Kentucky’s most called concepts in the passing game in 2018. But UK didn’t have a single successful scissor or waggle play against the Rockets. Run-pass options composed about 38% of UK’s total calls.
Kentucky is a full-fledged MACtion star, as they will be hosting another Mid-American foe in Eastern Michigan this weekend. Like Toledo, the Eagles shouldn’t be too much of a threat for the Cats as they look to tighten the screws and become more polished before Florida comes to Lexington riding that massive one-year losing streak to Stoops’ Troops.