It didn’t take long for Rich Scangarello’s new playbook to turn some heads as the newly hired offensive coordinator has ramped up the excitement during the early stages of Kentucky Wildcats’ spring football practice.
Hired to replace Liam Coen in late February, Scangarello has hit the ground running with two vital cogs returning — quarterback Will Levis and running back Chris Rodriguez — and a new offensive line coach in friend and fellow NFL coaching veteran Zach Yenser already in sync as the Wildcats take another step closer to the annual Blue-White Spring Game on April 9th.
This past week, defensive coordinator Brad White and veteran linebacker Jacquez Jones both provided rave reviews for Scangarello’s offense that is expected to build upon last year’s new-found success in the pass game.
“This offense is going to be deadly,” said Jones after a recent practice. “They’re not even halfway through the playbook. There’s only going to be more. I feel like it’s going to be a step up from last year.”
The Ole Miss transfer was a key member of last season’s 10-3 team that won its third straight Bowl Game with a 20-17 over Iowa in the Citrus Bowl. He will be joined by a core group of linebackers that includes DeAndre Square, J.J. Weaver and Jordan Wright.
“This offense is wild,” said Jones. “You gotta have great eyes. I made the joke yesterday that there’s so many crossing (routes), that even the head coach will be crossing across the field. You gotta keep your eyes on him. It messes with your eyes a lot.”
"Will is a great quarterback, great arm and I can't wait to catch balls from him... I think I'm good playmaker when I get the ball in my hands and a good blocker when I don't have the ball in my hands"— UK Sports Network (@UKSportsNetwork) March 23, 2022
- @RobinsonTayvion after spring practice #4 @AlumniHallUK pic.twitter.com/bMWpUxwPjC
In 2021, the Wildcats ranked fifth in scoring offense (32.3 points per game) and eighth in total offense (425.2 yards per game) in the SEC, including fifth in the conference in rushing offense at 199.5 yards per game. Under Coen’s guidance, Levis finished sixth in the SEC in passing yards with 2,826, while Rodriguez and wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson each finished with the second-most rushing (1,379) and receiving yards (1,334), respectively, in the conference.
White, now in his third year as defensive coordinator, said the NFL influence of Coen (LA Rams) and now Scangarello (San Francisco 49ers) has been most evident in the run game as the Big Blue Wall is now in Year 2 of an overhauled system that is now accelerated as Scangarello and Yenser, the new O-Line coach were on the same staff in San Francisco.
“There are some subtle differences between the Rams and the 49ers,” said White on how the run game has looked different in spring ball. “They’ve done a really good job in terms of being able to target in the run game. Some of the motions and formations really stress you. It’s great for us defensively.”
But it’s the passing game that has brought much-needed balance to the offense as head coach Mark Stoops has adapted from a run-first offense to one that spreads the field and takes advantage of playmakers like Robinson who left for the NFL after a record-breaking season that included 104 catches for 1,334 yards, both single-season records.
Ironically, it will be another Robinson - Tayvion Robinson, a Virginia Tech transfer, that is expected to be the No. 1 target for Levis. Freshman wide receiver Dane Key has also been getting early praise from Scangarello, who served as the offensive coordinator for the Denver Broncos in 2019 before taking on the role of quarterbacks coach for the 49ers.
“It forces us as defensive coaches to adapt and figure out puzzle pieces,” said White of seeing some new offensive sets each day. “It’s been good for our guys. Our guys have really adjusted. They enjoy it, they enjoy the challenge of it, especially those older linebackers and a guy like Ty (Ajian) who’s seen just about every offense in the book. It’s been good.”
Kentucky opens the regular season on September 3rd against Miami (OH) at Kroger Field.