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Kentucky Football: Kentucky Must Learn To Defend The HUNH Before The Rest Of The League Wakes Up

Hurry-up, No Huddle (HUNH) offenses are piling up huge yards on traditional SEC defenses, and UK is in a position to take advantage of this trend.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The somewhat surprising 52-28 devastation of the South Carolina Gamecocks by the Texas A&M Aggies has produced an excellent question from a somewhat unlikely place — Texas Longhorns community Barking Carnival. The premise of this piece wonders why SEC coaches haven’t caught on to the fact that you can’t defend against the Hurry-up No Huddle offenses run by teams like the Auburn Tigers and TAMU in the traditional "SEC" way:

When will SEC coaches learn that denial isn’t a defense?

Otherwise, Alabama’s bowl game against Oklahoma will keep happening. While the Big 12 limps along at a comparative (and inarguable) talent deficit vis a vis the the loaded SEC, astute Big 12 fans can only shrug and laugh when they watch A&M and Auburn light up "a defensive league where that stuff won’t fly." Of course it works. Big 12 defensive coordinators have been forced to teach their defenses to actually think since 2008. With varying degrees of success, I might add. But the days of 11 defensive marionettes looking to the sideline for a brain transplant every thirty seconds are over. The HUNH won’t allow it.

This is an excellent point, and one that Kentucky defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot needs to embrace. When you run what is essentially a HUNH scheme like Kentucky wants to run (with a somber nod to the fact that calling UK an HUNH team last season is simply confusing desire with reality). But when you run that kind of an offense, you must be able to defend it. I’m not quite sure this UK defense can, but at least they haven’t buried their heads in the sand like Nick Saban and Steve Spurrier, who both seem firmly ensconced in turn of the century football thinking. Consider:

For years, the SEC has had a roughly agreed upon style of play that allowed coaches to focus on amassing excellent talent and then provide 30 second brain transplants from the sideline between each play so that this talent could line up correctly. While the league is inarguably college football’s most talented and passionate, it is not its best coached or most innovative. And they’re getting a wake-up call.

Watching many SEC defenses incapable of lining up properly against an unbalanced line in every Auburn game last year was curious - in fact, how is that even possible? It’s JV level stuff. Why did South Carolina’s safeties keep looking to the sideline, imploring their coaches for guidance like a flopping Italian striker seeking a penalty kick?

He’s right — and this represents an opportunity for Kentucky to embrace the innovation for once, rather than getting caught flat-footed and run over by it like Spurrier and Saban respectively. Granted, Alabama didn’t exactly get mauled by Auburn in the Iron Bowl last season, but the Tigers did rack up almost 400 yards against a defense that was used to giving up 300 or less. In fact, of all the teams putting up 400 yards or more against the Tide last season (and I’m giving Auburn the extra 7 yards to meet that round-number delineator), ALL of them, 100%, were HUNH teams — namely Auburn, Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

What this reminds me of is some basketball coaches back in 1986 (I’m looking at you, Eddie Sutton) who really didn’t like the 3-point shot much and utilized it sparingly except when he had Rex Chapman. In 1986, Kentucky shot 26% 3-pointers, but in 1987, UK shot a whopping 98 threes (5%), and in his final season, despite having Derrick Miller (or Millar, as his name is properly spelled), the Wildcats only took 108 threes (6%). Rick Pitino’s Kentucky teams, of course, completely turned that around, attempting 801 3-point shots in his first season (40%), 715 (39%) in his second. and so on. The 1996 team, widely regarded as his best and one of Kentucky’s best ever, shot 670 threes (27%), but that was due to having a huge number of great inside players. Barking Carnival makes a related point:

If the HUNH spread is the perfect enabler of basketball on grass, imagine a basketball defense that stares at the sideline mouthing,"It’s not fair!" every time the opponent decides to fast break. Identifying the stupidity of this and the coach’s inability to impart defensive principles rather than heavy-handed play-by-play instruction should be glaringly obvious.

Yet most of the SEC continues on, pretending it’s not happening.

So while the rest of the SEC tries to decide if they are going to lower themselves to learning how to defend the HUNH and whether or not to utilize it, I see Kentucky rushing to beat them to the "bottom" — might as well, right? It’s not as if UK has to worry about selling out a 100K stadium every Saturday. When you’re down as far as Kentucky is, you can afford to adopt new things. We clearly are learning how to run a HUNH-style spread offense in the form of Neal Brown’s Air Raid. Seems only natural we should beat the crowd to learning how to defend it as well.