What does the Kentucky offense look like under new offensive coordinator Liam Coen? That is the million-dollar question.
Mark Stoops is now on his fourth offensive coordinator in nine seasons, and the attack that Coen is bringing from the NFL will be quite different than what has been used in Lexington over the last decade. After messing with the Air Raid, tempo, and an inside zone heavy attack out of the pistol, Kentucky is moving to Sean McVay’s wide zone offense. The goal is to achieve more balance.
“That’s the simple answer that everybody understands, that we need to have more balance,” Stoops told reporters at SEC Media Days. “We ran the football extremely well for years, and we want to continue to do that. But we want to take advantage of that as well and be able to be efficient in the play-action pass and getting the ball down the field. I feel like we certainly improved in that area.”
That’s just what the doctor ordered. Under Eddie Gran, Kentucky consistently had one of the best rushing attacks in the SEC with Boom Williams, Benny Snell Jr., and Lynn Bowden Jr. all collecting 1,000 yard rushing seasons in a four-year span. Last season, Chris Rodriguez Jr. was one of the most efficient rushers in college football posting a 65.55 percent rushing success rate in 119 carries. Despite all of that success, Kentucky just could not figure out the play-action pass game.
Over the last three seasons, Kentucky has ranked no better than 11th in yards per pass attempt in the SEC. The Wildcats have finished no better than 12th in QB rating. This is an offense that has only produced 30 passing touchdowns in its last 37 games. That is not a winning recipe.
Stoops is bringing Coen in to fix the passing game. However, this is going to be a side dish of the offense. The main entree is going to remain the rushing attack. The wide zone sets up everything in this new scheme and will be Kentucky’s bread and butter concept. The passing game will primarily be a counter off of the ground action as the new offensive coordinator attempts to have a marriage of the run and pass in Lexington. The head coach is on board as Kentucky can continue to enhance its rushing attack.
“Also, there’s some versatility in the run game that we can continue to add to,” Stoops said. “So I feel good about it. It’s going to be different, but I always want to have a strong physical presence and want to be able to run the football.”
Ground and pound will still be the name of the game for Kentucky football. Stoops wants a ball-control offense to help his team shrink the game and protect his defense with some help from the kicking game. However, there is no getting around the need to find home run plays in the offense. Kentucky needs to do that in the passing game, but the offense will remain a physical game at the line of scrimmage.
“Me being a defensive guy for years and years, you always feel that threat, it’s always very aggravating when teams can run the ball on you,” Stoops told the media. “So we want to have a strong physical presence but, again, get the ball down the field and create explosive plays.”
Balance is the name of the game. Kentucky is hopeful that a new running style will help it achieve that by opening up the offense in both the ground and the air.