UK needs new approach on offense



By Les Johns

The eternally smug Steve Spurrier may have accidentally performed a favor for the UK football program by laying out the most lopsided loss in the Southeastern Conference in three years on Saturday in Columbia, S.C.

The loss was so anemic, so dreadful and so soul-crushing that most understand massive changes need to take place. Likely everyone but head football coach Joker Phillips, that is.

The Cats mustered just three total points Saturday, and those points were largely due to Gamecock charity.  South Carolina fumbled the opening kickoff and the Cats were able to convert the turnover into a field-goal in the games first moments to take an early 3-0 lead.

That was the last time the Cats sniffed the scoreboard.

As it turns out, this is the worst conference loss for any team in the SEC since … you guessed it … the Cats lost to the Tim Tebow-led Florida Gators at the Swamp on Oct. 25, 2008.

Despite the 63-5 final score on that fateful day in 2008, there were many more positives for that version of the Cats. That team, which was quarterbacked by both Mike Hartline and Randall Cobb, produced 17 first downs and 268 yards of total offense while only giving the ball away once.

This year’s version of ineptitude produced as many turnovers as first downs — six — while only gaining a total of 96 yards for the game. The Gamecocks are formidable opponents, but Navy gained 335 yards against them just three weeks ago and East Carolina gained 345 yards — including 260 through the air — in an early season loss.

Somehow the Cats managed to have three different passers throw interceptions. Junior quarterback Morgan Newton was just 4-20 passing Saturday, with just 17 total passing yards for the game.

The Cats have just finished a three-game stretch in which they have gotten outscored by a total of 137-20. After six games this season, the Cats are averaging just 13 points a game. This team is catastrophically bad on the offensive side of the ball.

Thankfully for the Cats, both the defense and special teams are holding up their end of the bargain. The UK defense is anchored by two cant-miss NFL prospects in senior safety Winston Guy and senior linebacker Danny Trevathan, and is profiting from a more aggressive scheme with new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

Special teams has shown improvement as well, with the kicking game being especially consistent. The UK offense has been incapable of moving the ball, which has lead to the defense eventually wearing down and allowing their opponents exert their will against them.

The good news? A good football team can turn this season around and still secure a bowl bid. The three SEC opponents who just pounded the Cats in successive weeks have a combined 15-3 record. The Cats have six games left on the slate – five against SEC opponents with a combined record of 15-12 and a home date in two weeks against Jacksonville State, of the Football College Subdivision (formerly known as Division I-AA).

The bad news?  Right now the Cats are not a good football team — especially on the offensive side of the ball.

The pro-style offensive system that this coaching staff has used over the past several years simply is not working with this team and must be scrapped to have any hope of securing four more wins.  The Cats rank near the bottom of the entire FBS sub-division (Division I-A) in passing yards, rushing yards and total points scored. UK is arguably the worst offensive team in Division I-A college football today.

Phillips and his staff have just a couple of weeks to drastically change the face of the offense.

One such change would be to introduce the spread option offense that has been used successfully at Auburn, West Virginia, Mississippi State and Oregon. This would be a run-first scheme that would effectively use a mobile quarterback to introduce misdirection as an offensive weapon.

Another similar approach would be to break out the triple option offense, much like what is being used by the high-scoring Georgia Tech offense. This offensive scheme is also predicated on manufacturing defensive mistakes by using misdirection. The quarterback typically makes the decision during the play whether to keep the ball or hand off to one of two other potential play-makers depending upon the action taken by the defensive end.

Changing the offensive scheme would most likely necessitate a change under center as well. Newton has not shown the in-game speed and quick decision-making skills that running either of these offensive styles would need.

Many times, the most popular player on a struggling football team is the back-up quarterback. Maxwell Smith, however, is primarily a pro-style quarterback, who passed for about 2,500 yards in his senior high school season.  He also threw just as many interceptions Saturday in Columbia as he threw that entire senior year in California.

The best person to help implement this new offensive scheme is likely the highly-touted, dual-threat prospect from Louisiana, freshman quarterback Bookie Cobbins. Cobbins was known as a big-time play-maker in high school who was capable of breaking down defenses with his legs or his arm. Many compare Cobbins’ talent to those of former-Cat Randall Cobb, who is now showcasing his skills on Sundays for the Green Bay Packers.

Inserting Cobbins in a run-first offensive scheme will allow the Cats to properly use the strength of freshman running back Josh Clemons and the speed of sophomore Raymond Sanders at the running back position.  With so many running options, lanes should open up for quick slant passes to receivers junior La’Rod King, sophomore Brian Adams and senior Matt Roark.

The Cats have just two weeks to make a dramatic change, with the season hanging in the balance. With Big Blue Madness just a few days away, interest in the football program is starting to wane and attendance at Commonwealth later this month is sure to be sluggish.

The five-year streak of bowl appearances is in serious jeopardy. A minor tweak or slight alteration is not going to be sufficient. The current offensive scheme is beyond all repair.

To turn this season around, the Cats must implement a new offensive scheme and  take the redshirt off Cobbins. It’s time to free Bookie.