When KSR made the trip to SEC Media Days back in July, one of the major talking points of the week was that things are just different here in the trenches. The conference games are won and lost at the point of attack. If teams don’t have the dudes on the line, there will be a lot of long Saturdays.
“Having been in the Big 12, this league, and then having been in the AAC, the line of scrimmage is different,” Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel said. “And it’s the size and the length of the bodies, you what I mean? Upfront, inside, it’s their girth. On the edges, it’s their ability to have length and speed. I think that the difference in the league, or the number one thing that jumps out to you.
For Mark Stoops and Kentucky, the Wildcats have built the program up thanks to solid recruiting and development on both sides of the line of scrimmage. The Wildcats have one of the best offensive lines in the sport, and the defensive line has a pair of seniors who can take control of the game at any point.
Due to this line of scrimmage talent, Kentucky can play with just about everyone in college football. When in matchups against teams the caliber of Florida, it gives the Wildcats a chance to legitimately win on a play-by-play basis. Even when facing an exotic defensive scheme like the one Todd Grantham runs at Florida.
The 55-year-old play-caller uses a three-down front with a hybrid defensive end/linebacker to go along with a nickel player. The Gators show some 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 looks, but Grantham likes to have five players on the line more times than not to plug all of the gaps in the running game with players moving around to different spots. Meanwhile, Florida will play man coverage on the outside and challenge offenses to win in isolation.
First-year offensive coordinator Liam Coen thinks the best way to combat a pressure scheme could be to just run right at it.
“He’ll be a great challenge for us,” said Coen. “I know Coach Grantham is an unbelievable coach, a ton of respect for him and what he’s done, but I do believe that some of the fronts and things they present gives us a chance to hopefully be able to run the ball, be physical, and get after them a little bit.
Back in Week 2, Mizzou challenged Kentucky with man coverage, and the Wildcats responded to record 352 non-sack rushing yards while averaging seven yards per rush. The Wildcats do not want to be bullied and will look to dictate the terms of the game to Florida rather than the other way around. In contests with Grantham, winning the line of scrimmage battle is crucial.
Against Louisville in 2016, Kentucky found itself against one of the best run defenses in college football. However, the Wildcats were able to get the ground game rolling early recording 229 yards on 43 rushes with a run play rate of 59.72 percent in the huge upset win.
Against Florida in 2018, Kentucky pounded the rock early and often with a run play rate of 71.93 percent as Kentucky rushed for 303 yards in the huge win at The Swamp.
In the three losses to Grantham since 2016, Kentucky never rushed for over 160 yards despite wanting to stay ground heavy.
Kentucky must be able to take advantage of man coverage on the outside by winning one-on-ones in the vertical passing game, but this game will be determined at the line of scrimmage. If Kentucky can establish the run, the Wildcats will have a great shot at victory on Saturday night.