There were many goals for Kentucky football in the 2021 season, but the No. 1 job for Mark Stoops and his program was to fix the offense.
With NFL talent returning to the roster combined with some strong additions in the transfer portal, the ball appeared to be teed up for the Wildcats. Kentucky just needed new offensive coordinator Liam Coen to deliver in his first season calling plays since his tenure at Maine from 2016-17.
After 12 games, the Wildcats put together the best offense of the Stoops era at Kentucky. The table is set, and the future could be bright for the Wildcats on offense.
Balance creates efficiency
Since 2016, Kentucky has become one of the most consistent rushing offenses in college football. The Wildcats had two 1,000 yard rushers in 2016, Benny Snell Jr. broke the program record over 2017-18, and Lynn Bowden Jr. ran wild at quarterback as Kentucky went to a full-on wildcat formation attack.
In 2020, that rushing success continued with Chris Rodriguez Jr. and A.J. Rose combining to collect 1,451 yards and 13 touchdowns, but a bad passing offense needed to be fixed.
Coen put in his new scheme and landed a quarterback in the transfer portal. Will Levis would go on to throw for 2,579 yards and 23 touchdowns. Kentucky all of a sudden had balance, and that created efficiency.
For the season, Kentucky’s offense finished the season with a 50.32 percent success rate on 779 plays. Historically, that would put the Wildcats in at least the top-15 nationally and pretty close to the top-10.
Kentucky rushed for 206.1 yards per game and passed for 223.8 yards per game. The Wildcats sit at No. 16 nationally in yards per play offense (6.56), and their scoring average of 33.3 points per game is the program’s highest since 2007.
Coen showed the blueprint and has been getting recruiting results after landing a commitment from top-50 prospect Barion Brown. Stoops has seemed to have found the right mix on offense.
It all starts with balance.
Skill talent recruiting blueprint
Over the years as Kentucky could not fix the passing game, recruiting began to suffer. The Wildcats had no real proof of concept to sell, and competitors on the recruiting trail were using that lack of production against the Wildcats.
That will no longer be the case.
In his first season, Coen’s offense had Wan’Dale Robinson break the single-season receptions record to go along with over 1,000 yards receiving. Chris Rodriguez Jr. is No. 2 in the SEC in rushing yards (1,272). Meanwhile, Will Levis has developed into a quality SEC starter at quarterback and should receive plenty of offseason buzz heading into 2022.
Kentucky now has something real to sell prospective recruits, and that is already starting to pay off. The Wildcats have loaded up on blue-chip receivers while the offensive line remains a position of strength allowing Kentucky to target and land some top-notch high school prospects.
The last piece of the puzzle is at quarterback. Kentucky is still on the hunt for a player in the class of 2023, but this season will give Coen and his staff some more ammo when going after players on the trail.
Kentucky now has a recruiting blueprint for skill talent, and this could be the hammer that allows the program to break its recruiting ceiling.
Proven QB equals expectations for offense
Nearly every year in the preseason, we see Kentucky picked about a spot or two too low. Some of that has to do with the logo. However, a big part has been the program’s situation at quarterback.
The most important position in the sport has been one the Wildcats have had issues figuring out. Will Levis may need to make a draft decision, but heading into 2022 that should not be the case for the Wildcats.
Kentucky will have a proven quarterback and momentum. Mark Stoops fixed the program’s needs following the 2020 season, and the Wildcats appear ready to have another breakthrough season for the program sooner rather than later.