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Kentucky Gains Confidence from Exceptional Offensive Line Play

Nick Roush09/13/22


Article written by:On3 imageNick Roush


Kentucky tight ends block
Dr. Michael Huang | KSr

For the first six quarters of the 2022 season, the Big Blue Wall did not look like the Big Blue Wall the BBN grew to know and love. There was porous pass protection and blatant miscues without explosive runs. That all changed for the offensive line in the halftime locker room at The Swamp, the same place John Schlarman was awarded a game ball during his last trip to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

“(We were) much more consistent in the second half. I felt like we settled down,” Mark Stoops said Monday afternoon. “There were some guys that settled in, got their feet on the ground, started playing more physical, targeting the right guys. With our play-actions and boots and things of that nature, it slowed them down a bit. It gave us some access to have some success in the run game. So, you put those things together, and we will continue to build on that.”

Kentucky leaned on the fatigued Florida defense. The UK offense possessed the ball for seven more minutes than the Gators in the second half, chewing up clock with efficient runs. The Kentucky running backs averaged 5.7 yards per carry with a 47.1 percent success rate and Kavosiey Smoke popped four runs of 10+ yards.

Rich Scangarello did not drastically change his scheme or play-calls in the second half. Execution improved, starting up front on the line, and the running backs made the right reads to move the chains. Former Wildcat Van Hiles illustrates it clearly in a pair of cut-ups.

Mistakes aren’t only on the Big Blue Wall

Will Levis was sacked three times in the first half, effectively ending all three drives, including one where the Wildcats were in scoring position. That drive in particular stands out. Levis’ helmet flew off after he took a big hit off the right side of the line of scrimmage. That sack wasn’t on Jeremy Flax, it was Levis’ fault.

“It was a good shot, completely on me,” Kentucky’s quarterback said after the game. “I was hot off that side. They had a good simulated pressure where the back-side end dropped into the area where I was thinking about throwing the ball. Didn’t feel the pressure coming as fast as it was and I didn’t get my hot throw off. It’s on me. If I don’t want to get hit like that, I need to be smarter.”

Some mishaps are on the quarterback, some are are on the running back’s pass protection and others are on the coaches for putting the Wildcats in a bad position.

It’s never just an offensive line thing,” said Stoops. “I think there was one play in there that we can control as coaches and I think there was a play in there where Will knows it was hot, so there’s two right there that are very fixable that have nothing to do with talent, nothing to do with blocking.”

Offensive Line has Confidence, Momentum Entering Non-Conference Stretch

Instead of playing the blame game, the offensive line took it upon themselves to get downhill and open up rushing lanes. After opening the second half with a three-and-out, Scangarello put the ball on the ground. Six of the ten players were designed runs on the scoring drive that tied the game. They all were more effective than the passes dialed up by the offensive coordinator. Even though Kentucky settled for a field goal, the offense knew they could once again rely on the Big Blue Wall. Following a Keidron Smith pick six, the Cats leaned on the offensive line and never looked back.

“When the run game started clicking, confidence was the one thing we brought to the table. Just to give the O-line that confidence… when we’re able to get the ball rolling and know that we’re trusting in them, leaning on them to make plays, it’s a domino effect.” said Levis.

Kentucky’s offensive line returned to its physical, mauling mentality in the second half. However, they’re still far from perfect. Mark Stoops has a few points of emphasis for Zach Yenser’s unit heading into Saturday’s game against Youngstown State.

“The offensive line, the communication, targeting the right guys, getting in good sets, getting positive yardage, not getting negative yardage plays, or one-yard gains. Even if it’s a tough look we have to get back to getting three or four yards instead of one or two,” said Stoops. “That’s a big difference on a play-caller. We can’t get behind the chains and constantly live in that environment.

The Cats have two non-conference games at Kroger Field to address mistakes before Chris Rodriguez returns for the road trip to Ole Miss. Stoops believes the Cats can clean up execution problems up front to make sure that offense is humming ahead of a critical stretch in the middle of the season.

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