The 2022 campaign was ugly for many reasons for Kentucky’s offense. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello led an offense that could not protect the quarterback, struggled to run the football for most of the seasons, was awful on third down, and struggled to score points. The biggest issue might have been the unit’s inability to finish drives.
Despite having one of the best power backs in college football last season, Kentucky finished the season ranked No. 106 in red zone touchdown percentage (53.19%). In SEC games, that percentage dipped to 51.7 percent. In the loss to Vanderbilt, the Wildcats scored only one touchdown on four red zone trips and, that had a big say in the 24-21 loss as a 17-point favorite.
Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops brought Liam Coen back to Lexington to fix the offense. The Wildcats needed to score more points. That means finishing drives in the red zone. After a slow start to the season, Coen’s unit scored three touchdowns in three red zone possessions last week against Akron. The Wildcats are currently 6 of 9 on scoring touchdowns in the red zone. Back in 2021, Kentucky ranked No. 8 in red zone touchdown percentage (72.22%) with Coen holding the call sheet.
In the SEC opener against Vanderbilt, we should see an explosive Kentucky offense have some success against a defense that ranks No. 84 in yards per play allowed. However, drives must be finished and Vandy defensive coordinator Nick Howell seems to have some secret sauce in the red zone.
Red zone defense was somewhat of a defensive strength for Howell’s unit in 2022. Early in 2023, Vandy ranks No. 8 in red zone touchdown percentage allowing only five touchdowns in 16 possessions. UNLV settled for four field goals in four red zone possessions last week. Wake Forest scored two touchdowns in five red zone possessions. Vandy isn’t getting a ton of stops on defense (No. 90 in points per drive), but when they do come, they’re often in the red zone.
For Kentucky to handle its business on Saturday night, Coen’s offense must finish drives. That means scoring touchdowns in the red zone against a defensive coordinator that stymied Kentucky last year.