October 07, 2013
Of Jalen Whitlow's 17 completions against South Carolina, seven came behind the line of scrimmage on screens, swings and a pitch.
But despite traveling negative yards through the air, they picked up plenty on the ground: those seven passes gained 49 yards.
Most of that success came through much-improved blocking on the edges by wide receivers, and better timing overall between Whitlow and the players around him.
"He gave guys opportunities," Neal Brown said of Whitlow.
Not only that, but all the underneath throws would eventually set up the three biggest completions of the night -- most directly, a 14-yard touchdown pass to Ryan Timmons.
First, let's check out some of the screens that worked early in the game.
PLAY ONE: Outside wide receiver screen
This was the second offensive play of the game for Kentucky, and Brown was certainly wanting to get the screen game going.
On this one, Whitlow lined up in an empty backfield with trips to his left. He motioned Raymond Sanders over to the right side, and you can immediately see UK will have the advantage: no one directly tracks Sanders to the other side, setting up a 3-on-2 situation.
Whitlow does a good job of getting the ball to Blue quickly, and Sanders and tight end Jordan Aumiller (No. 86) release and block well. The inside track ends up filling up quickly with a safety and linebacker, but Blue bounces it outside for a quick-strike 11-yard gain.
PLAY TWO: Tunnel Screen
Kentucky gives South Carolina an interesting look by motioning Jojo Kemp from the backfield out left to set up behind the wide receivers. That shifts some of the attention to that side of the field.
Yet, upon the snap, Blue (on the right side) takes a quick step upfield before cutting inside. Aumiller again does a good job blocking, heading to the outside, while two offensive linemen release upfield to block for Blue in the middle of the field.
The middle of the field -- where the play is designed to go -- again filled up quick, but Blue showed a nice burst getting outside for a big 17-yard gain.
PLAY THREE: Inside Receiver Screen
Brown again gives South Carolina a slightly different look, with trips to the right and each position filled by a receiver (from sideline in, Blue, Ryan Timmons and Alex Montgomery).
At the snap, Timmons jabs upfield before taking a step back. Montgomery and Blue pinch in to block the cornerback who was lined up over Timmons, and both do a nice job. But mainly it's Timmons, who seems bottled up after two yards but powers forward to create an eight-yard gain.
PLAY FOUR: The Touchdown
Brown runs a mirrored fake screen on both sides of the field. Up top, you see Blue heading toward the middle of the field with hands raised, faking a tunnel screen. On the bottom, Demarco Robinson does the same thing. And both inside receivers -- Montgomery up top, Timmons on bottom -- head toward the cornerback lined over top the outside receiver, before breaking off in a route to the end zone.
It's Timmon that ends up free, as his defender bites on the fake screen and tries to jump Robinson behind the line. Whitlow floats a pass that ends up nestled in Timmons' hands for the freshman's first college touchdown.
"We threw a couple screens and I guess the way (we) set it up and faked like they're going to block and get up field, I guess they bit on it a little bit," Whitlow said. "Good play."
All in all, a very effective behind-the-line passing game from Whitlow. And that type of success is imperative for an offense with Whitlow at the helm, as he has limitations when throwing downfield. But building the threat of the short passing game opens up later opportunities, and we saw Whitlow connect on those chances in the fourth quarter.
"By no means was he perfect tonight – you all watched the game – but he got better," Brown said. "This was a positive step against one of the top teams in the country here at their place, in a great atmosphere."