Thu Sep 05 09:16am EDT
Screens are an important part of Neal Brown's offense.
One of the three staple plays he outlined recently included a tunnel screen. In perhaps his biggest win at Texas Tech (41-38 over Oklahoma), the Red Raiders used two similar screens to bust long touchdowns in the upset.
They also didn't do well in Kentucky's season opener against Western Kentucky.
In the first half, two screens got blown up before they even had a chance to get started because of poor blocking by either a wide receiver or a tight end split out to the slot.
"You know, that's one thing we really prided ourselves at the other stops I've been at, is being really physical on the inside," Brown said. "And I didn't think we were."
"If you watch Texas Tech play last year, one of the things that jumps out at you ... is how tough and physical those receivers are and were," Mark Stoops said. "And that's obviously a compliment to the coaching. So we need to get the same thing going here."
Let's take a look at each individually:
On UK's second possession, they faced an important situation: trailing by an early touchdown, facing a first-and-goal from the 8-yard line.
UK lines up three players to the left. In order, from outside to inside: Alex Montgomery, Daryl Collins and tight end Anthony Kendrick.
On the snap, Whitlow takes a quick drop and passes to Montgomery on the far outside. Collins does his job, splitting out to block the corner lined up over Montgomery. (It looks like he whiffs on a block, but that defender isn't his assignment. He's tasked with getting to the far outside for a block.)
Kendrick, however, completely fails. At the snap, he took one or two steps straight ahead -- instead of at an angle -- meaning he had to veer completely horizontal to try and make up for it and get to Collins' man in time to block. As you can see from the GIF, he's not even close, and WKU tackles Montgomery for a one-yard loss.
The second play also comes at an important point. Trailing 21-17, UK gets the ball back with 1:46 left in the half deep in their own territory. It's not ideal to get points, but UK certainly tried (and this offense has some big-play ability to warrant it). After a three-yard run, UK quickly lines up for another play.
The call: At the top of the screen, from outside to inside, Demarco Robinson, Ryan Timmons and tight end Anthony Kendrick line up, with two wideouts on the opposite side. The desired result: get Robinson, a shifty receiver the staff says is one of the most "explosive" playmakers this team has, the ball with space and a favorable matchup.
At the snap, Whitlow takes a short drop and (again) throws to the far outside, to Robinson. Timmons, lined up next to him, is responsible for a block on the defender lined up opposite Robinson. He doesn't whiff, but he looked like nothing more than a turnstile to the cornerback.
"It's not tough it's just effort," Timmons said. "You have to have the will to go out there and push somebody on their back. So you know, it's not tough at all."
While Timmons' error made Kendrick's part essentially moot, the tight end again didn't play it right. He moves to block WKU's Andrew Jackson (their star linebacker, No. 4), but he doesn't make an effective block. If everything had gone right, Robinson would have been one-on-one on the edge against the inside corner. As you can see in the final frame, even if Timmons had made a proper block, Kendrick's failed attempt left both the corner and the linebacker in prime place to corral the dynamic Robinson.
And, the problems weren't limited to the wideouts. Here's a tunnel screen (one meant to get the receiver heading toward the middle of the field rather than the sideline) with Javess Blue that relies on a receiver block to the outside and linemen blocking to the inside that gets blown up for a three-yard loss because of improper timing (either the offensive line didn't release fast enough or Whitlow threw too early).
Whether it was the receivers, the tight ends or the offensive line, it simply has to get better. UK doesn't quite have the playmakers to stretch the field vertically too often. They need to be able to create space with short throws, and screens are an important part of that.
"I think that's the difference between big plays and touchdowns sometimes," wide receivers coach Tommy Mainord said of proper blocking on screens. "They have to realize on that. We have to show them on tape. Big mistakes are made in the blocking game and we have to fix that right now."