With Brock Vandagriff and Bush Hamdan, the QB run game is back for Kentucky football

Shortly after quarterback Brock Vandagriff arrived as a transfer from Georgia, he made it clear how he sees his playing style.

“I’d probably seem myself as a pocket passer,” he said. “I think I was a dual-threat in high school, or classified as that. Can extend the play if need be, but not a type that’s looking to run.

“Obviously, if something presents itself, I think I can get down the field a little bit. Move the chains, but nothing spectacular on the ground.”

For the fans that saw the Wildcats’ spring game Saturday, there might be a few questions about that assessment.

It would be foolish to make too many conclusions from the 11-on-11 portion of the event since the defense was not allowed to tackle any players to the ground and at least five possible starters on defense did not participate, but Vandagriff’s ability to make plays with his legs was evident.

Vandagriff made significant gains before being met by a defender on multiple designed runs and turned was able to keep the chains moving with multiple other scrambles. One broken play that resulted from Vandagriff hearing the wrong play call over the new helmet radio ended with him scrambling long enough to find an open Anthony Brown-Stephens down the field for a first down.

“You could see he has that comfort level,” UK coach Mark Stoops said. “You know from opponents, if you sprinkle that in four times a game it’s aggravating, with the designed runs. Then the ability to pull it down and get some tough yards is always there.

“We saw it with Will (Levis) when he was fresh and healthy his junior year what a weapon that can be.”

Kentucky quarterback and Georgia transfer Brock Vandagriff (12) runs the ball during Saturday’s Blue-White game at Kroger Field.
Kentucky quarterback and Georgia transfer Brock Vandagriff (12) runs the ball during Saturday’s Blue-White game at Kroger Field.

Vandagriff, a former four-star recruit who won two national championships as a backup at Georgia, signed with Kentucky under the plan to play for former Wildcats offensive coordinator Liam Coen. Coen eventually embraced Levis’ rushing ability during his first stint as UK’s coordinator in 2021 but rarely used designed runs with Devin Leary under center last season.

But after Vandagriff enrolled in classes for the spring semester Coen returned to the NFL as offensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Stoops replaced Coen with former Boise State offensive coordinator Bush Hamdan, who will also run a pro-style system but appears far more eager to highlight a dual-threat quarterback.

“I think it’s critical,” Hamdan said at his introductory news conference. “I really do. I really believe that quarterback has got to get you at least two first downs a game with his legs. I think it can be a huge, huge advantage, especially in the college game.”

Kentucky saw Vandagriff’s rushing ability firsthand last season when he gained 27 yards on two carries during a fourth quarter cameo in Georgia’s blowout win over the Wildcats. In the spring game, he reinforced his ability to function as a pass-first quarterback, but his mobility also appeared to be a perfect fit for Hamdan’s system.

“Obviously, if it’s all even I’m going to hand it off to the dudes that came here to run that ball on the perimeter,” Vandagriff said. “Other than that, if it’s there, I’m going to take it and try to go get it.”

The return of the quarterback run game to the offense will likely be popular with fans.

Former offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello, who called plays in 2022 between Coen’s two stints at UK, drew criticism for essentially eliminating Levis’ ability to run even before injuries sapped his mobility that season. As a pure pocket passer, Leary was rarely a threat to scramble when plays broke down.

Even if Vandagriff sees himself as a pocket passer, teams will have to respect his ability to beat them multiple ways.

“I feel bad for the people who’ve got to actually game plan that because that’s a struggle,” cornerback Maxwell Hairston said. “He can throw, he can scramble, he can put his pads down.

“I’m excited to see him. Let’s keep it going.”

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Why Brock Vandagriff was confident in Kentucky, even after Liam Coen returned to NFL

With Mark Stoops relationship mended, Eric Wolford focused on rebuilding Big Blue Wall

‘I have never fit the norm.’ How unique background led Bush Hamdan to Kentucky football.