Coming off a frustrating performance in last week's win over Eastern Michigan, UK offensive staff stressing need for unit to be more physical as it returns to SEC action this week against the Missouri Tigers.
Jeff Drummond/Cats Illustrated
LEXINGTON, Ky. - Seeking greater consistency on the offensive side of the football, Kentucky is turning to one of the basic pillars of the game.
"It comes down to really being physical," UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said after Tuesday's practice at the Joe Craft Football Training Center.
The Wildcats (4-1, 1-1 SEC) are coming off a 24-20 win over Eastern Michigan but the victory felt less than satisfying for the offensive unit. UK produced only 228 total yards, averaged 1.4 yards per rushing attempt, allowed five sacks, and had 10 of 15 possessions end in four plays or less.
This week's film review was not flattering, particularly for the offensive line. The criticism was taken well, though, according to UK offensive line coach John Schlarman.
"I feel like our group is a mature group in terms of that," he said. "A lot of guys who have been around, and they know after a bad game it's not going to be pretty in there. Everybody has to face the music. We all do."
Said sophomore offensive tackle Landon Young: "It's not that (Eastern Michigan) was not a good team. But that's definitely a team that we should have come out and played a lot better against.
"It's not just making a hole. It's that edge that you have to have."
When the Cats have the right mindset, Young said, the performance follows suit. He cited games against SEC East rivals South Carolina and Florida as proof.
But when they don't?
"Even people watching at home can see it," Young said. "Man, they're not playing too hot... I didn't feel the energy that we had against South Carolina or Florida."
There's also an execution side to the story, added Schlarman. "In our unit, one guy messes up and we all fail."
Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson has played well this season, passing for 940 yards, seven touchdowns and only one interception. But those numbers could be even better if not for being sacked nine times the last two weeks.
The Cats are 12th in the SEC, allowing 14 sacks through five games.
"In pass protection, you've got to do a great job one-on-one," Schlarman said. "You gotta win one-on-one, and usually that comes down to technique."
Gran praised Tuesday's workout as a "great practice." He also noted that this was approximately the same time UK's offense started to click last season.
"There's no panic," he said. "We're close. We were close at this time last year, and you know what, it all came together, so I'm excited about their response this week."
* Stephen Johnson was limited in Monday's practice, according to UK head coach Mark Stoops, but returned Tuesday to a full workload. "A little sore. That's typical after a ballgame," Johnson said. Asked what was sore, Johnson laughed. "My body."
* Kentucky quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw said he liked what he saw on film from Johnson in the EMU game. "He's doing what I ask him to do. He's taking care of the football. He was better on third downs, which was an improvement from the Florida week... He made some nice red-zone throws for touchdowns (to tight end Greg Hart and receiver Tavin Richardson). So he's grading out good. Is he perfect? No. But he's getting better, and he's a leader out there."
* There were some visible signs of frustration from players on the sidelines during the EMU game. Asked how to fix that, Gran said: "It was handled on the sideline right when it happened. I handled it. We've moved forward."
* UK confirmed on Tuesday that junior offensive lineman Tate Leavitt has left the program. The Ohio native was a former four-star junior college prospect but was unable to crack the Wildcats' rotation either of the last two years.