Taylor: Cats forging an identity, just not the one many expected

Warren Taylor, Staff Writer
Cats Illustrated

The core tenant to building a winning football program is to establish an identity.

Howard Schnellenberger famously declared in the 1980's that his Miami program would wall off southeast Florida. The Hurricanes rarely let homegrown talent get away while building their dynasty over the course of the decade.

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Programs like Baylor and Oregon, once considered football backwaters, entered the national consciousness by hitching their wagons to no-huddle spread offenses.

Ever since the famed "Air Raid" days of the late 1990's and early 2000's when the Cats forged an identity by chucking the ball around the traditionally run-heavy SEC, Kentucky has gone through a crisis; one where the program struggled to find its face.

Last season, Mark Stoops' team wore the mask of a punishing, ground em' out kind of unit, but offensive line woes (the Cats have given 34 TFL's through five games) have sent the team back to the drawing board.

However, neither the Wildcats nor the Big Blue Nation needs to fret, the answer to Kentucky's identity crisis lies in a philosophy forged five hours to the southeast of Lexington: Beamer Ball.

Named after legendary Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer, Beamer Ball dictates that a team play aggressive defense with an emphasis on turnovers and air-tight special teams to control starting field position.

Both are areas where Kentucky is excelling thus far in 2017.

Coach Dean Hood's special teams unit has been a revelation. They have downed a punt on the one-yard line three times this year, all by backup receiver Charles Moushey. Punter Matt Panton has recorded a game-best boot of over 50 yards in four games already, including a 71-yarder last week against Eastern Michigan. Josh Paschal blocked a punt to set up the game-clinching touchdown last week. Kicker Austin MacGinnis has put 41 points on the scoreboard from his field goals and extra points alone.

On defense, the Cats have done a masterful job taking the ball away from opposing offenses. Kentucky has forced a turnover in all five games. They have forced six fumbles and have recovered four. The secondary has picked off the opposing quarterback six times as well.

Matt House's players also have done a superb job turning up the heat. The unit has 25 tackles for a loss, with a season-high eight in both the Eastern Michigan and Southern Miss games. Five different Wildcats have recorded a sack, junior linebacker Josh Allen already has 5.5.

While this may not be sexy football for the Big Blue faithful, it is effective.

Frank Beamer's teams rarely dominated on offense, unless there was a Vick brother at the helm, but the Hokies won ten or more games 12 times during his tenure. They went to 22 bowl games and won seven conference championship across two different leagues.

Long bowl streaks and conference titles are still a long ways off for Kentucky, but building around blue-collar football in a white-collar age suits the team and the coaching staff. Dominating the smaller details of the game will give Kentucky an edge when talent does not. It builds a team and not just a collection of talent. All three of which are traits that matter quite a good bit to the folks across the Commonwealth.

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