There is a scene in the cult classic film Office Space, in which “consultants” are brought into the office of the fictional company Initech to figure out whose jobs could be eliminated. In their interview with one employee whose job they have determined to be meaningless, they flat out ask, “What would you say you do here?”
After an 0-2 start to the season, it seemed like Kentucky had finally figured out “what they do here” in back-to-back wins over Mississippi State and Tennessee. This team would win with solid defense, and control time of possession with an emerging superstar at running back by the name of Chris Rodriguez. Everything appeared to be trending in the right direction heading into Saturday’s road game against Missouri. A win in Columbia would give the Cats a winning record on the season, and give the team some serious momentum heading into the Georgia game next week. And after beating the Tigers for 5 straight seasons, there was no reason to think Mark Stoops would head home with anything but a win.
Eddie Gran seemed to have other ideas.
UK received the opening kick-off, and Gran immediately dialed up 3 straight pass plays to start the game. The results? 2 incompletions, 1 six-yard gain, and a punt. Maybe Eddie saw something in the film on Missouri that made him think Terry Wilson would be able to air it out. But as we saw throughout the course of the game, that clearly was not the case.
One would assume after the lack of success passing the ball on this first series, that Kentucky would get back to handing the ball off to Rodriguez and Rose and keep this train rolling. You would have assumed wrong. Kentucky finished the game with a combined 14 rushing attempts and 91 yards from its running backs. That might have gotten it done during the Air Raid years, but not for this team.
No, Kentucky will need much more than the 47 total passing yards it got this game if Eddie Gran is only going to give his backs 14 attempts. Tim Couch is not walking through that door. But when Missouri’s star running back Larry Rountree scored the first touchdown of the game to take a 7-0 lead with 10:57 remaining in the 2nd quarter, Stoops turned to another quarterback wearing jersey number 2, Joey Gatewood. In typical Kentucky fashion, Gatewood’s first pass was a dart to Josh Ali, who then proceeded to drop it for an incompletion.
The only highlight of the first half for the offense was that Matt Ruffolo drilled a FIFTY YARD field goal for Kentucky’s only score. (Please tell me I’m not the only person who was screaming at Coach Stoops through the TV for even attempting this kick. Who knew Ruffolo had that kind of leg!)
With Missouri getting the ball to start the second half and 10-3 lead, Kentucky needed its defense to come up with a stop. After a nearly 10-minute drive by Missouri, the Cats finally got a stop on 4th & 1 to give the ball to its offense with a chance to tie the game. They proceeded to go 3 and out. Taking advantage of an absolutely gassed UK defense, Missouri easily drove down the field for another Rountree touchdown to take a 17-3 lead and seemingly putting an end to this game.
But give credit to Terry Wilson. On the next series he made an absolutely incredible throw to Josh Ali for a 26-yard strike to make it a one-possession game at 17-10. And give credit to the UK defense, who summoned up enough strength and stamina to force a Missouri punt to give the ball to its offense with a chance to tie the game. They proceeded to go 3 and out (Noticing a trend here?).
Another field goal by Missouri to take a 20-10 lead with 3:10 left in the game sealed the deal. Then to pour salt in the wound, Joey Gatewood came in to try and mount a comeback, only to have Josh Ali fumble his first pass and give the ball right back to the Tigers. A fitting ending to a disastrous game.
Let me be clear, I don’t think Eddie Gran is the only reason we lost this game. The team did not seem to bring any enthusiasm whatsoever. When the SEC Network announcers are commenting on how lifeless your sideline is at the start of the game, it’s never a good sign. There were also plenty of mistakes from the players: Terry Wilson bobbled a perfect snap on 3rd down in the first quarter, Josh Ali had a big dropped pass and a fumble, and the offensive line seemed incapable of providing any amount of pass protection.
But I do think most of the blame lies with the Offensive Coordinator. It is the coach’s responsibility to provide their team with a game plan that gives them the best chance of winning, and Gran failed to do that. From the very first series, he seemed to be hell-bent on throwing the ball, and refusing to give the ball to his running backs.
Kentucky now faces a murderers’ row of opponents with Georgia, Alabama, and Florida making up 3 of the next 4 games. Gran had better find a way to get the offense back on track, pretty darn quick, or he most certainly will find himself on the hottest seat in the Bluegrass before the season even ends. Based on today’s performance, and the ensuing quarterback controversy that will consume this week, I don’t have much confidence that things will get better.