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Braylon Heard may just hang it up, according to Kentucky offensive coordinator Neal Brown. With a 58 yards-per-carry average, Heard could go down in history with that kind of number.
Of course, Brown was just joking after Kentucky’s 59-14 win against Tennessee-Martin on Saturday. And Heard is sure to stick around after his 2-carry, 116-yard and 2-touchdown performance led the way for the Wildcats.
But Heard’s numbers reflect the efficiency with which Kentucky ran its offense, for the first time in quite a while. The Wildcats’ 59 points were the most since scoring 63 against Western Kentucky University in 2010. And Kentucky hasn’t won by that large of a margin since its 77-17 victory over UTEP in 2002.
Yes, Kentucky put 59 points up on an FCS team, and not Alabama. But the Wildcats did what they were supposed to do, and there have been times over the past years where that has not been the case. In recent seasons, they did not make the open-field tackles. They didn’t make the open throws. They didn’t break off the routine runs. But on Saturday, they did.
Heard was just one example.
“The two runs that he had that he broke were extremely disciplined runs,” Brown said. “The thing that’s going to be encouraging to me is we turn on the video tomorrow and here’s Braylon doing the thing exactly the way we coached him, exactly to a T the way we coached it.”
Heard’s patience behind his blockers was a talking point for head coach Mark Stoops, too.
“He doesn’t get antsy and jump out of there,” he said. “He stays with his progression and stays with his read and executes the way we’re supposed to.”
It’s the kind of performance that’s reflective of Kentucky’s as a whole. Brown came in as an offensive coordinator known for being an Air Raid disciple. The Air Raid sirens started blaring once again at Commonwealth Stadium. Fans couldn’t wait to watch a Kentucky quarterback chucking the ball around like Hal Mumme’s quarterbacks used to do.
But this year’s coaching staff made its read, seeing a plethora of running back talent on the roster. And the team is calling its plays off that read, rather than relying on a marriage to the Air Raid system.
Creating an efficient offense based off the talent already there: That’s what successful teams do, and it’s what Kentucky is working towards.
The Wildcats led 21-0 in the second quarter before they scored their first passing touchdown. Heard had already broken off his 73- and 43-yard touchdown runs, preceded by Jojo Kemp’s 2-yard score.
But those first three touchdowns were all set up by freshly-minted starting quarterback, Patrick Towles, spreading the field – something Kentucky has struggled with over the past couple of seasons.
Before Kemp’s touchdown run, Towles completed a 44-yard pass over the middle to Javess Blue and attempted to connect with Demarco Robinson in the end zone. With Tennessee-Martin’s defense dancing backwards to account for Towles’ big arm that had just burned them, Kemp had space.
Rinse and repeat on Kentucky’s next touchdown: Towles found tight end Steven Borden on the right side for a seven-yard gain, and on the next play, Heard broke one open.
It seems like a simple thought: Spread the defense with your passing game, then gash them with your backs. Balance has been the basis of successful offensive football since the invention of the forward pass. But doing the simple things has not always been easy in Lexington.
“Watching our team practice the other day and watching our offense go up and down the field on air, it’s evident they were better,” Stoops said after Saturday’s win. “I’ve said it over and over again, there were times when we couldn’t do the basics, and we are significantly better.”
Six ball carriers recorded at least one rushing attempt for Kentucky: Heard had his two for 116 yards.
Last year’s starter, Kemp, carried eight times for 34 yards and a touchdown. Freshmen Mikel Horton and Stanley Boom Williams combined for 11 carries and 58 yards. Josh Clemons, who hadn’t seen the field since 2011, carried twice for five yards.
And Towles, in his first career start for Kentucky, recorded his first touchdown not in the air, but with a 23-yard run.
Balance: It’s what allows Kentucky the luxury of handing the ball to its starting running back only two times in a game, yet still winning 59-14.
Struggles still remain: With a third and goal at Tennessee-Martin’s two-yard line (and a 45-0 lead already amassed), Kentucky’s power unit couldn’t push by a much smaller Skyhawks team for another touchdown, settling for a field goal. The Wildcats’ backup defense let a shutout fly out the window, and allowed two touchdowns.
But Kentucky has the most running back depth it’s had in a long time, a quarterback capable of spreading the field, and a coaching staff that understands how to use that talent for the kind of balance befitting a successful offense.
Those are the simple things, and Kentucky utilized them to near perfection on Saturday.
Ashley Scoby is a senior journalism major at the University of Kentucky. She has reported on the Wildcats for wildcathoops.com, vaughtsviews.com and kysportsreport.com as well as for newspapers in Danville and Glasgow. Email her at email@example.com
UK Wildcats TV video with Mark Stoops: