When many Kentucky fans heard that Neal Brown was bringing the Air Raid offense back to Kentucky, visions of Tim Couch, Dusty Bonner, and Jared Lorenzen danced through our memories. Paired with a Stoops defense, this strategy would seem almost unstoppable in today’s world of college football. What most folks didn’t realize though. is that the blueprints have been written and laid out, but the lumber hasn’t arrived yet. Brown inherited an offensive roster that was recruited and developed by another staff for a completely different approach and the results have been pretty unimpressive. Ultimately, four of Kentucky’s top five receivers were not on the roster last season and three of them weren’t even in college at all. The quarterbacks have struggled to make the reads and throws in the Air Raid and the offensive line has seen a roller coaster of a season so far where they cannot seem to find any consistency. Above the rest, the quarterback play has been the most glaring weakness and the team has suffered through Jalen Whitlow and Maxwell Smith’s upsides and downfalls. After a surprisingly strong showing against South Carolina, sophomore Jalen Whitlow seems to have taken the reins at the position and has ultimately changed the equation for the Kentucky offense.
Whitlow has certainly played better as the season has progressed and has found himself settling in to the offense. He has brought his completions up to a respectable 67% and is sitting at a 3 to 1 touchdown to interception ratio. Both are vast improvements. The areas still causing concern for Whitlow have got to be the distance he’s passing for those completions and his ability to run the system despite not possessing the prototypical skill-set for the scheme. In the end, he can only run the plays called and it is the responsibility of the staff to adjust their scheme to the roster, so both are partially out of Whitlow’s hands. What he can bring though, is the added feature of being a dangerous runner and possibly more importantly, the THREAT of being a dangerous runner. What he can’t do, is run the Air Raid at this point in his development. So if Whitlow is the guy (and it appears that he is for the remainder of the season), how can Kentucky adjust?
It’s simple. The spread-option offense is not one that Kentucky is any more suited to run than the air raid, so adjusting the whole scheme is probably pointless in most of the short and long term scenarios. What the staff appears to be doing is running a modified version of their base offense with an added dynamic of the option and simpler options in the passing game. With seniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George struggling to get going this season, a combination of quarterback runs and wide angled running plays to the backs and receivers have spread out the defense and forced teams to adjust their attacks. This in turn, has allowed Whitlow to find passing lanes that would have been tighter otherwise and has forced defenses to hesitate attacking the run or pass due to Whitlow’s ability to pull the ball down and run. If Jojo Kemp and Ryan Timmons can continue to provide the big play threats, the young receivers can catch and hold onto the balls, Ray Sanders can provide some consistent yardage on the ground, and Whitlow can continue to limit mistakes and improve his passing, we might just have an offense this season.
This aint the air raid folks, but it just might work.