When Mark Stoops lured native son Neal Brown back to Lexington from Texas Tech people rejoiced at the return of the “Air Raid” to Kentucky. The gun-slinging offense made famous by Hal Mumme has achieved near-cult status amongst UK fans despite mixed results on the field. It’s right up there with the “power K”. But during the first season under the new regime, those same fans were disappointed when Kentucky ran the ball on offense more than they passed. UK ran the ball 431 times versus 343 passing attempts in 2013.
This wasn’t the high-flying offense folks were promised. Kentucky was supposed to throw the ball 50 times a game at least. The reality is that Neal Brown ran a pretty balanced attack at both Troy and Texas Tech. It always favored the pass but the ratio was about 55-45 pass-run. And this past year, Brown was working with the personnel that he had, a bunch of players that were recruited to run a pro-style offense. The deepest position was running back and the quarterbacks struggled with accuracy, the one thing they need to be proficient at under Brown.
That begs the question, with a year in the system for the QBs and a bevy of new wide receivers coming to town, will Mumme-ball come back to Commonwealth Stadium? In my opinion it won’t. I expect the ratio to swing more to the passing game again if they can find a steady quarterback, but the truth is that running back is still the deepest and most talented position on this team. Depending on the health of former starter Josh Clemons, Kentucky has five impact players at running back. Six if you count offensive utility-man Demitrious Davis. Of the six, five could fight for the starting job. It’s a relatively unproven group, with Jojo Kemp and Braylon Heard have the most highlights on tape, while Boom Williams and Mikel Horton were in high school last fall. Clemons has surely lost some speed to his lower-leg injuries but still has starting experience and power to his game.
Perhaps the best evidence that Kentucky will continue to run the football is in recruiting. The Wildcats are going hard after in-state star Damien Harris and they have made up some ground on Ohio State and Michigan. UK has offered a total of eleven running backs for the 2015 class and sources inside the program say that the coaches could take two of them again this year. By comparison, it sounds like Kentucky may not take a quarterback at all in this class if they don’t get one of their top guys.
Mark Stoops is a defensive-minded head coach, which means he doesn’t want his defense put in bad positions the way that a full-on Air Raid often does. Kentucky will strive for balance. You need to be able to run the football and be physical in the SEC, it doesn’t need to be your bread and butter, but it needs to be in your toolbox. An up and coming program like Kentucky needs to be able to jump out to a lead and salt away the clock on the ground if they get it. There are too many examples to count of upset bids that fell short because the underdog left too much time on the clock. Entertaining football is good, but winning is a lot better.