Kentucky football: Stoops relaunches offense under new OC Liam Coen

Liam Coen new Kentucky football offensive coordinator Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
Liam Coen new Kentucky football offensive coordinator Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports /

Kentucky football ready to take off in a different direction with new offensive coordinator Liam Coen.

Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops looked outside his comfort zone and into the NFL to lure Liam Coen to Lexington as the new Offensive Coordinator and quarterbacks coach.

On Tuesday Stoops made it official after speculation that the new offensive coordinator will be current Los Angeles Rams quarterback and receivers coach Liam Coen.

For us Kentucky fans who have grown weary of predictable offensive play calling hold on tight it’s about to launch into a whole different stratosphere.

This past season the Wildcat’s offense bogged down going nowhere most of the time averaging just 124 yards of offense per game frustrating the Big Blue Nation. Fans in the stands also faded on Saturdays at Kroger Field even before Covid hit.

Kentucky has had a continuous stable of running backs and stockpiling them for depth has paid off. This season it was Chris Rodriguez, Asim Rose, and Kavosiey Smoke. Each had a very productive year.

However, whether it was running up the middle, bubble screens behind the line of scrimmage, receivers who couldn’t catch balls, quarterbacks who couldn’t throw the ball downfield we watched and offenses that at times looked like it was running through quicksand to try and get past midfield much less to the goal line.

Stoops acknowledged on Tuesday that he recognized the need for improved quarterback and receiver play and that was a quality that Coen could apply and elevate the Kentucky offense.

Traditional offenses no longer exist today with new styles being invented and hybrids of others all the time. The defense image or the SEC is shifting to a more offensive approach.

Kentucky was slow to adapt to any of these, but enter Coen and it appears his style is anything but what Wildcat fans have seen since the Hal Mumme “Air Raid” days. While this won’t work in the SEC alone just airing it out will be a welcome sight.

This past year the Kentucky offense ranked last for the third straight year in the SEC in passing while No. 1 in rushing. This unbalanced scale led to desperate play and fruitless outcomes.

Get ready for some bootlegs, fly sweeps, deep pass route patterns that should allow receivers time to get free for balls to actually go north to south instead of east to west. The quarterback will be under center more with bunch and motion sets as well as multiple tight ends.

Oh, but what will most likely change is the balance Coen will bring both running and passing. That’s all we want is variety, not predictability. That’s what makes the Rams more versatile. Through 13 games they have rushed for 1,676 yards.

Please coach utilize ALL our weapons just like you do there.

Cohen thanked Stoops for the opportunity and shared his excitement.

"“It is an honor to be named offensive coordinator for the University of Kentucky. I want to thank Coach Stoops for this incredible opportunity. I couldn’t be more excited to be joining the Big Blue Nation and can’t wait to get to Lexington and get to work!”"

Using Rodriguez and Smoke to get the ball moving on first down, which allows for more options and creativity on second and third instead of third and long or the dying wildcat formation. These two should thrive and be excited for 2021.

Now it’s time for quarterbacks Joey Gatewood and Beau Allen to show their stuff and air it out. Something both has a reputation for they brought to Lexington but haven’t been given the opportunity to showcase. Terry Wilson just doesn’t have the arm or accuracy.

Coen is looking for a true passing quarterback first that must have accuracy. Mechanics and footwork are a constant work in progress. He wants them to be able to call some audibles.

Can we get an Amen? When was the last time we saw that happen?

Gatewood is the QB with the legs and arm while Allen is the more true passer. With Coen knowing virtually nothing about either its safe to safe its anyone’s game.  He will also be tasked with building a new big blue wall offensive line to protect them.

We also have clamored for guys who catch the ball or just throwing to the tight ends once in a blue moon. The talents and football IQ of CJ Conrad, Justin Rigg, and Keaton Upshaw have all been wasted.

Kentucky receivers caught just 132 passes for 1,244 yards this year. Josh Ali led the team with 462 yards, but the next closest was  Upshaw with 173 and Rigg 137. The two tight ends were sorely underutilized, but Coen likes throwing to the tight ends.

Coen has been tasked with creating plays designed for third-down situations with the Rams where he has success and something Kentucky has struggled with.

It became apparent the search commenced weeks before Stoops chose to let former offensive coordinator Eddie Gran and quarterback coach Darrin Hinshaw go after the South Carolina game that the hunt was on for a new scheme and culture.

When Stoops made it official to reporters on Tuesday that he had found his man this new offensive thought process was at the top of the list.

"“I had to clearly think out my vision of the program as we move forward and what exactly we wanted it to look like. As you know, there’s many different styles that you can go with in today’s day and age with college football, but I also had to go with something that I was comfortable with, as well and something that could mesh with the good things that we have been doing and what we wanted to look like as you move forward. Certainly, you don’t have to look very hard to look at LA’s offense to know that they are very creative and very innovative with what they’re doing offensively.”"

The only thing that gave Kentucky fans some trepidation was the fact Coen doesn’t have a lot of experience calling plays on the big stage but he did at the University of Maine two years before heading to the Rams.

Well, neither did current defensive coordinator Brad White and Stoops took a gamble and that appears to be a wise investment. White came to Kentucky after six years with the Indianapolis Colts.

Coen, 35, became the Rams’ assistant quarterbacks coach before this season after two as the wide receivers’ assistant.

A native of Warwick, RI, Coen played at the University of Massachusetts where he holds nearly every offensive record at quarterback. He wore No. 12 in homage to his favorite player Tom Brady, who has a knack for winning and finding receivers.

Those records included most yards gained (11,031), highest passing efficiency (152.92), completion percentage (63.9), completions (830), attempts (1,303), and most touchdowns (90).

Coen also has coached collegiately at  UMass, Rhode Island, and Brown. At UMass, he helped guide the Minutemen to an FCS championship runner-up finish in 2006.

While coaching at Maine, the Black Bears racked up 22.3 points and 357.6 total yards per game in 2016 and then averaged 24.6 points and 388.4 total yards per game during the 2017 season.

He might also harken back to his playing days in the Arena Football League where he played for the Alabama Vipers to get a little creative with play calling.

While with the Rams he reached the Super Bowl in 2018 and works with Pro Bowl QB Jared Goff.  who ironically played his idol and the Patriots for the Superbowl. This year Goff is completing 68.2% of his passes for 3,509 yards and 18 touchdowns. His top five targets include two slot receivers and two tight ends.

Coen won’t be joining this team in Lexington until after the NFL season, but don’t bet he won’t keep an eye on Wednesday’s signing day. Those signing should be excited about what the future holds as well as all the fans watching.