And we are back! I hope all of you have had a great week. First off, let me apologize for not getting this out last week. As many of you already know, I was fighting a stomach bug that kept me from operating at full capacity. The good news? I have an in-depth breakdown full of observations and insights on Kentucky. The bad news? I tested positive for Covid on Tuesday and that kept me from being able to record the video preview that normally compliments this piece. I hope to be back to a normal content schedule next week, but I feel confident in saying this article has plenty of info to get you fully prepared for Dawgs vs Cats tomorrow in Lexington.
A big thank-you to all who have reached out and sent me get well notes on here or Twitter over the last 10 days. It’s greatly appreciated.
Without further delay, here’s what I learned about UGA at Kentucky from watching tape and diving into advanced metrics, offensive scripts, player grades, and more…
Kentucky Offense Film Observations
- Kentucky runs a lot of old-school Pro-Style Offensive concepts. What do I mean by that? Well, Levis is under Center often. They are extremely balanced in their play calling (312 Pass/313 Run so far in 2022), and they run a lot of heavy formations where they have an inline TE and WR’s are lined up in tight splits instead of spread way across the field. They also rarely run RPO’s. On the year they have used RPO concepts on just under 10% of their offensive snaps.
- Much like UGA, Kentucky’s rushing attack is almost 50/50 Zone Scheme to Gap Scheme. On the year, they have had 139 Zone runs and 134 Gap. If they are running Gap Scheme then they’re most likely running Inside Power. So far in 2022, that is the concept that Kentucky has run the most when on offense. The Wildcats have 99 attempts where they ran Inside Power variations and those attempts have netted a 48.4% Success Rate. Against Vandy, the Wildcats ran Inside Power concepts 6 times for a total of 77 YDS. Kentucky was even more successful last week with their Zone Scheme runs. Against Vandy they ran Inside Zone Read on 8 plays for 103 yards.
- It’s not uncommon for offenses to rely heavily on Inside Zone and Inside Power concepts. Georgia’s yearly play shares are similarly split. What’s different for Kentucky is how reliant they are on those concepts. Last week the Wildcats had 26 runs and 32 passes. The 26 pass plays netted just 87 YDS (3.1 YPP) The runs totaled 234 YDS from scrimmage (9 YPP). 180 of those yards came on 14 inside run attempts (8 Inside Zone Read, 3 Inside Power, 3 Inside Power Read)
- UK uses an H-Back/Sniffer type of player a good bit. He will motion across the formation pre-snap or move towards the point of attack after the snap to try and create a numbers advantage for the Wildcats in the running game. The goal is to use him to overload one side of the formation so UK has more blockers than the opponent has defenders. That H-Back is usually TE #85 Jordan Dingle. He blocks more than he runs routes (208 Blocking Snaps/133 Routes Run). UK will occasionally try to use him to trick the defense. A LB who has been crashed into by him all day on run plays can be fooled by a play-action pass where Dingle goes flying by. On the year he has 25 TGT/17 REC for 186 YDS.
- Kentucky actually has a FB as well. He wears #47 and his name is Justice Dingle. Against Vandy they ran a nice play where both he and Rodriguez lined up on either side of Levis in the Shotgun and Dingle went straight into the hole to pickup a lead block for Rodriguez on a play that resulted in a 10-yard gain.
- Kentucky will toss it to the outside on some Sweep concepts and they also run enough Outside Zone to keep teams honest. They aren’t usually great at blocking it but Rodriguez is a good enough RB to turn bad blocking into nice gains on a lot of plays.
- The Wildcats have two good RB’s. #24 Chris Rodriguez is the stud. He averages 3.99 Yards after Contact per Attempt and he has enough speed to make home run plays. He has a 72-yard TD run last week against Vandy. In my opinion either he or Quinshon Judkins is the best RB in the SEC. The lowest total yardage output he’s had this year was 64 against Tennessee. He ran for 197 against the same Mississippi St defense that stymied UGA’s rushing attack last week. He averages 5.5 YPA and he has 10 runs of over 15 yards in his last 5 games. He was used more heavily in the passing game last year but not so much this season. He hasn’t had a catch in his last 4 games. Rodriguez was out of the lineup for a lot of the year due to offseason disciplinary issues, so this will be only his 7th game of the season. #17 Ju’Tahn McClain has emerged as the spell RB for Rodriguez lately. Last week he had 5 carries for 43 YDS against Vandy. On the season he’s averaging 4.7 YPA on 35 carries. He gets a target or two a game through the air as well. He’s averaging 9.5 YPC on 11 REC’s this year. 8 of those 11 catches have come over the last 3 games.
- Levis looks most comfortable when he’s throwing to WR #9 Tayvion Robinson. He was targeted 7 times for 5 REC’s against Vandy and had 49 yards. On the year he has 44 TGT/35 REC which gives him a team high 79.5% Reception Percentage. He leads the Wildcats with 470 YDS receiving. He lines up in the Slot most of the time but he will play on the outside some. He and Levis seem to have the best chemistry on in-breaking routes against Zone Coverage.
- In addition to Robinson, Levis has two talented young WR’s in Dane Key and Barrion Brown. Key is 6’3” and is UK’s best 50/50 ball receiver. He has 40 TGT/26 REC for 412 YDS and 5 TD’s. He and Brown are both primarily outside receivers but will go into the Slot at times also. Brown has the team lead with 46 TGT’s and has pulled in 30 REC’s for 426 YDS.
- Levis isn’t very comfortable throwing deep down the right boundary. On the season he is 0/7 on 20+ yard throws down the right side.
- UK runs a lot of WR Screens. The nice thing for a defense is that they don’t use very wide splits. A lot of the time it is evident by the blocking that they are about to run the WR Screen. UGA’s LB/DE’s should be able to get out and help on some of those screens and maybe make some tackles for a loss.
- You saw the Vandy pass defense/pass rush this season when they came to Athens. Were they good? Not really. Well… Kentucky struggled against this group. Levis was pressured on 13 of his 29 dropbacks and Vandy’s defenders created 16 total pressures against them. On the day, Levis was just 12/24 passing for 5 Yards an Attempt.
- If Kentucky’s run game isn’t working on early downs they are in trouble. UK’s Passing Downs Success Rate (2nd & 7+ or 3rd/4th & 5+) is a putrid 30.1%. There Standard Downs Success Rate is a more respectable 46%, but on all passing plays UK’s Success Rate is just 38.6%
- Levis is another QB who struggles when his first read isn’t open. He has the big arm and that means he sometimes thinks he can make throws that he probably shouldn’t attempt. That’s how he has 9 INT’s on the season so far. He is often forced to check it down but by the time he does it is too late and the opponent’s LB’s are rallying to the ball. Sometimes that least to him trying to run. He can be tough to bring down if he gets going straight downhill, but teams seem more aware of his legs this year and have done a good job of stopping him.
- This Kentucky OL has had a rough go of it all year long and it’s not getting better lately. LT #68 Kenneth Horsey is a liability in Pass Blocking. He gave up 3 pressures against Vandy and has allowed 16 total on the year. LG #62 Jager Burton is also a big problem for UK. Especially with Jalen Carter coming to town. Burton has allowed 11 Pressures. RT #77 Jeremy Flax has given up 17 Pressures, which is the most on the UK offensive line. To be honest, the only guy on this OL who doesn’t consistently struggle is RG #79 Tashawn Manning. UGA’s pass rush should be able to have a big day against this front five.
- This OL grades out even more poorly in run blocking. It’s a big reason why UK has 2 TE’s in the game together a lot and is using a FB in the year 2022. Rodriguez has done an admirable job of making yardage after contact, but it’s hard to live like that every down.
- If UGA gets an early two possession lead in this game and Kentucky feels pressed to play catch-up this thing could get really ugly. When that happened against Tennessee the Wildcats got stuck in obvious dropback situations and needed more WR’s on the field to run routes. Without TE’s/H-Backs in the game this OL cannot protect Levis long enough for downfield routes to develop.
Kentucky Defense Film Observations
- This is a pretty good Kentucky defense. They aren’t full of stars or future pros at every level, but they do a good job of playing as a team and they rally well to the football. South Carolina and Vandy both put up 24 on them. That is the most points they have given up to anyone besides the 44 that Tennessee scored against them in Knoxville.
- The Wildcats are 2nd in the SEC to UGA having allowed just 16 TD’s to opposing offenses this year. They have actually allowed less Red Zone trips to opponents (18) than UGA has this year (19).
- Vandy’s Mike Wright hit UK for a 59-yard rushing TD on a simple Zone-Read play where he pulled the ball from the mesh point. The backside LB for UK was #13 JJ Weaver. He crashed hard into the backfield and never considered the thought of Wright keeping the ball. I think UGA would be wise to have Bennett keep the ball a time or two in the 1st quarter on Saturday. At the least it will keep UK’s LB/Edge defenders honest and help the RB’s have lanes. At the most it could pop for an explosive run by Bennett.
- Safety #25 Jordan Lovett is easily confused in pass coverage. He can be lured out of position with the QB’s eyes when playing Zone Coverage and it can open up deep ball throws behind him. He’s not left in Man Coverage very much but Georgia can still target him with TE seam routes from Washington/Bowers. He is prone to missed tackles in space.
- LB #54 D’Eryk Jackson is a pretty good run defender… But he doesn’t do much else well. He has missed 19% of his tackle opportunities this year. He has allowed 18 REC on 23 TGT this season for 227 YDS and allowed 158 Yards After the Catch. Georgia can pick on him with its TE’s and RB’s.
- Like last year, Kentucky’s linebackers are a liability in pass coverage. I already highlighted Jackson, but #5 DeAndre Square is also a LB who UGA can target. He has 28 TGT/18 REC this year for 207 YDS. 163 of the yards he has allowed have come after the catch. Look for the Dawgs to try and hit Kenny McIntosh on a Wheel Route of HB Angle pattern when Edge Defender #15 Jordan Wright is in the game. He has given up 17 REC’s on 18 TGT’s this year for 186 YDS. If UGA gets Kentucky in a spot where they think they have Wright isolated on a RB or TE it should be an automatic explosive for Georgia.
- #90 Tre’vonn Rybka and #00 Deone Walker are Kentucky’s DT’s. Neither of them have been very good this year. Rybka will play some DE too. UK has played a lot of 3-man fronts this season and their interior line hasn’t been very strong. They get good help from their LB’s on a lot of plays, but they are not blowing up run plays from the middle of the line. That’s probably a good sign for UGA with the way their Guards struggled last week. The solid LB play is evidenced by the fact that UK allows an average of 2.22 Yards Before Contact on rushing plays. That’s T-9th in the SEC with Mississippi St.
- CB #14 Carrington Valentine is the DB who teams go after the most. He has been targeted a whopping 54 times this year with 27 REC’s allowed for 428 YDS. Valentine usually plays in the slot on the left side of Kentucky’s defense.
- CB #01 Keidron Smith is UK’s best cover guy. He usually plays on the boundary on the right side of Kentucky’s defense. He has been pretty good all year and has the highest PFF Coverage Grade of any Wildcat DB (80.2). On the season he has allowed 36 TGT/21 REC for 221 YDS and 0 TD’s.
- I think UK’s defensive numbers have been a bit inflated by poor opponent quality. The best passing team they have faced other than Tennessee is… Florida? Maybe? I’m not sure. Vanderbilt gashed them on the ground last week. The Commodores had 129 YDS on 5 YPA from RB Re’Mahn Davis and QB Mike Wright had 11 attempts for 126 YDS. When the game was on the line Wright was able to throw Vandy down the field for a game winning TD.
- Kentucky’s safeties haven’t seen a ton of deep route combinations this year. That’s just not the style that many of their opponents are playing with right now. The Vols lit them up on Post/Wheel Route combos with two WR’s lined up to the right side. The Safety would bite down and the Wheel got left open for two easy TD’s down the boundary. After what we saw UGA do in the vertical passing game the last two weeks I think it is likely that Georgia tests this secondary deep with McConkey, Smith, and the TE’s.
- This defense struggled with tempo against Tennessee. UGA does not run the same type of offense as the Vols, but they have run tempo early in games lately. I expect them to do it on Saturday to stake themselves to a lead in this game.
Final Analysis & Score Prediction
This Kentucky defense is respectable, but it hasn’t seen anything as well balanced and efficient as what Georgia will field on Saturday. I am very interested to see what type of day the UGA offensive line will have. So far this season they have followed every subpar performance with a big game where they showed lots of intensity and finished plays by pushing the pile 10-15 yards downfield. If that happens on Saturday this game will be a walkover for the Dawgs.
I expect UGA to come out early and run some tempo to try and wear down this Kentucky defense. Last year this game came down to Georgia’s RB’s and TE’s being way too much for Kentucky’s LB’s and Safeties to handle in coverage. That mismatch still exists, but this Georgia offense is more varied and dynamic than the 2021 edition was. It’s a passing team, and I expect Stetson Bennett to continue his run of strong play. This should be a game where Bowers and Washington see plenty of targets and I expect a big passing play to McIntosh or one of the other RB’s at some point on Saturday. With how Kentucky plays on defense, this would be a good time to deploy the McConkey double move out of a Heavy Set formation. You might remember that play from the Tennessee game a couple weeks ago and UGA ran it twice against Auburn for explosive completions in 2021.
Kentucky’s CB’s are pretty decent on paper, but they haven’t seen much competition like UGA’s offense. After being heavily skewed towards Zone Scheme runs last week I think it makes sense for UGA to go back to running Gap Scheme more on Saturday. UK’s interior DL is not very formidable which means UGA shouldn’t run the risk of having a DT blow up the play while Georgia’s Guards and Tackles are pulling across the formation. Inside Power and Counter should be able to hit some in this game, and I think UGA can make a big play or two on the edge in the ground game. Kentucky’s LB’s aren’t great when they have to pursue outside the tackle box and Georgia has a lot of Sweep/Toss plays for a moment like this. I’m sure we will see plenty of Zone Scheme too, and I have seen some moments on tape where teams have hit nice gains off the right side of their OL’s against this UK front. If/when Amarius Mims is in the game I think Georgia might be able to hit an Outside Zone concept for a big play on the right side.
The best thing UGA’s offense has going for it is UGA’s defense. Kentucky has really struggled to move the ball lately and Georgia’s defense should be able to stop the run consistently enough to put Levis into some obvious passing situations. When they do I expect a lot of pressure to come from Carter, Williams, and the rest of that Georgia defensive line. This UK offensive line just isn’t cut out to protect against this type of defensive front. I expect Georgia to have some sacks on Saturday and I think Levis will be flushed early and often. He may start feeling pressure that’s not there and looking to get rid of the ball too quickly by the 2nd quarter.
Levis doesn’t have Liam Coen calling plays for him anymore. He also is missing Wan’dale Robinson. Last year Coen did a masterful job of getting the ball out of his hands quickly and using his legs to keep UGA from teeing off too much on the Wildcats. I’m sure they will try the misdirection plays like the Throwback TE Screen again this year but I don’t think Kentucky has a down-to-down solution to move the football in this game. Maybe Levis makes a hero throw or two to flip the field, but he’s also prone to throwing 1-2 INT’s in a game like this. Don’t be surprised if Christopher Smith catches him on a late throw down the field.
Rodriguez is a fantastic player, but this is a UGA defense that tackles well. To sustain a ground game against these Bulldogs you need blocking help and I don’t think Rodriguez will get enough of it. He may pop a run or two, but I think UK will find themselves in a lot of drives where they punt after 3-6 plays. That will swing things back to their defense, and chasing UGA’s skill guys around for 80+ plays isn’t something 2022 Kentucky has the depth for.
Kentucky’s defense might play well, but it is hard to figure out how their offense is going to score points. I won’t be surprised if Georgia gets up early and makes it comfortable by halftime, but I think the Wildcats will play hard and may do enough to keep it close for a couple quarters. Either way, talent will take over down the stretch.
Georgia 38 - Kentucky 6