By Keith Taylor
LEXINGTON — Eddie Gran’s first season as offensive coordinator at Kentucky proved to be a learning experience for the longtime coach.
“I learned more that year about humility,” Gran recalled last week. “It's about team. It's about wins. Is it not still about winning the game?”
Although he had coached in the Southeastern Conference, including stints at Ole Miss, Auburn and Tennessee, he wasn’t prepared for what transpired after he had to start over following an injury to starting quarterback Drew Barker.
When he arrived from Cincinnati four years ago, Gran’s offense ranked fourth in the nation in passing yards as he guided an offensive unit that was “throwing it all over the place.” Gran began his tenure with the Wildcats in passing mode, but Barker’s injury forced Gran to do an offensive makeover.
“We had to do something,” Gran recalled. “There was a point in there about two or three games, they said, ‘Where did this fool come from?’ Then we ripped off six games, then you become a hero. You're smart again.”
It was then Gran built an offense centered around the “Wildcat” formation, and the scheme worked to perfection as Benny Snell and Boom Williams each rushed for more than 1,000 yards as the Wildcats rushed their way into the postseason before falling to George Tech in the TaxSlayer Bowl.
A year ago, Gran stuck to his principles and built his offense around personnel as opposed to a particular scheme.
“The only thing I could have done last year is screw it up,” he said. “That's it. We have a brand-new quarterback. We could run the ball. We had a great defense. We played great special teams. If I go back there and I want to rip it around, because I want statistics? I wouldn't be here right now because that wouldn't have been very smart.”
For the first time in his tenure at Kentucky, Gran won’t have Snell to fall back on in the backfield. He does have Terry Wilson returning at quarterback, but doesn’t yet know who will get the call to replace Snell.
“We're going to find out the personality of this team, see what Terry (Wilson) can do, build around our quarterbacks, go from there,” he said. “It doesn't matter, the bottom line is win the game.”
Gran added the offensive backfield could feature more than one running back, and the offense could resemble the one he pieced together in his first season with the Wildcats when Snell and Williams shared the load.
“That worked pretty well with Benny and Boom,” he said. “We had some guys that could run the ball. If one gets on a roll, you let him go. It's just that confidence in terms of protection. Everything that we need them to do in the pass game, if they can do that, they'll probably play. I haven't seen the stamina out of these three yet because they haven't had that opportunity. Try to push them hard in some of these scrimmages that we have coming up to see how many they can go in a roll and be effective.”
Along with Wilson, Gran has an experienced offensive line and Lynn Bowden at wide receiver, giving the Wildcats’ offensive coordinator and coach Mark Stoops even more optimism going into the season.
“We have to make sure we find ways to get (Bowden) the football,” Stoops said. “He's a difference maker, changes the digits on the scoreboard. He's a playmaker and can make things happen. We have to make sure we continue to get him the football — build around a physical offensive line.”
With the proper tools in place, Gran knows the Wildcats have to “be more efficient on first down so we can have more plays” instead of trying to be more up-tempo.
“That efficiency in our first couple years was really good,” he said. “Four yards or more on first down. Now you're creating more first downs. In Cincinnati, even running the ball at 280 yards a game, 250 yards a game there. We were number one in the country in first downs. We weren't just playing lightning fast. It was about the efficiency of first downs. If you get more first downs, you've got more plays, therefore you have more chances at being explosive.”
As he learned four years ago, it’s more about team than personal schemes.