Grantham: Wildcats' play-action offense a 'much more difficult challenge' for Gators than Tennessee

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
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Kentucky”s Wan’Dale Robinson catches the ball and gets a first down against Chattanooga’s Brandon Dowdell in the Sept. 18 game.

To say the No. 9-ranked Gators are taking undefeated Kentucky lightly couldn’t be further from the truth. 

Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, in response to a question about No. 23Kentucky’s offensive system, was rather honest after Monday night’s practice session, saying the Wildcats presented a “much more difficult challenge than, say, last week” for UF’s defense. Grantham would later describe Tennessee as “physical”, but it was clear from his comments Florida’s defensive coordinator held Kentucky's offense in higher esteem heading into the team’s trip to Lexington. 

“Offensively, they went out and hired a guy from the Rams (Liam Cohen), so, you know, this will be a lot tougher challenge structurally, as far as the plays they run. They're a lot tougher than we saw last week, both in the run game and the play-action game,” Grantham said. “Their offensive line is really physical, they do a good job of moving guys at the point of attack.”

Grantham praised the Wildcats’ on-field offensive personnel, too, including a pair of transfers in quarterback Will Levis and his primary target, wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson, from Penn State and Nebraska, respectively. Levis has passed for 902 yards, good for sixth in the SEC, while Robinson leads the SEC in receiving yards with 402 yards. The Wildcats also have the league’s leading rusher in Chris Rodriguez Jr., whose 520 yards is 103 more yards than the SEC’s second-leading running back, Missouri’s Tyler Badie. 

“They've gotten some transfers, from the standpoint of the transfer portal, the quarterback (Levis). He's got a good arm, he's got enough athletic ability that when he can run on quarterback design runs he can escape pressure and extend plays that way. He does understand where to throw the ball relative to the coverages that you play,” Grantham said. “They added a slot receiver, that transfer from Nebraska, number one (Robinson), that is really a dynamic player for them, and that's made some explosive plays.”

With a decade of SEC coaching experience under his belt, Grantham has seen Kentucky’s gradual rise under Mark Stoops, the SEC’s second-longest tenured head coach at a single school. Under Stoops, the Wildcats have consistently competed for top recruits, finished the 2018 season ranked just outside the top-15 in the AP poll, and Stoops was front and center during the fundraising process prior to Kroger Field’s $110 million renovation in 2015. 

“I think that if you look at Mark (Stoops), what he's done there, I mean, he's done a tremendous job of creating excitement there, developing identity. They recruit well, they coach their guys hard, and you can tell they're tough,” Grantham said. “Their offensive line works to finish blocks. So, you have to go play them and beat them. They're not going to beat themselves, and it's going to be a physical game.” 

Rather than highlight any one position group, Grantham said it’s a team-wide effort come Saturday, when asked who’s tasked with stopping Kentucky’s play-action oriented attack. After holding the Crimson Tide to less than 100 yards on the ground and shutting out the Volunteers in the second half, Grantham’s defense is onto the next challenge. 

“I wouldn't say that anybody has to be more responsible. I think that every person has an assignment, and a technique to play, so really it's just more about doing your job,” he said. “I don't think there's any more strain or any more stress on any one person. It's really just a matter of, you know, you execute the call, you play to your ability.”

Though Grantham, now in his fourth year at UF, knows play-action allows for the possibility of explosive plays, and the Gators head into the contest having allowed touchdowns of 47 yards and 75 yards in the 38-14 win over the Vols. The Wildcats’ offense allows for an even greater amount of chunk plays, and it’s something Grantham has the Gators watching as the defense begins its preparation. 

“When you play teams that run the ball and have play-action pass, your eye-control is important. So your ability to have good eyes, to make sure that you don't give up the explosive plays by staring in the backfield,” Grantham said. “You just got to make sure that you got good eyes on the play-action passes.”

Saturday

Who: No. 9 Florida (3-1, 1-1 SEC) vs. No. 23 Kentucky (4-0, 2-0)

When: 6 p.m. 

Where: Kroger Field, Lexington, Ky.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

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