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Can The Big Blue Wall Get Back On Track?

The week one performance from the Big Blue Wall left something to be desired. We all know that we had new starters at each position on the line. We all know that three of those players had previous playing experience. We all know that one of them started nine games last year. What no one knew was that the Big Blue Wall would look more like the Little Blue Door, allowing more sacks against Miami (OH) than it did in 10 games last season. The University of Louisiana-Monroe sacked Will Levis four times and Iowa sacked him six times.

This combination of newcomers and guys playing out of position has led to Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello and Offensive Line Coach Zach Yenser to shuffle the deck, going with their "best five" linemen against Florida down in The Swamp. So when the week two depth chart came out, the first thing that jumped off of the page was the demotion of redshirt freshman David Wohlabaugh to second string right tackle. In his place, Kenneth Horsey (who normally starts at left guard) will be manning the blind side for Will Levis against a good Gator defense. Horsey played at left tackle in the Citrus Bowl last season, with mixed results.  Jager Burton will get his second start at left guard after a good game against Miami, with only one glaring mistake. Burton has great size at guard and has a high football IQ. Eli Cox did well at center and, like Burton, only had one obvious mistake. Unfortunately, that mistake led to a sack of quarterback Will Levis. Tashawn Manning looked every bit the seasoned starter for the Wildcats at right guard, showing his value as a transfer portal pick up from Auburn. Right tackle Jeremy Flax also proved to be very capable at his position and made several good plays in the pass protection scheme. 

I believe that many of the problems from Kentucky's offensive line come from not recognizing the stunts and twists that Miami used, in addition to not communicating well on when they should "hand off" and when they should slide their protection based on what the center saw. What does that mean? Let me explain.

The best way to counteract a twist or stunt by the defense is that the offensive line has to have good vision and can see what’s going on. Then, the tackle, or whichever lineman is initially blocking the stunting defensive lineman, will immediately see when the defender commits to the stunt, make a switch call with the lineman next to him and square up the new defender who is picking up where the stunting defender left off.

In turn, the guard, or whichever offensive lineman has the responsibility of picking up the switch call, identifies the new assignment and squares up the stunting defender.

The key for a defensive twist to be successful is to get the blockers off the same level. To do this, the looper may align slightly back off the ball to allow the penetrator to get across first. Identifying these defensive indicators helps in picking up the twist. The first key is to stop penetration. The offensive lineman who has the penetrator coming into his gap must flatten him at the line of scrimmage by getting a good jam. Forcing him to stop his feet allows both linemen to stay on the same level. Allowing the penetrator too far upfield results in him picking one lineman and allowing the looper to come free. Force the defender to the direction of the looper by shoving him toward the other blocker. The blocker’s upper body may turn, but it is critical to keep the lower body square to the line of scrimmage. The lineman stays on the penetrator until the adjacent blocker comes and takes over that defender.

This did not happen on Saturday as much as it should have, which resulted in Will Levis being under constant pressure and stress. To fix these issues, communicating better is an absolute must. Kenneth Horsey and Jager Burton must be on the same page and talk a lot. The same goes for Tashawn Manning and Jeremy Flax. Most importantly, Eli Cox absolutely has to recognize pre-snap formations and movement and call out changes in protection. If this happens, Will Levis will not be running for his life and Kentucky will have a chance to win. If it does not get fixed, it will be a long night in Gainesville.


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