LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — Eddie Gran has been there and done that when it comes to dealing with adversity.
In his first season as Kentucky’s offensive coordinator, Gran had to choose between Drew Barker and Stephen Johnson when it came down to choosing a starting quarterback. Gran, along with quarterbacks coach Darin Hinshaw and coach Mark Stoops went with Barker.
Three games into his tenure at Kentucky, Barker went down with a back injury, forcing junior college transfer Stephen Johnson into a starting role. The switch forced Gran to change his game plans and the adjustments paid off in big dividends as Johnson led the Wildcats to seven wins in the last 11 games of the season. It also marked the beginning of three straight bowl appearances by the Wildcats.
“That first game, we're throwing it,” Gran recalled. “We had the guys around (Barker). We felt like he had the arm to get it done. He got hurt. We had to do something.”
Although the process looked easy on the field, Gran learned a lesson that season and totally revamped his offensive philosophy in a hurry.
“Our offensive line was really good,” he said. “(We) had some really good backs (and) tight ends. We had a new quarterback. We got into this Wildcat formation, and we tried every week to build around that package. People hadn't seen it. We ended up with two 1,000-yard rushers. 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.
“I learned more that year about humility. It's about team. It's about wins. Is it not still about winning the game?”
Now in his fourth season calling the shots, Gran faces the same scenario. He has an experienced offensive line, capable receivers and a running back rotation in the backfield. Much like Johnson that season, Gran has some tools to work with in Troy transfer Sawyer Smith who beings experience to the table as Terry Wilson’s replacement after the Kentucky starting signal caller went down with a season-ending knee injury in a win over Easten Michigan Saturday night.
Smith replaced Wilson after he went down in the third quarter and threw a pair of touchdown passes, one of which was a perfect 54-yard spiral to Ahmad Wagner on the very first throw of his Kentucky career, giving Gran and the offensive staff plenty of optimism going into the remainder of the regular season.
The only question is whether or not Gran will even revert to the “Wildcat” formation, considering he does have all-purpose performer Lynn Bowden to rely on when it comes to specialty plays. Bowden can take snaps and proved it against the Eagles Saturday night when he threw a 32-yard completion to Wilson, setting up a 32-yard touchdown run by Kavosiey Smoke for Kentucky’s first touchdown of the night.
Regardless of Gran’s offensive plans, Stoops said the Wildcats will stay the course with Smith in the pocket.
“We have confidence in him and we'll run our offense,” he said.
The mission begins against ninth-ranked Florida Saturday night.
Gametracker: Florida at Kentucky, 7 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: ESPN, UK Radio Network
• Josh Paschal has been nomiated for the Mayo Clinic Comeback Player of the Year. Paschal is one of three players who represent the first three of 30 eventual nominees for the award given by the College Sports Information Directors of America, The Associated Press and the Fiesta Bowl Organization. Paschal, a sophomore outside linebacker, has made an inspiring return to the football field after overcoming a malignant melanoma that appeared on the bottom of his foot just before training camp was to open in the summer of 2018. He underwent three surgeries and monthly immunotherapy treatments for more than a year before being cleared last month.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.