Lexington, Ky.—Shannon Dawson, Kentucky’s new offensive coordinator, believes that football isn’t as complicated as a lot of people make it out to be.
“There are certain guys who are better with the ball in their hands than others,” said Dawson. “When you coach the offense, it’s your job to find a way to get those guys the ball, hopefully in space. If you don’t do that, you’re probably going to lose.”
Kentucky has one of those guys in Stanley “Boom” Williams.
First, let’s talk about the nickname. It was given to Williams by his father, Stanley Williams, Sr.
“He thought that I was good at making big plays,” said Williams, the sophomore from Monroe, Ga. “He believed that when I touched the ball I was going to make things go ‘Boom!’”
As it turned out, dad was right.
As a true freshman last season Williams touched the ball 110 times. He averaged 6.6 yards per carry, 9.5 yards per catch, and 26.9 yards per kickoff return. With 1,159 all-purpose yards, Williams averaged 10.5 yards every time he touched the ball. He had three touchdown runs of over 50 yards. Only 10 players in the country did that.
Dawson came to Kentucky from West Virginia, where he was Dana Holgorsen’s offensive coordinator. But Dawson wasn’t calling the plays. Holgorsen was.
Mark Stoops, in his third season as the head coach at Kentucky, needed an offensive coordinator when Neal Brown left to become head coach at Troy. So he hired Dawson with the understanding that Kentucky’s offense would do three things in 2015 better than it did in 2014:
- Develop a more physical running game that would allow Kentucky to improve time of possession and keep its defense off the field.
- Develop a better vertical passing game that would force opposing defense to cover the entire field.
- Do a better job of getting the ball into the hands of the playmakers.
Williams is going to figure into all three objectives.
“Boom is one of those guys who finds a way to make people miss and turn what looks like a small play into a big play,” said Stoops. “We think he has a chance to develop into a special player.”
At times last season Williams looked like he had already arrived as a special player. In a triple overtime loss at Florida in September, Williams caught a pass in the right flat only to stop, reverse field, and outrun the Gator defense for a 25-yard touchdown in the first overtime. Against Georgia in Lexington, Williams took a basic handoff, burst through a small crease in the Bulldog defense, and raced 56 yards for a touchdown.
“That felt good,” said Williams, who grew up about 15 minutes from the Georgia campus in Athens. “Really good.”
Williams made both those plays because of his sheer speed and talent—the kind of plays that Kentucky must have more of if it is going to reach a very important goal for this season: Its first winning record since 2009 and a bowl trip.
“We came so close last season,” said quarterback Patrick Towles. “But we had to sit home while just about everybody in the SEC was going to a bowl. We don’t want to go through that again.”
Kentucky was in position to beat Florida in The Swamp thanks to Williams’ run but the Gators prevailed 36-30 in the third overtime. Kentucky started 5-1 which included a 45-38 comeback win over South Carolina. But then the Wildcats closed the season with six straight losses to bowl teams. There were a few glimmers in that stretch. Kentucky trailed No. 1 Mississippi State by only a touchdown late in the game before losing 45-31
The most painful of the bunch was a 44-40 loss at Louisville in a game that had seven lead changes.
“We were right there in a position to make a big step and we just couldn’t make enough plays,” said Stoops. “So we challenged our guys to put in the work so that next time we find a way to win those games. I like how they responded.”
The reality for Kentucky is that the offense should again do well. The issue is a defense that allowed opponents to convert first downs 43.6 percent of the time. That was last in the SEC and No. 104 in the nation. And now Kentucky has to play with defensive ends Bud Dupree (No. 22 pick in the NFL Draft) and Za’Darius Smith.
Getting to six wins is not going to be easy. In the SEC the Wildcats get Florida, Missouri, Auburn, and Tennessee at home while playing South Carolina, Mississippi State, Georgia and Vanderbilt on the road. There are three winnable non-conference games (Louisiana-Lafayette, Eastern Kentucky, UNC Charlotte) and the rivalry game with Louisville at home.
“There were several games last season that we could have won with a couple of big plays here or there,” said Williams. “We need to make those plays this year.”
In short, Kentucky needs to go “Boom” a little bit more if it is going to get to a bowl.
Next stop: LSU