UK's off week can make it or break it

November 04, 2003|JEFF ZURCHER

Getting gored by the Razorbacks in the seventh overtime last Saturday hurt Kentucky physically, mentally, and emotionally - but mostly emotionally. And thanks to having an off date this week, the players will have to wait - way too long, in their hearts and minds - until they have the opportunity to expel their frustrations upon the Commodores in Nashville on Nov 15.

But (Ah) schedules will be schedules. And so the show must go on ... hold. Thus UK, as much as it is ready to bet all its chips versus Vanderbilt, must sit this Saturday's hand out.

Unfortunate, right?

Well, no, actually. An off week (even in Kentucky's particular situation) is almost never bad if used correctly. If used exceptionally correctly, an off week at this point in the season can propel a team to success in each of its remaining games, not just its next one.

What equals exceptional use? Depends. It differs from team to team, from year to year.


However, here's my opinion (an opinion formed by experiencing multiple off weeks while playing college football) on what Kentucky can do to make its off week and what it can do to break it.

Make it: Playing with the first week.

By playing with the first week, I mean that UK's coaches should use this week to mix things up, to try new stuff, and - are you ready? - to have a bit a fun (gasp!). All of the "Make It" suggestions below are intended to be applied within the first seven days of the 13 days UK has in between Arkansas and Vandy.

Break it: Playing around the second week.

It's called an off week because that's what it is: one week "off." It's not off weeks. So come Sunday, Kentucky players and coaches had better be fully immersed in their regular, game-week routine. If, during game week they continue experiments commenced in the previous seven days, they will find Vandy to be a bigger challenge than it otherwise should be.

Make it: Giving players time off.

Win or lose the game before the off week (especially a game five hours long), coaches should always give players some time, sometime during the first week, to physically separate themselves from the game and the cumulative beating their bodies have received since early August - allowing them to rest.

Break it: Letting players go home.

In the psyche, going home is typically reserved for the end of the season. At home exist mom, buddies and comforts, all of which can readily become distractions. So even if they give guys several days in a row to get away from football, coaches shouldn't let players get away completely.

Make it: Implementing a couple new offensive wrinkles.

An off week is prime (and ample) time to put in and practice to perfection some new offensive plays. Not necessarily trick plays, but definitely plays atypical to UK's current system(s). Fresh plays no defense has yet seen on film and will not expect when facing the offense.

Break it: Revamping the entire scheme.

Despite many fans' (and players') frustrations with UK's offense this year, an off week does not provide enough time to institute an entirely new offensive approach. Just think how long it has taken UK players to learn the current offense.

Make it: Getting younger players more practice reps.

An off week offers a little glance into the future. With vets needing sufficient time to rest away aches, coaches should give younger guys more practice time and experience. Of course, only guys that have played/will play this season should get extra reps; coaches shouldn't use redshirts.

Break it: Running young guys with the first team.

An off week is an opportunity to polish (not just practice), and inserting fresh faces into the first teams would certainly take away from any continuity already established.

Make it: Much focus on the next game.

Even though it has a chance to look ahead (and behind) during an off week, UK still must dedicate enough time and energy to the Vanderbilt game plan. For the most part, the take-one-game-at-a-time axiom still applies, even if the next opponent is a weak one, and little focus will get Kentucky little results.

Break it: Too much focus on the next game.

However, Kentucky does have the luxury of playing Vandy next. And let's face it, Vandy is different than Georgia and Tennessee. That means the Cats don't need to use the entire two weeks to prepare solely for Vandy, like they would need to do for a top-25 foe.

Coaches should utilize the wonderful blessing of additional time to begin creating (hopefully masterful) game plans for the final two games. This head start may be what UK needs to get a win(s) in its last two contests - and to get another game in late December.

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