We’ve already recapped the offense but now it’s time to go check in on the defense. In year six under Mark Stoops, the Wildcats are finally playing excellent football on the defensive side. The Cats have an emerging All-American, eight senior starters, and one of the finest defenses in college football through six weeks of the 2018 season.
It’s been a very good run on this side of the football. UK has yet to allow more two touchdowns to a foe in regulation. In SEC games, UK is only allowing 13.3 points per outing. For the season, the Wildcats are only giving up 4.6 yards per play and this ranks 15th in the FBS.
It’s been a great start for the Big Blue and it’s time to take a step back and recognize these accomplishments. To this point, it’s been a banner year for Stoops and defensive coordinator Matt House. Now it’s time to assess how each position group has performed to this point of the season.
Defensive Line: B
There is no question that UK’s three down front is playing much better than expected and second year defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc deserves a ton of credit. The Wildcats have a very solid platoon working and Kentucky has been getting excellent play from Calvin Taylor, Jr. and Kordell Looney.
Both of whom started the season running with the twos.
This position has been a weak spot of the defense for a few years. But in 2018, the Wildcats are holding their own at the point of attack and they’ve contributed 4.5 sacks to help out Josh Allen and Boogie Watson with the pass rush. Where they are lacking is in the run department.
UK’s front is still not creating negative plays in the run game and that is one thing that must improve moving forward. Phil Hoskins has flashed at times but this is one thing Kentucky must focus on moving forward. You can never have enough havoc plays from your front.
In all, it’s been a really great run for UK’s defensive line. The Wildcats will only lose two contributors from this year’s rotation and are currently recruiting the position very well in the class of 2019. There are some young, promising prospects in the fold and the future appears to be bright.
It’s hard to look at this position group and not be truly impressed. The Wildcats entered the season with two senior starters and two other players who had a lot to prove. There was young talent on the roster, but UK had to go out and show they had quality depth at the second level of the defense. Boy, have they ever.
Let’s start with Josh Allen. The senior now has his own website and has been the most dominant defensive player in college football to this point of the season. The hybrid defensive end/linebacker has been a menace for opposing offenses. In just six games, Allen has produced 10 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks. He’s been a factor in pass coverage and made game changing plays in the wins over Florida and Mississippi State.
He’s been a force of nature and has set the tone for this excellent defense.
Inside, Kash Daniel is currently giving UK its best middle linebacker play since Avery Williamson left for the NFL in 2013. The junior from Paintsville has been a steadying force in the middle and is emerging as one of the leaders of the football team. Next to him, Jordan Jones is fresh off a rocky season after a breakout performance in 2o16. Through six games, the Youngstown native has played within the defense and is a major factor against the run and pass. He’s playing the best football of his career.
It doesn’t just stop with them. UK is getting excellent contributions from its supporting cast. Boogie Watson has recorded a sack in three consecutive games and is becoming a great sidekick to Josh Allen. Chris Oats was excellent in his first career start at Texas A&M. The former blue-chipper is a star in the making. DeAndre Square has played excellent when called upon in passing situations.
This group has been superb all season and you could not ask for any more.
Kentucky entered the season with five seniors expected to make big contributions for a secondary that had the potential to be one of the best in the country. After a disappointing season last fall, the expectation was that this group would bounce back with a vengeance. They’ve answered the bell.
Through six games, Kentucky is only allowing 5.5 yards per pass attempt and has recorded seven interceptions. The Wildcats are only allowing opponents to complete just north of 50% of their passes. All of these rank in the top 20 nationally. Kentucky has been excellent in their coverage abilities.
UK is getting outstanding safety play from seniors Mike Edwards and Darius West. The two Ohio natives were both four-star prospects from that highly praised class of 2014 and they are playing with an edge this fall. West leads the team in tackles and interceptions while Edwards has been a force in run defense. The senior has 5.5 non-sack tackles for loss and this ranks first on the team in that category.
UK is also getting excellent play at corner. Very few teams have been willing to challenge Derrick Baity and he’s well on his way to being selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. At the boundary corner spot, Lonnie Johnson and Chris Westry are sharing reps and they’ve both performed very well.
The production even goes into the bench with safeties Davonte Robinson, Jordan Griffin and Tyrell Ajian. The three reserves are used in nickel and dime defenses and they’ve made plays when called upon.
This group is playing outstanding football and with some solid passers remaining on the schedule, they’ll need to continue this high level of play.
There was a lot of pressure on Mark Stoops to finally produce a strong defense in Lexington. After five years of mediocre results, the Wildcats now have one of the best defenses in college football. Matt House deserves some credit, too.
The former defensive coordinator at Pittsburgh and FIU has been excellent in his second season in the role. He’s made the move from the booth to the field and it appears that the team has really responded well. The braintrust between him and Stoops is working very well.
Benny Snell gets a lot of the credit but to this point in the season, UK’s defense has been the backbone of the team. This group gave UK every chance in the world to win at Texas A&M. They dominated Mississippi State and made key plays in the fourth quarter to clinch the win over Florida. Keep this play up and UK will have a chance to win every game they play.