Believe it or not, it’s already Wednesday, which means it was once again the defense’s turn to talk with the media. Defensive coordinator Matt House went first, followed by a few of his players. How are they feeling heading into Saturday’s game against Ole Miss? What’s the biggest threat? What did Lonnie Johnson do on Halloween? Here’s what you need to know:
1. What to watch for: size, explosive plays, tempo
If there’s one thing to take away from today’s media opportunity, it’s that Kentucky is focused on shutting down the Rebels’ explosive plays.
Last week, Arkansas narrowly defeated Ole Miss 38-37. But early in the game, it didn’t look like it was going to be the Hogs coming out on top. In fact, at the end of the first quarter, the Rebels led 21-7. Their first three touchdowns were “huge, explosive plays,” according to House. Limiting this aspect of the Rebels’ game, and consequently slowing their tempo, is vital for the Kentucky defense.
“Limiting the big plays will be a big key to our success, and really just making them earn it,” House said. “This sounds really elementary, but our deal is get to the ball, get the call. Because a lot of times when you see teams struggle against tempo, it’s because there’s not an urgency to get back to the ball, get your eyes to get the call and then get lined up and do it again. We’ve just got to do the simple things really well.”
The Rebels’ ability to create these explosive plays comes from their fast-paced tempo and newly-appointed quarterback, Jordan Ta’amu.
“They do tempos off explosive plays. If we eliminate their explosive plays, I don’t think we’ll see much tempo,” cornerback Lonnie Johnson said. “That’s what we’re banking on right now.”
Their size is also a factor the defense has to look out for.
“They’re all big, big kids. They all go up and get the ball – they’ve got good speed,” House said. “Offensively, they’ll push the ball perfectly down the field.”
But Johnson isn’t worried about their physicality.
“Their size don’t really affect us because we’re the same size,” Johnson said. “They probably weigh a little more here and there, but just battling for the ball, you’ve got to battle for the ball.”
2. Battle of the one-on-ones
After the Mississippi State game, Coach Stoops and the rest of his staff all emphasized the Cats’ problems with one-on-one match-ups during the game. Kentucky struggled to “beat their guys” against the Bulldogs, something the coaches say cannot happen again.
“When we went to the Mississippi State game, whether in the run game or the pass games, we didn’t win our one-on-ones,” House said. “I thought we did a better job in the Tennessee game winning the one-on-ones. At the end of the day, it was about the guys going out and winning their one-on-ones.”
Johnson hears what fans are saying about Kentucky’s secondary, and he wants to use this week – and his individual match-ups – to prove them wrong.
“You just want to step up to the challenge. Like, man, I want a chance. Just give me a chance at the ball. Just give me a one-on-one. And then you’ve got to go against everyone’s word about our secondary and stuff like that, and you just want your chance. So you get real excited.”
3. Lonnie’s exciting Halloween
Oh, and what did the junior say he did last night for the holiday?
“I just stayed in the house, for real.”