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What is Wrong with Kentucky’s Pass Defense?


Kentucky’s pass defense was expected to be one of the team’s strengths entering the 2017 season.  After nine games, it’s arguably their greatest weakness.  What’s gone wrong?  As Mark Stoops’ statement shows, there’s no simple answer.

“There were certainly things that everybody could’ve done better, starting with myself,” Stoops said on this week’s SEC teleconference.  “Schematically in coverages that we played and also in technique with the players as well, so I think we all share in that responsibility.”

Big Plays

One look at the numbers and you’ll find that big plays are crippling the Cats.

Kentucky’s defense surrenders 279.4 passing yards per game, ranked 121 out of 130 FBS teams.  A significant portion of that comes off big plays.  UK has given up 13 plays of 40+ yards, tied for 124th in the FBS.  Both of those numbers are at the bottom of the SEC.

Against Ole Miss, four plays accounted for half of the Rebels’ touchdowns and a third of their passing yards.  That wasn’t just a flash in the pan: the Cats gave up yards in big chunks against Missouri and Eastern Michigan, just to name a few.

“You can’t give up big plays and expect to win,” Mark Stoops said Monday.  “There’s always a few plays that determine a game.  You don’t ever know which ones they are.  Every play is important.”

Why are there so many homeruns?  As much as Kentucky returns in the secondary, the departure of Marcus McWilson, JD Harmon and Blake McClain forced the defense to make impactful changes at safety.  Mike Edwards has played more nickel, switching roles back-and-forth with Kendall Randolph, and Darius West is starting for the first time at free safety.

Along with inexperience, tempo has made the secondary vulnerable.

“With tempo teams, you’ve gotta get settled, get the call.  It’s hard to do because we try to get our call after we see the formation,” Derrick Baity said.  “That’s just stuff we can correct as a defense.”

Pressure

It’s a lot easier to cover receivers when the quarterback is making throws under duress.  Kentucky has 22 sacks, ranked in the middle of the SEC at No. 6, but Josh Allen accounts for a third of them.  The Cats are also at the bottom of the SEC in tackles for loss.

What does that mean?  To apply pressure on the quarterback, Kentucky has to blitz and make exotic defensive calls.  Often times this leaves the secondary vulnerable in man-to-man coverage.

Opponents have found that the best way to take Kentucky’s pass rushers out of the game is by spreading out the defense.  If there are three wide receivers to Allen’s side, he has to drop back into coverage or there will be gaps in the zone.  The same can be said about Kentucky’s best blitzer, Jordan Jones.  If you let him attack the quarterback it’s a high risk/reward situation.

This isn’t the final answer, just another part of the equation.  Against Tennessee, eight players contributed on seven sacks, but the Vols still threw for 242 yards, their second-best passing day of the 2017 season.

One-on-Ones

Following the Mississippi State loss, Stoops lamented the lack of competitive plays made in the secondary.  By “lack of,” I mean they didn’t win one single 50/50 ball.

When there is an opportunity to make a play, the secondary has failed to take advantage of those opportunities since the Bye Week.  Sometimes, like on the final play of the Ole Miss game, the defense can be in perfect position, yet the receiver still makes an outstanding play.  Other times, like the play before when Jordan Griffin batted down the pass in the end zone, the defender is just a few inches from intercepting the pass.

“We’ve had some opportunities for takeaways; we’re not physically taking the ball away.  We’ve gotta make those interceptions and strip the opponent,” defensive backs coach Steve Clinkscale said this week.  “When we get those opportunities we gotta finish.”

After picking off six passes (three from Edwards) in the first five weeks of the season, the Cats have entered an interception drought that’s lasted longer than a month.  The defense has not forced a turnover since before the Bye Week.

Giving up big plays while failing to create any momentum-changing turnovers is a recipe for disaster.

Confidence 

A unit that needs to walk with extra swagger in their step, have they lose any of it through this ugly stretch?

“I don’t think so,” defensive coordinator Matt House said Wednesday.   “I think it’s a deal where we gotta keep pounding, keep working.  There’s times where we’ve made some really big plays back there.  It’s just something we gotta consistently do.”

Baity and Lonnie Johnson agree with their coach, even though their responses and body language did not emote the kind of confidence I routinely saw in the preseason.

“I forgot about it when coach told me to let it go,” Johnson said.  “We’re not going to bring each other down.  Everybody just got around me and tried to bring me up.  I’m done with last week, I’m focused on this week.”

As difficult as it may be to put the difficult past in the rearview mirror, House said it’s part of the job.

“That’s part of the deal, right?  A lot of time the team that makes the most competitive plays wins.  You gotta have a short memory out there.  Playing corner is not easy.  He (Lonnie) was in good position, he used fundamentals, the guy just went up and made a great play.  Ya gotta keep working.”

In an attempt to prevent the secondary from losing their confidence, Clinkscale has kept things positive this week in his meeting room and on the practice field.

“I’ve been really positive this week and the players have been really positive this week.  It’s just, sometimes you have to use your skills to get on them in different ways.  After tough loss like that you never just want to beat it into the ground.  You still show them and make them accountable…Confidence hasn’t been an issue but we’ll continue to build on it.”

Finish

Consistency is elusive in college football.  You can’t ask UK’s pass defense to be perfect on every play. However, you can ask them to remain focused and finish.

Big plays that have crippled the Kentucky defense. Focus through fatigue eliminates missed assignments and communication errors, the catalyst for big plays. When the secondary is in proper position, they must finish, the theme of this week’s practice.

“We gotta finish strong, we gotta play strong, we gotta be alert and aware at the end of the game and put the game on our shoulders,” Clinkscale said.  “We gotta step up and win.”

To do that, Kentucky’s defense can’t let last week’s loss linger.

“We’ve been in close games like that where we’re a play away,” Baity said.  “We can’t let it hinder the rest of the season; don’t let one [loss] turn into two and two turn into three.”

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR

27 responses to “What is Wrong with Kentucky’s Pass Defense?”

  1. AGSlater

    Vandys qb will be a heisman cabdidate after saturday

    1. Hugh Meeruh

      AGSluthurt: While I recognize your feeble attempt at being facetious, I saw Kyle Shurmer play last year at KENTUCKY. He was mightily impressive. It has been argued, and I believe it to be true, that the reason last year’s Heisman trophy winner won was because his ‘coach’ had been in illegal and/or unethical possession of opponent’s playbook – until the Wake Forest game. The record reflects that both QB and coach went downhill thereafter. What’s even more amazing is that said POS coach was retained during what has been a cleaning of the local commuter community college @Belkanp. Realize this: They’re only 80% done with the house cleaning. And said coach has been skating on thin ice over the cesspool now that hell has frozen over. When you fire legendary Denny Crum to get Rick, and sleep your way from weak conferences to the near top by swallowing more than pride you deserve what you get as an AD. Your commentary, little bro, and follower of all things little bro and bird dirty, is sheer entertainment and has been for many moons. We are saddened by the house cleaning and hope more fools are hired to run that ship of fools.

    2. UK Big Board Update

      AGSlater is super sad the school he roots for isn’t as relevant as UK. He fills this void by trolling a website, which we all know is pretty pathetic.

    3. UK Big Board Update

      Here’s his IP, if anyone wants to send him a gift. 😉

      99.119.246.217

    4. AGSlater

      Considering my ip is on a cell phone network…

    5. UK Big Board Update

      Using shitty AT&T U-Verse wi-fi…

    6. UK Big Board Update

      …and your mother will still be a whore. 😉

  2. Catcasey1

    They all are against the cats

  3. truebluethroughandthrough

    “One look at the numbers?” Hell, I don’t have to look at the numbers, I watch the games. Burn after burn after burn on big passes. Then, at the end of the game, it’s happened so many times by that point that we say, ok, no matter what, we aren’t going to get beat deep. Then it’s 15 yards, 12 yards, incomplete, 17 yards, 8 yards,19 yards, etc, etc. all the way down the field. Our pass defense is ATROCIOUS to say the least….. Take away the deep bombs, and a few uncovered receivers, and we are easily 8-1 right now, and would’ve been going into the blowout game a few weeks ago with a whole different attitude, so that could’ve changed too. You don’t need to look at any kind of stat sheet to see that.

  4. BluKudzu

    We have no pass defense, and we do not control the defensive line of scrimmage.

    Anybody want to debate that point?

    As a result, we are performing worse defensively, now, than in Stoops worst year, 2013. (2-10)
    The 2013 season, if you recall, we played 8 top 25 teams, and two teams outside of the SEC, that won their conferences (This was done with mostly Joker’s players). It is difficult to infer, by anyone’s standards, that we are getting better. Results, this year, thus far, certainly indicate otherwise,even though with a favorable record against one of the weakest schedules we have had in years.

    Currently we are third place in the SEC east, we are considered to be in rarified air. 7-5 or 6-6, either record is a gift, against the such a soft schedule (2 top 25 teams, middle to bottom out of conference). We better enjoy it.

    I am hopeful we will do better this weekend, since we have had 9 games to iron out all the issues of coaching and technique issues identified after every game this season. I want a win, more than anyone.

    With the incentives in Stoops contract, this game is a serious wallet packer for him, I am sure he will give it his best shot.

    Go Cats!

    1. JPGott2

      I totally agree. With our schedule being cupcake city, and our secondary making every offense look like they have Joe Montana behind center, where are the answers in season 5?

      If we were playing a schedule like the one in 2013, we would probably be 3-6.

    2. UK Big Board Update

      We aren’t playing the 2013 schedule….. or the 2007 one. Or any from the past. Just this one. Thats how this works.

  5. CoachT17

    The problem with the Defense is the conservative offense!!!!!! AND….Conservative Defense.. Our corners allow underneath passes the entire game.. It’s like they are afraid of every receiver they match up with… Maybe they aren’t who we thought they were??? They play prevent defense for an entire game!!!!!!!! Really???? Look at the cushions we give!!! THATS!!!!!!!!! the problem with the secondary…

  6. bosshogg24

    UK has NO DC and NO Secondary! This secondary couldn’t stop a high school offense! They play 10 yards off the receivers and run to them after they catch the ball wide open! They need to be there when the ball arrives and play the ball not the man!

    1. UK Big Board Update

      Stop watching them then. It’ll be better for your fragile emotions. Snowflake.

  7. Carter Hall

    Nothing negative except when it comes to football. good way to make the boss happy.

    1. notFromhere

      Nailed it.

    2. UK Big Board Update

      Is this the same “Carter” that was crying to Matt on twitter? LMAO

  8. notFromhere

    If you keep kicking the dog long enough, they will always walk around with their tail between their legs. The sooner fans and media have the DB mentality of letting things go and truly moving on to the next game, the sooner the team can move on.

    It’s what sucks about the UK football season every year. Someone is still upset about a game from last year, 3 yrs ago, 10 yrs ago, or several decades ago and they are incapable of letting go.

  9. UKBlue1

    It’s called giving up on plays, taking breaks during the game when they get tired, and just playing lazy. I don’t know who had the bright idea of having them play 8 – 10 yards off the WR’s all year, but they keep getting beat & the coaches act surprised they’re getting beat ie we’re losing. Part of the D’s problem is Eddie conservative 3 & out offense, they;re breaks are getting fewer & fewer.

  10. notFromhere

    Look at the DLine and tell all of us how many Fr, RsFr, and So are playing meaningful minutes and/or starting. Then look at the players getting time in the 2ndary as well. A RsFr and a So getting a lot of time.

    This is a young team when you look at the 2 deep roster. This season is big to UK fans, but just a type of building season for the rest of the SEC. The best SEC teams have had Jrs and Srs across the 2 deep. We’re fortunate a lot of our opponents are in the same stage for a change.

    The question is, how do we handle adversity as fans? The answer so far is “less than not too well.” There’s more griping now than during the usual bowl-less seasons. Keep kicking it when it’s trying to do the right thing, or instead, encourage it and support it until it gets it right. Simple choice unless you’re abusive by nature.

    1. UK Big Board Update

      Fellowship of the Miserable. They aren’t happy unless they’re crying about something.

    2. Willis talkin bout....

      Why the hell are we still starting Fr, RsFr, So in year FIVE??? UK’s defense has sucked Stoops entire tenure. Granted it got somewhat more organized and effective when he took it over… SOOO why doesn’t he take over the Defense???? Thats kinda his job.. to put this group of kids(ALL HIS RECRUITS) and the program in the best position to win ball games. Not to protect the poor hires he has made. Elliot then, now House. Neither have/had the experience and learning on the job in the SEC is not getting it done. Stoops is loyal friend.. I’ll give him that. A better friend than a HC at the moment. He has let his “defensive coach” rep get destroyed…

  11. Irish son

    The thing that’s wrong with the pass defense is the same thing that’s wrong with the rest of the team. They just aren’t well coached. And i hate saying that but its the truth

  12. Willis talkin bout....

    I’m glad they are all being so “positive”…. what a joke. Everyone gets a trophy for just showing up and “doing your best”… Sorry kids, you’ll do better next game. Seems to be working out great the past 5 years… 4th and 25.. well poo.. 26 yard reception.. Stay positive.. I bet Saban and all the other successful coaches, even ones with less talent, bring cupcakes to practice. And I guess all that @ss chewing they seem to be doing are just “motivational” pep talks..

  13. miggy911

    Stoops is clueless with the clock. Clueless against a tempo offense. Clueless as a head coach and despite his twenty year background with defense he is absolutely CLUELESS!

  14. kjd

    Coach Stoops is stubborn and quickly becoming a dinosaur. His forte is playing situational defensive players, but our opponents know this, and go hurry up spread. We have to recruit defensive better defensive players capable of playing every down. The defensive play also has to be made quickly. Stoops has to adjust his game.