There are many issues currently facing the University of Kentucky Football program, recruiting, facilities, and questions of head coach job security to name a few. But there is perhaps no issue that needs to be addressed faster than the issue of Rick Minter’s young Wildcat Defense. While the defense looked totally inept during the season opener against Louisville, slight improvements were made during the second week against Kent State which saw a 47-14 Kentucky victory. This has been a total change of pace from recent seasons which have seen elite level standouts like Danny Trevathan and Wesley Woodyard patrolling the defensive side. Players like those make it easy for a Defensive Coordinator to call plays, but now it appears as though there’s not enough talent on that side of the ball to compete at a high level in the SEC (that or they’re too young to make a difference immediately). So, to see where Kentucky falls defensively, I researched all 14 SEC teams and ranked them according to how many points they allowed per possession. Below is the chart alongside an explanation of Points Allowed per Possession and other miscellaneous stats.
First, Points Allowed per Possession are actually easy to understand, they’re simply points allowed divided by total drives. I compute this number myself to examine defense because points allowed are very much a tempo statistic, meaning slow-paced teams like Alabama would naturally allow fewer points than up-tempo teams like Georgia due to fewer possessions in games. Points per Possession (PPP) show no tempo bias making it a great tool to compare teams. Yards per Attempt and Carry are averages of how many yards are surrendered per pass or rush. Interception Rate is simply percentage of passes intercepted, while Fumble Rate is fumbles forced divided by rushing attempts. Finally, Passer Rating is a mathematical formula to determine passing efficiency, the lower the better defensively.
After only two games, Kentucky not only finds themselves near the bottom of Points Allowed per Possession, but nearly every important defensive statistic as well. While it’s discouraging to be ranked 12th out of 14 in anything, that’s not even the worst part. The most damning thing about these numbers is how far from the SEC average Minter’s defense finds themselves in most categories. For Kentucky to be average on the year in Points per Possession they would’ve had to allow only 34 points on their 24 possessions rather than the 46 actually surrendered. It may not seem like much, but 12 points in only two games makes a monumental difference. Granted it’s early in the season and numbers are skewed, but it’s discouraging given our current strength of schedule, we haven’t exactly faced a murderers row in our initial games. Teams like Georgia and South Carolina still loom on the horizon. So while it looks bad now, it sadly has the potential to get much worse.
It’s not all negative though, Kentucky is doing quite well in comparison to the SEC in Fumble Rate, ranked 6th at 4.8%. This will be something that must be maintained to have any semblance of defensive success this season. But, even if Kentucky improves in this category, it’s highly unlikely that forcing fumbles will be enough to improve a defense struggling in all other measurements. As this season shifts forward there will undoubtedly be defensive struggles against elite teams, that’s to be expected, but this season will be determined a success or failure by performances against teams like Western Kentucky and Vanderbilt. Will the defense eventually improve? We’ll know soon enough.