Sorry, Avery. But your numbers are probably going to drop this year.
Ever since Mark Stoops and his staff accepted their new positions at the University of Kentucky, there’s been much to discuss. While the spectacular recruiting, spring game attendance, and “Air Raid” offense have been dominating much of the summertime discussion (and deservedly so I may add), Kentucky is also undergoing a massive overhaul on the defensive side of the ball as well. Defense has been a bit of a taboo subject around the Commonwealth recently. Last season, Rick Minter’s 3-4 scheme surrendered a shoddy 31 points per contest and couldn’t crack the top-50 of either rushing or passing yards per attempt. Enter Mark Stoops and his base 4-3 scheme. Last season in Tallahassee, he led the Seminoles to 6th nationally in scoring defense, 3rd in rush yards per carry, and 1st in pass yards per attempt. It doesn’t take an expert to see the major statistical differences between the old and new regimes, but what are some of the finer points of difference? To find out, I did a bit of research to see where the differences in production come from.
While Rick Minter’s time at Kentucky was brief and left many fans scratching their heads, there were some positives to come out of his time as defensive coordinator. These positives mainly came at the linebacker position. In only two seasons, tackle production at linebacker for Kentucky was at an all-time high. Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy, and Avery Williamson all experienced seasons with 100 tackles or more. Current Wildcat, Alvin “Bud” Dupree, then a hybrid LB/DE, even acquired 91 tackles last season. In addition to tackles, these players were among the team leaders in interceptions and fumbles forced. Under Minter, the linebacker position was key to success, but unfortunately, other positions couldn’t match their production. The below table tells part of the story.
The table above simply tells which positions were responsible for the most defensive tackles in their respective seasons. For example, 2012’s Kentucky linebackers were responsible for 44.6% of Kentucky’s total defensive tackles. In 2011, Kentucky’s Defensive Line was responsible for 21.2% of tackles. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing that there’s a massive discrepancy in the amount of tackles, it’s likely just a matter of defensive scheme. Thinking logically, it’s understandable that the defensive line would be responsible for 20% of team tackles when you consider that there’s only three of them on the field at one time in a 3-4 system. Scheme aside, one would expect a better defense to be somewhat more balanced in tackle production as it suggests that every part of the team is pulling their weight. However, the total production will rarely be 33/33/33 because of how opposing offenses play and personal defensive preference. Now that we’ve seen how Kentucky’s old defenses reacted to offenses, lets see how Stoops did in comparison to that and the defensive coordinator who came before him at Florida State.
A key difference between Stoops and Minter is the tackle production from the defensive line. While Minter’s Kentucky defenses never averaged more than 23% of team tackles from the defensive line, Stoops’ teams always averaged more than 30% in every season at Florida State. Another key difference in tackle percentage between Stoops and Minter comes from the linebacker position. Minter’s linebackers averaged nearly 40% of team tackles or more in his time at UK. Stoops’ teams were frequently in the low 30% range in his time at Florida State. This transition from Minter to Stoops could potentially be bad news for Avery Williamson who was second in the SEC in tackles last season with 135. Don’t get me wrong, he’s still a phenomenal linebacker, but the new scheme almost guarantees that he won’t match 2012’s production.
The change in tackle distribution will be something to keep an eye on in 2013. It’ll be interesting to see if the linebackers can somewhat match their previous production given the change in scheme. It’ll also be interesting to see if Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree can bring production back to the line position at Kentucky. However, I think the most important thing to watch will be tackles in the defensive backfield. Given the perceived weakness at the position, I believe that one of two things will occur. First, defensive backs will be making more tackles than usual because opposing teams are passing downfield more often. Second, the defensive line and linebacking corps put enough pressure on the quarterback, decreasing the number of tackles made for the secondary. If the defensive line and linebackers are averaging more tackles than usual under Stoops, the weakness at defensive back can be masked. However, if the defensive backfield is averaging many more tackles than usual, it could suggest that teams are having no problem getting the ball into the secondary. These are all things to look for in the coming weeks, but personally, I can’t wait to see what Za’Darius and Bud can bring Kentucky up-front.