Per S&P+, Kentucky’s defensive efficiency has decreased for three consecutive seasons after peaking at 50 behind Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith in 2014. In the three following years, UK has gone from 68th, to 83rd, to 96th as the Wildcats have seen three different primary play-callers struggle to find the mojo for the defense. Now with Matt House returning for his second season as the coordinator with nine starters returning, it’s time to find some answers.
With multiple future NFL picks set to start, it’s time for this defense to begin to produce. It’s been a long time since this program had a legitimate defense and if it doesn’t happen this year for Mark Stoops you have to start wondering if it will ever happen. Here’s what will happen if the bounces go Kentucky’s way in 2018.
- With the loss of Joshua Paschal, there are questions as to whether UK has an impact player on the line and this is where Quinton Bohanna steps in. The mammoth sophomore his teammates call Big Bo bursted onto the scene as a true freshman and will become dominant force as a sophomore. Add this with improved play from T.J. Carter, Phil Hoskins, and Adrian Middleton and you’ll have a competent line who consistently makes plays at or behind the line of scrimmage.
- Kentucky’s linebacker corps enters the season with high expectations but those are heavily reliant on two players. Both Josh Allen and Jordan Jones enter their senior years after impressive careers and will look to put their best foot forward in 2018. Jones gets back to his play as a sophomore as he records over 100 tackles and 10+ tackles for loss. Josh Allen makes a run at the program sack record as his play makes him a lock for the first round of the NFL Draft.
- As high as the expectations are for the linebackers, they may be even higher for the secondary. The Wildcats return five seniors as Mike Edwards will go down as one of the best safeties to ever wear the blue and white. For 2018 to go to plan, Edwards keeps up his solid play while Derrick Baity becomes one of the best corners in the SEC. Lonnie Johnson and Chris Westry both make their fair share of plays while Darius West improves in pass coverage.
- As a group, Kentucky holds opponents to under 170 rushing yards per game for the first time during the Stoops tenure as well as under 25 points. The front becomes serviceable while the back seven becomes one of the most productive in all of college football. With a deadly pass rush and seasoned secondary, Kentucky becomes one of the top turnover producing units in the SEC.
Put all these pieces together and UK will have a legit shot at eight regular season wins for the first time since 1984.