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Kentucky shot itself in the foot at Auburn, there’s no doubt. When Kentucky made mistakes, Seth Williams made the Wildcats pay. He completely turned the game on its head, so it made me wonder, what can you do defensively to try to take away an opponent’s top option?
I asked the question to defensive coordinator Brad White on Wednesday and the answer is there are no easy answers.
“You can roll coverage to them. You can do different things to affect him. You just have to understand like anything in life, if there were a perfect defense everybody would run it,” White said. “You’re going to roll a defense to a certain guy, it’s going to expose others. So you’ve got to understand when you can do that and when you can’t. Offenses do a nice job, like on his first touchdown catch, they create stacks and bunches so it gets a little bit harder to put your hands on them early in the down. Again, there are some different things we can do coverage-wise to try to take away a player like that, but just understand the hat’s gotta go on somebody. When you start trying to do that, understand that it can create weaknesses elsewhere, so everybody tries to share the load throughout a game.”
On Williams’ first touchdown, the coverage was sound as Nix thread the needle in between two defenders, giving Williams an opportunity to go up and make an impressive catch. On the second touchdown that put Bossman Fat on “You Got Mossed,” White was not discouraged by Kelvin Joseph’s play. A 50/50 ball, Fats won one in the end zone earlier. Williams one the second one. What’s important is that the UK cornerback is not discouraged by taking one L.
“If you’re out there on the edge, you’ve got to be brimming with confidence. And if they catch, boom, put the ball down let’s go for the next one. There’s plenty to work with there and we’ll continue to improve.”
Kentucky must improve this week because Ole Miss also has a playmaker at wide receiver that can turn the game upside down. Elijah Moore is most famous for his Egg Bowl dog-pee celebration that caused the state of Mississippi football to drastically change. Last week the speedy wide receiver caught ten passes for 227 yards. Half of those yards came on a pair of big plays in consecutive possessions. White compares Moore’s explosiveness to that of Louisville wide receiver Tutu Atwell.
“He’s a really dynamic slot receiver. He can roll. When the ball gets in his hand, once it touches his hand he’s hard to tackle. He’s smooth in his transitions, so obviously he’s going to be somebody that we’ve gotta know where he is on the field,” said White.
“But he’s not the only one. The (Dontario) Drummond kid had a really good day at wideout (two catches, 60 yards). The tight end (Kenny Yeboah) is a good player, made some really good catches (five for 91 yards and a touchdown). They’ve got plenty of targets and Corral seems comfortable in this system. We’ve got to do a good job with him managing the pocket because similar to Bo (Nix) last week — he’s got plenty of escapability. All three phases and all three levels of our defense we’re going to get stressed. It’s very similar to Louisville and we’ve gotta rise up and limit those explosives like we did last year.”
Two Quarterback Package Presents a Problem
The old adage is that if you’ve got two quarterbacks, you have none. In addition to Corral, John Rhys Plumlee is a running threat Lane Kiffin will use to put a defense on its heels. Some may see it as a gimmick, but White is preparing his defense.
“It presents a huge issue when you’ve got a guy as dynamic as Plumlee is and he’s in there at the same time. You’re basically operating against two quarterbacks. Corral’s an athlete himself so you can’t just ignore him if Plumlee’s at quarterback and he’s elsewhere. It creates plenty of issues that you have to sort of work through as a defense and obviously being able to see that on film helps prepare, but I’m sure they’re going to have plenty of options depending on which way they want to go with that package.”
Who Played Well on UK’s Defense?
It’s a short list for Brad White that begins with defensive end Josh Paschal and ends with safety Yusuf Corker.
“Everybody else I think to a man would say it wasn’t to their standard,” White said of Saturday’s performance against Auburn. “Our starters have to play like starters. We need to get better. That was not a good enough performance of what we view as our standard.”
Hello D’Eryk Jackson
Many people were probably surprised last Saturday to see No. 56 back on the field playing middle linebacker for Kentucky. True freshman D’Eryk Jackson was the lowest-ranked player in UK’s 2020 recruiting class but the first to get game reps.
“He’s got a real natural feel from that inside linebacker position,” White said. “A lot of playing that position is just a feel of blockers, a want-to of blocker take-on when linemen climb to the second level; thump upon your finish. He’s got good eyes, eye discipline in there.”
Jackson might have a more natural feel for the position because unlike his counterparts, Jared Casey and Marquez Bembry, it’s the position he’s primarily grown up playing. Bembry and Casey just made the move from outside linebacker last season. Even though they’re a bit slower on their roll, White sees progress from the former four-star recruit from Louisville and expects to see No. 6 take some snaps this week against Ole Miss.