If someone told you four weeks ago that the Cats would be 3-1 and the defense would be the reason for that record, would you have believed them? A couple red zone stops here and an interception or two there, and the defense has the Cats barreling into the SEC schedule sitting at 3rd in the SEC east. The defense continues to look better every week and veteran linebackers have been strong in their return to the field. Unexpected heroes have shown promise replacing missing starters, and an outstanding group effort has been a weekly occurrence. Without a superstar lining up on the defensive side of the ball, the Cats must perform well as a collective unit The defense has had a productive week in practice and looks primed to have another big week against the Colonels this weekend
The Cats have performed as a proficient red zone defense so far this season, sitting at 38th nationally. With the record they’ve played, the ranking really is fairly accurate of how Kentucky should shape up. On the season, UK has only allowed a total of 10 (10/13) red zone scores. 4 rushing touchdowns, 1 passing touchdown, 5 field goals, holding opponents scoreless on 3 separate trips. We haven’t faced terrific offensive units thus far, but that statistic is still very impressive.
Cory Johnson was named defensive lineman of the week in the SEC for his 11 tackle contribution last weekend. He was disruptive on the line regardless of who tried to block him, and he put tremendous pressure on Mauk in the pocket. Now that we know Johnson is for real, his increased playing time should prove to be big for the defense with the absence of Meant in the middle. Depth on the line is now a strength of this team with a reserve coming in and playing better than the starters.
Khalid Henderson received almost no playing time after Flannigan’s return last week and it was represented directly by his defensive statistics. He had none. Henderson wasn’t even listed in the participation report last week. I’m not saying Henderson should see time over Flannigan, or that he deserves time because he is a senior, but he does deserve playing time because of the impact he had for our defense in Flannigan’s absence. Before the Mizzou game, Henderson was 6th in the SEC with 27 tackles. Sixth! It might have been that he was a player hindered with an unreported injury, but it seemed to be that Henderson didn’t really play because of Flannigan’s return.
Ryan Flannigan is going to be playing a lot of minutes because he played very well last week, after all he is the original starter on the depth chart at the weakside linebacker position. However, this is a story to pay attention to going forward. Flannigan is going to do the job best, but if we can’t find a way to get Henderson some reps even as a backup, I think D.J. Eliot would be shorting a talented player. Henderson is listed as “or” alongside Flannigan at weakside linebacker on the EKU depth chart.
Kentucky held Missouri to the lowest rushing yards we’ve held an SEC school to this season, 111 yards, despite Mauk getting out of the pocket for 50 yards. Jason Hatcher has been a solid addition to the linebacker group along with Flannigan, their first game back together was the best we have looked as a unit all season. I expect another big week from the defensive line and their ability to stuff the run in a good matchup against some talented EKU backs. Some younger guys in the two and three deep positions who need some more time on the field will get a couple more reps against a lesser opponent, and the defense should have an easy tune up game this week before we get ready to hop back into SEC play against Auburn after the bye week.