2-10, 5-7, and 5-7. Over the course of Mark Stoops’ tenure, the Kentucky Football program has been forced to overcome personnel deficiencies as well as a revolving offensive coordinator door. 2016 reveals a new but old challenge, a difficult schedule. To be frank, last season’s fall stretch of games were highly manageable. Starting with Southern Miss and ending at Louisville, next season’s difficulty level will increase two fold.
The following are defensive statistical categories that must be improved for the 16 Wildcats to have a chance at postseason play:
DEFENSIVE LINE TACKLES FOR LOSS AND QB SACKS
— In total, Kentucky’s defensive line totaled 16.5 Tackles for Loss and 7.5 QB Sacks. From those totalities, UK is losing Cory Johnson’s 8 TFL’s and 3.5 sacks along with Melvin Lewis’ 2 tackles for loss and 1.5 QB Sacks. At a closer look, the defensive end position combined for just 4.5 Tackles for Loss and 1.5 QB Sacks. The departing Farrington Huguenin accounted for all but .5 tackle for loss. Concerning.
While the defensive line numbers may be muddy due to outside linebacker/defensive end combination players, last season’s lack of team production was numerically evident. Kentucky ranked last in the SEC in both total Tackles for Loss (53) and QB Sacks (17). Comparatively, Alabaman was the conference’s sack leader with 52 as Texas A&M topped the SEC’s Tackles for Loss category with 111. The national picture is not much better; the Cats ranked 122nd in TFL and 109th in QB Sacks.
While at times the defensive unit overachieved, on-line non-explosive plays were the unit’s Achilles heel. A 3-4 concept relies upon linebackers being the group’s strength and leading tacklers. However, the defensive line must somehow find a way to increase line of scrimmage penetration and disruption.
Looking ahead and projecting the 2016 lineup, I find it difficult to see a significant defensive line statistical increase unless help comes from junior college, freshman signee, or transfer additions. Jimmy Brumbaugh is to be commended for player development. Under his watch, UK has produced a first and third round draft choice in Bud Dupree and Za’Darious Smith. In addition, Melvin Lewis, Corey Johnson, and Farrington Huguenin’s improvements were vast and noteworthy. Corey Johnson earned All SEC honors and Melvin Lewis was en-route to the same accolade prior to injury. Both have legitimate NFL futures. Brumbaugh’s biggest challenge lies ahead.
NT Matt Elam is capable to develop into a gap stopper but most likely will not factor in across the line of scrimmage action. Expectation management has dampened the Elam fever that swept the BBN two years earlier on National Signing Day. However; a 3-4 NT’s job is to occupy, not attack. The Wildcats only returner letterman at defensive end, Courtney Miggins, produced .5 tackle for loss. At the 3 technique defensive tackle, Regie Meant showed promise and diversity by also playing NT. Adrian Middleton’s game is trending upward, but in the “Next man up” college football mantra, production is the only means of judgement.
Why this post now? Going into National Signing Day the emphasis on defensive lineman signees is priority one and the most difficult position to recruit to across the college football landscape. The national championship proved this theory. Alabama had three defensive tackles that will be first round selections. Clemson’s strength was at defensive end. Both DE’s have entered the NFL draft and will be first day selections. But, when mentioning these two teams, we’re only discussing the players on the game field. It has to be remembered that for every one starter, there were two in the queue. Quality depth does not happen overnight.
In roster development, time is an immeasurable entity. In terms of defensive line prowess, it takes time to recruit and develop. Time is not on UK’s side. Judging by above successes, Jimmy Brumbaugh has proven to be a developer and teacher. However, based on necessity, going into February 3rd there will be a NT, DT, and possibly DE signee that will be called upon for immediate action. In simpler terms, defensive line Vacancy Sign reads open for business.