Kentucky’s defense can’t seem to find its footing in 2020.
The season-opener against Auburn featured a few spectacular plays by the Tigers’ offense, cracking the door open for Ole Miss to barge into the end zone six times at Kroger Field in week two. While fans saw glaringly obvious mistakes in the secondary last Saturday, defensive coordinator Brad White is placing the blame on all 11 players.
“It was a complete team failure to execute throughout the entire game,” he said Wednesday evening. “There was at times when we executed and everybody did their job responsibility, we looked good and we played good as a defense, but all it takes is one. That’s the beauty of this game is that everybody is relying on the guy next to them to do his job. Yeah, there are plays that you can get away with, but it just happened to be on the backside of a play, so it didn’t hurt you, but in games like that against good football teams in the SEC, those mistakes tend to get magnified and it cost us.”
The mistakes aren’t always enormous mistakes. Sometimes it’s just being a hair away from making a big play that could change the game.
“People talk about it’s a game of inches, a lot of time they think about it in terms of where the football is on the football field, but it’s not,” White said. “The first pass coming out of the second half, if we’re a touch deeper, it’s a tipped ball by the linebacker and we probably intercept it. Instead, it’s two inches over his fingertips because he came downhill a step too fast and all of a sudden it’s a big play. In the pocket we’ve slid off a couple (quarterback sacks) in these first two games. We’ve just gotta continue to emphasize the little things because they make all the difference.”
In addition to the little things, this week the UK defense is emphasizing tackling technique and creating havoc plays. If each player can do the little things correctly, the big picture will take care of itself.
“We need to make more plays. We’ve gone two games, haven’t forced a turnover. That’s unacceptable. That’s not giving the offense any chance to have those short fields. We need to continue to find ways to make plays. Some of it’s guys have a natural feel, but some of it’s structure and some of it’s play-calling. I gotta make sure I put them in position to make plays and dial up a call or two that gives them an opportunity to get a free run on a quarterback, to get their hands on a ball.”
After failing to pass the first two tests of the season, the Kentucky pass defense will face another stress test against Mike Leach’s Mississippi State offense. The Wildcats don’t have the luxury of time on their side. They must find their defensive identity now.
“It’s on all of us right now. We’re all grinding from top to bottom, from players to coaches, trying to find what our identity is this year. We talked about that early in preseason. Every team, it doesn’t matter what it looks like on paper, every team has its own identity. Every defense, every year has its own identity and right now we have to find ours. We have to find out who we are. It’s all easy when things are going great. What we need to do now is like what we did last year. We hit that skid last year and the guys said enough is enough and they galvanized and played really good football down the stretch, but we don’t have time to wait until a bye week. We’ve gotta get this thing fixed and we’ve gotta get it fixed in a hurry because we’ve got a lot of good teams (ahead), starting this week with Mississippi State.”