After starting the season 5-0 and 3-0 in the SEC, Kentucky’s matchup against Texas A&M on Saturday seemed like a prime opportunity to make a jump into the top-ten. They were already sitting pretty at No. 13 in the AP Poll, but a win in a hostile environment like Kyle Field against a team layered with NFL talent would almost certainly be enough to sway voters.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, the offense failed to get going against a stout Aggie defense, and it resulted in Kentucky’s first loss of the season.
While there were questions surrounding the offense, the Wildcat defense passed the eye test yet again, avoiding any major mixups or ugly long plays (one A&M touchdown reception was a fluke catch on a tipped pass). They got big stops when the team needed them in crunch time, giving the offense an opportunity to take advantage and potentially win the game.
When you dive into the surface-level numbers, the eye test went hand-in-hand with the reality of the situation, as the Cats allowed just 20 points on the night, 390 yards total, 7-17 on third down conversions, and forced two massive turnovers. They made the Aggies uncomfortable from start to finish and nearly found a way to win the game by themselves.
Their performance stacked up well with the nation’s elite in their respective performances against the Aggies. In fact, they were better.
Against Clemson, Texas A&M managed just 26 points and 7.0 yards per play. Against Alabama, the Aggies scored 23 points and averaged just 5.5 yards per play. Against your Wildcats? Just 20 points and 5.2 yards per play. (H/T to KSR’s Adam Luckett)
Kentucky has played Florida, Mississippi State, South Carolina, and Texas A&M, all teams that have been ranked at one point or another this season, with three of them listed in this week’s AP Poll. The Cats came away with victories in three of those matchups and dominated defensively in all of them.
It’s obvious Kentucky has one of the best defenses in the SEC, we’ve heard it from national analysts time and time again over the last few weeks.
When you look at the numbers at the national level, however, the Wildcats somehow look even better. To this point, Kentucky has one of the best defenses in all of college football.
Allowing just 13.8 points per game, Kentucky sits pretty at No. 5 in all of college football and No. 3 in the SEC, behind just Mississippi State, Georgia, Cincinnati, and Washington. Combining touchdowns and field goals, they’ve also allowed just 15 total scores, ahead of the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, and Ohio State, among others.
In total touchdowns, the Cats are tied for third in all of college football with just nine offensive touchdowns allowed on the season. That’s better than Georgia, Alabama, Clemson, Florida, Michigan, LSU, and Miami (FL). They also have allowed fewer total yards than Alabama, Florida, and LSU, among others.
In total first downs, they’ve given up 104 on the year, tied with Florida for No. 53 in college football. Not the greatest, right? That is until you take a look at how those drives usually end. In the red zone, the Kentucky defense has allowed the opposition just six touchdowns on 15 total tries, good for third in all of college football. They’re tied with Georgia in this department.
When you add in field goals allowed in the red zone, Kentucky allows scores in the red zone just 73 percent of the time, good for 26th in the nation.
That’s bend, but don’t break defense to a science.
With seven interceptions on the year, the Cats are also tied for 20th in the nation, ahead of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina, among other SEC foes. Kentucky is also tied for 12th in the nation with two defensive touchdowns, both on fumble recoveries. One of those came on Saturday night when safety Darius West picked up a loose ball for a scoop-and-score to tie the game up late in the fourth quarter.
Allowing just 5.51 yards per completion, the Kentucky defense is ranked 10th in pass defense, just behind Alabama’s average of 5.50 yards allowed. In total passing yards, Kentucky allows just 185.5 yards per game, good for No. 28 in the nation.
In the rushing attack, Kentucky has allowed just four touchdowns on the year, tied for third in the nation. In total yards, the Cats are No. 24 in all of college football, allowing just 119.3 yards per contest. They also allow just 3.63 yards per carry.
The defensive line and linebackers are also dominating in the pass rush, tied for seventh in the nation with 16 sacks on the year and tied for No. 35 in total sacks per game. Kentucky star edge-rusher Josh Allen is also tied for No. 10 in the nation and No. 2 in the SEC with six sacks.
Pro Football Focus has also given Allen an overall grade of 90.0, good for second in the nation among edge rushers.
The Wildcats even look solid in the miscellaneous categories.
On kickoff returns, opponents are averaging just 18.93 yards per return and have scored zero times, good for No. 36 in the nation. They’re also top-50 in turnover margin and time of possession, for what it’s worth.
Mark Stoops was absolutely giddy when so many star defensive players decided to wait a year on the NFL Draft and return to school for senior seasons. Combine that with young talents blossoming into stars and depth building at all three levels, this defense is a force to be reckoned with.