Former University of Kentucky head coach Bear Bryant famously said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships.”
This age old adage has withstood the test of time. Mark Stoops is a defensive minded coach. The Cats have endured a coordinator change and a significant turnover in personnel in the past two seasons. However, statistics say that UK’s most recent stretch has resulted in championship level defense.
Atlanta is the program’s goal (site of the SEC Championship) and has been mentioned on several occasions, especially during the Vince Marrow saga. So, for the purposes of this post, I’ll compare Kentucky’s most recent two-year defensive statistics to those of Georgia and Florida during the same time frame. The Bulldogs and Gators are considered to be the division’s standard. Let’s take a deep dive into statistical averages over the course of the 2018 and 2019 seasons:
Points Allowed Per Game
Kentucky: 18.5 ppg
The Wildcats surrendered 19.3 points per game in 2019. UK finished 2nd in the SEC in 2018 after giving up just 16.8.
Georgia: 15.9 ppg
Florida: 17.75 ppg
Kentucky: 177.05 ypg.
The Wildcats finished 2nd in the nation in 2019 after allowing just 167.8 passing yards per game. UK experienced success in this category after losing its entire secondary and OLB Josh Allen to the NFL.
Georgia: 190.7 ypg
Florida: 191.45 ypg
Kentucky: 330.05 ypg
Georgia: 295 ypg
Florida: 324.0 ypg
Kentucky: 35.5 sacks.
Josh Allen is now a Jacksonville Jaguar. This column was going to drop from 2018 to 2019, but it didn’t significantly lessen. Kentucky registered five fewer quarterback sacks in 2019 with Boogie Watson and Calvin Taylor Jr. filling in the blanks.
Georgia: 27.5 sacks
Florida: 43.0 sacks
Tackles for Loss
Kentucky: 80.5 TFLs
Josh Allen was again sorely missed here and could be mentioned in every category. The 2019 Cats registered 13 fewer TFL than its previous total from 2018.
Georgia: 70.5 TFLs
Florida: 94 TFLs
Red Zone Touchdowns Allowed
Kentucky: 54.05 percent of its opponent’s trips inside the 20-yard line resulted in a touchdown. 2018 was Kentucky’s best two-year number at 47.50 percent.
Kentucky: 53.5 per year
UK led the SEC in Pass Defense in 2019.
Allowed Opponent Long Scrimmage Plays
Kentucky: Gave up 155.5 plays of 10+ yards from the line of scrimmage.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
Statistically speaking, Kentucky played championship defense over the past two seasons. This doesn’t come as a surprise given Mark Stoops’ emphasis on this phase of the game. 2020 promises to be a year in which UK could potentially challenge for a trip to Atlanta. Remember, a divisional title has been within its grasp as recent at two seasons ago when the Wildcats played Georgia at Kroger Field.
Replacing defensive end starters Calvin Taylor Jr. and TJ Carter will be more of a challenge than most think. Stoops signed Kentucky’s best defensive line class in school history. But, true freshmen are rarely impactful in the trenches. Former defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc is now at Arkansas. New DL coach Anwar Stewart will have future pro NT Quinton Bohanna at his disposal as well as the promising and entertaining NT Marquan McCall. DE Phil Hoskins also returns after missing the 2019 season.
Long-time starter and the team’s emotional leader, LB Kash Daniel, will also need to be replaced. Linebackers Chris Oats and Deandre Square are now juniors and poised for breakout seasons. OLB Boogie Watson is the SEC’s top returner in the quarterback sack column.
Coach Steven Clinkscale loses starting safety Jordan Griffin to graduation, but will have tenured safety Davonte Robinson back from the injured reserve. With talented depth at every spot in the secondary, position battles will be heated.
Coordinator Brad White will have a plan and is an absolute star in the making.
If Kentucky’s two-year statistical averages are sustained, 2020 could result in a special season.