It took one play for preseason expectations to be validated – the offensive playmakers can do things we haven’t seen here in a long time.
It’s hard to top Boom’s 75-yard score, but even so, the explosive plays have been fewer and further in between. Sometimes Patrick misses a little long or a little short; sometimes his receivers simply drop the ball, or slow down at the end of their routes; many times last week, the line simply didn’t give the offense the opportunity to make the big play. Whatever the cause may be, it’s been gone since the first half at South Carolina.
While the offense has struggled, the defense has excelled. A perceived preseason weakness has kept the Cats close late in games. They’ve won two of the three close games, with much thanks going out to the defense. They just didn’t get the big play they needed from the offense this week.
“We’re all disappointed in the outcome,” Stoops said. “Nobody is more disappointed than them and the coaching staff, but the good thing is that we were in a position to win the game, we just didn’t make the plays.”
The defense has made the plays, from veterans to freshmen. Chris Westry’s interception saved the game at South Carolina. Denzil Ware’s scoop and score on the 2-point conversion will be remembered for awhile, even though his defense on a throwback against Florida went unnoticed and probably saved a touchdown. Nobody has been a more pleasant surprise than JD Harmon, not just deflecting passes and catching interceptions, but making impressive open-field tackles.
You’ve probably heard the saying often, “they bent, but did not break.” That’s all well and good, but it’s best defined statistically. Virtually all of UK’s statistics are identical to their opponents, except for three categories.
- UK = 51
- Opponents = 66
- UK = 15/46, 33%
- Opponents = 11/40, 28%
While the offense on third down is the exact same as it was in 2014, the defense has drastically stepped up. Last year they allowed their opponent to convert on 48% of its third downs, a 15% drop through three games.
Red Zone Defense
- UK = 9/9, 5 for touchdowns
- Opponents = 8/11, 4 touchdowns
No matter how well opposing offenses move the ball, if UK puts them behind the chains and forces them into “do or die” situations, Stoops’ Troops are winning one-on-one battles.
There’s plenty of room to improve on both sides of the ball, but it’s encouraging to have a defense that can keep the team in games, no matter how far they’re backed into a corner.