Discussing fundamentals is inherently boring, so Mark Stoops used a creative metaphor to add some extra spice to describe the drastic improvements to Kentucky’s defense.
Since the Cats walked off the field in Hattiesburg, Stoops said on at least four occasions they spent the offseason “hammering them over the head with sledge hammers” to fundamentally improve defensively. They saw the fruits of their labor Saturday by holding Southern Miss to just 55 yards rushing.
“It takes team defense to stop the run, and it starts up front with being strong and being very sound in our technique. I was very pleased,” Stoops said today. “I felt like fundamentally that was the best we’ve played in some time.”
Stoops saw a defensive line that played with better leverage against their opponents. Out in the open, the Cats only missed a few tackles because they had much better position on the football. Most importantly, the defense capitalized when they were put in the position to make plays.
“When we have the right play called at the right time, you can’t miss those opportunities. You have to make the play when you’re in the right position. That wasn’t always the case. I felt like that was real encouraging there.”
To illustrate the defense’s effectiveness, Stoops shared a stat he normally doesn’t track. Twenty-four players produced on defense. Nine defensive backs significantly contributed, but even more startling, they played eight guys in three spots on the defensive line and all eight made productive plays.
From the first to the second unit, there was zero drop-off. “It says a lot about the development of our team and our program,” Stoops said.
After beating his players in the head with a metaphoric sledgehammer all offseason, each individual did their job. They did not worry about the guy next to them. Collectively, they produced the most potent defense we’ve seen under Mark Stoops.
“Team defense is what it’s all about. I was very proud of the unit in that way. I felt like they really were aggressive…Guys played with a lot of passion, a lot of energy and some quickness.”