If you seek out the box score from Kentucky’s 24-2 victory over Mississippi State, you’ll see the linebackers made plays all night for Kentucky’s defense. The top four tacklers were all linebackers — Jamin Davis, DeAndre Square, Jared Casey and Jordan Wright combined for 32 tackles — and the position group picked off four passes.
Mark Stoops was happy to heap praise on the LBs for an excellent performance. He went out of his way to make sure two others received the credit they deserved.
“I didn’t give these guys enough credit,” Stoops shared at Monday’s press conference. “I have to shout out the defense, but in particular the guys up front. I thought Quinton Bohanna, Phil Hoskins, guys you don’t see showing up on the stat sheet, just played exceptional football, played relentlessly hard.
“Everybody sees Jordan Wright’s stats and some of the guys that made picks, and Jamin played a great game and Boogie played a really good game, but the guys up front — Quinton Bohanna caused two interceptions and that doesn’t ever show up on the stat sheet but he played exceptionally hard, has been working hard. Phil’s been working hard and I just want to give some credit to those guys because nobody sees it, but they are working their tails off, played relentless on Saturday and are really showing good leadership.”
Bohanna and Hoskins only recorded one tackle apiece and three quarterback hurries between them. “Quarterback hurry” doesn’t appear to be that significant of a stat, until you see that this hit led to a pick six.
Without pressure from Kentucky’s front three, the Wildcats could not have consistently dropped eight men into coverage, a scheme that gave K.J. Costello and Will Rogers headaches all night.
“I’m really appreciative of how hard they played up front and gave us an opportunity to play coverage on the back end and really did a good job. I just wanted to mention those guys. Josh (Paschal) has been playing good all year but I really thought Q and Phil took it to another level and we’re going to need that, and so many of our young guys played well as well.”
Stoops expects Paschal to return from a sprained knee to play against Tennessee. In his absence one of those young guys, Isaiah Gibson, received valuable reps. The head coach was pleased with the redshirt freshman’s production.
“We gotta continue to bring him along. Really feel like Isaiah, he has the length and he has the athleticism to be a really good player. He’s gotta continue to work to play with that great intensity on every play, every snap,” Stoops said. “He’s gotta continue to really just take the medicine, take the coaching and continue to get better everyday.”
This Saturday in Knoxville Kentucky’s defensive line will be asked to be disruptive against one of the best offensive lines in the SEC. Led by Trey Smith and Cade Mays, arguably the two top interior linemen in the conference, Stoops is preparing his team for a war in the trenches.
“They’ve really become physical. I think that’s an area that they’ve drastically improved since Jeremy’s (Pruitt) been there. You can see the physicality. Getting Cade (Mays) in there as a transfer eligible helps them along with Trey (Smith) and all of those guys. They’re a big group and they’re physical. Just like all of us in this league, we understand that you’ve gotta have playmakers, but you also have to be very physical and they definitely are that.”