Complete Run Defense Transformation
A year ago, Kentucky’s rush defense was the laughingstock of the SEC. The Cats surrendered 228 rushing yards per game in 2016. Through three games this year, they’ve allowed just 57 rushing yards per game to rank third in the nation. Mark Stoops explained wheat’s behind that turnaround.
“It always starts with technique. You’ve heard me talk about that. I think Derrick LeBlanc has done a great job with the technique part. I think Matt House has done a great job with the structure of the defense with our positioning on the football.
‘We were determined, as I’ve mentioned many times, to get some things fixed. It starts with just the overall structure and position on the ball. It comes from experience. It comes from guys being around. It comes from strength and depth. There’s a lot of things that go into it, but the number one thing it starts with is pride. The guys have a great sense of pride about them to do things the right way.”
Unselfish, Improved Wide Receivers
Once the most criticized position group on the team, Stoops went out of his way to praise the attitude of the experienced group.
“They’ve been very unselfish,” he said. “I just love their work ethic and their attitude. You can just see that on the sidelines. If they have to go block four, five, six plays in a row, then they’re gonna do that. They’re gonna do whatever they have to do to help us win. I really appreciate that.”
Their patience paid off. On Saturday, Stephen Johnson completed 16 passes to nine different receivers. Juice was great on third downs, Tavin Richardson played physical but Stoops still had one complaint: he wanted to see Kayaune Ross give Johnson a little more room down the sideline to catch the deep fade.
Overcoming Big Plays
Derrick Baity’s man went 68 yards on the first play of the game for a touchdown. He responded to finish with eight tackles, two on fourth down, and clinch the game with an interception to earn SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“There’s going to be big plays in the run game and the pass game. It’s going to happen, but I feel confident that whatever happens, we can get it corrected and move on to the next play.”
Behind Baity, Stoops liked the consistency he saw from Edwards. That’s not out of the norm. What was a little unusual is that he went out of the way to praise Darius West. The free safety has put up big numbers, but up until this point, coaches have been hesitant to heap too much praise, until today.
“I thought Darius West also played a very good game. With more and more reps, I think he brings a nice physicality to the game and really played hard. Overall, all the guys did. That was one thing we talked about last week was matching their intensity. I know our guys did that.”