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WTWF: Kentucky Wildcats

This week's What To Watch For focuses on the glaring issues for both team's defenses.

Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports


Louisville's run defense has been excellent for the majority of the season but it has been absolutely gashed as of late. Notre Dame was one yard away from being the fourth straight team to run for 100 yards. If you take out sack yardage that number is well over 100. The issue is not the run defense as a whole. The interior of the line has done a great job of stuffing runs and getting penetration to at least disturb interior run plays. Where the problems have occurred are on the edges of the defense. NC State was the first team to have relative success running at the edges and Todd Grantham's defense was shown to have a flaw. Dalvin Cook and Florida State were able to do the same things with a better outcome and since then it's been open season.

The question going into the UK game is whether we finally see this addressed by the defense. Tarean Folston is a racked up an easy 134 yards last week with most of his that yardage coming outside of the tackles. UK utilizes read option, jet sweeps, and gun sweeps with talented backs. Boom Williams, JoJo Kemp and Ryan Timmons all have the ability to do the same things Cook and Folston did. They are fast enough to make the big plays UK will need to pull off the upset. Grantham will have to do something differently to make sure that doesn't happen. Having James Sample keying on these certain alignments. James Burgess blitzing less and playing the run more. Defensive ends holding up blockers instead of trying to make the play. I won't pretend to know what hasn't been working or what will work. But it's a glaring issue when running backs are hitting the edge untouched and without a defensive player near them. If Neal Brown is worth half of his paycheck 65-75% of his run calls will be edge runs.


Mark Stoops is a former defensive coordinator that started off this season looking like he had gotten his system in place and his team was going to be able to hold their own in against a tough schedule. That couldn't have been further from the truth. The defense has given up 1,300 rushing yards during their five game losing streak. They've given up 12 passing touchdowns. If you take out the Vandy game, they've allowed teams to complete 61.5 percent of their passes this year. They've allowed Georgia and Tennessee to average 11.5 yards per attempt per pass in their last two games. I could go on forever. Kentucky hasn't been able to stop opposing offenses from doing anything for the second half of the season. Honestly, you could pretty much say that about any half decent team they've played this year. Teams have run with ease then thrown the ball over top with ease using playaction.

Louisville's offense has become a power running machine over the last few weeks which has to have D.J. Eliot worrying. With DeVante Parker and others showing that they can easily get behind defenses and create big plays Eliot has to find a way to stop Louisville's run game. Brandon Radcliff has been running through tackles and getting huge chunk runs on plays that can easily double as playaction passes. That's a major issue for a defense that is relying on Josh Forrest to be able to stop the run as well as protect the intermediate passing threats. UK's safeties haven't done much to help the issues either. They aren't playing downhill on edge runs or second level defenders inside. They also don't do much to help over top for their cornerbacks. A.J. Stamps looked great early in the season for the defense and I honestly thought he was a massive upgrade over what they had before. He's better, but not nearly on the level he appeared to be. Ashley Lowery is still just a guy out there. He doesn't bring much to the table, but he doesn't take a whole lot off of it either. UK needs dynamic players on defense and they just don't have them yet. Bobby Petrino should have his way this weekend.


I think it's a waste of time to argue whether or not Reggie is the quarterback of the future for UofL. Will Gardner is injured. Tyler Ferguson can't play yet. And Lamar Jackson (or whichever QB ends up signing) will have their shot at unseating Reggie from his current starting spot. Instead of arguing that, look for improvements in his game over these next two games. Reggie has the arm to be a great quarterback. The throw he made to Kai De La Cruz last weekend was phenomenal. Notre Dame was in a "Tampa 2" coverage where both safeties are asked to focus on being over top on or near the hashes. The middle linebacker is expected to drop into a deep zone and be underneath any receiver in the middle of the field. To beat that coverage you have to be able to split the safeties that will be closing on the receiver as well as making sure you don't underthrow the ball and allow the linebacker to make a play. He delivered a perfect ball that allowed Kai to make an uncontested catch without breaking stride. We easily forget that Reggie is a freshman quarterback that's only thrown 113 passes. Focusing on the positive parts of his game is imperative. He should be making a lot more mistakes than he is.

One of the mistakes he's making often is looking at the rush when his first read isn't open. It's a bigger issue late in the season because his first read is typically DeVante Parker. Everyone knows this which leads to linebackers and safeties jumping routes and taking the option away. Reggie then looks down as a reaction and he ends up taking the sack or having to scramble to make a play. Experience brings the ability to be calm in the pocket as well as being able to know where your next option will be. Down the road it becomes the ability to manipulate the defense with your eyes. Reggie isn't there yet but he has shown flashes that are promising. He doesn't force passes or let the ball sail into coverage. He values the football more than some veterans. He has a really good opportunity to have a really big game against a bad defense headed into bowl practices. This could end up being a game that springs him into being that quarterback of the future.


Louisville leads the nation in interceptions but they haven't been able to hold on to the ball themselves. Will Gardner and Reggie Bonnafon have done a great job of not throwing interceptions which can lead to major shifts in momentum. The same can't be said when it comes to fumbles. Louisville has lost 14 fumbles on the season. Things have gotten much better as the season has gone on but there's no telling when ball security issues could pop up again. Louisville can't give UK's defense easy outs. Reggie has protected the ball very well over the last few weeks. With this being a big game and Petrino likely trying to put up a big number, Reggie could try to force things a bit. That could end up giving UK some momentum.

In Kentucky's losses they've had a negative turnover margin. They haven't done a terrible job with turning the ball over themselves but they haven't taken it away very much. The defense has only been able to gain 4 turnovers in games they've lost. They started off this year picking off a lot of passes. Stamps and the rest of the secondary got off to a strong start, but only Marcus McWilson has an interception in the second half of the season. There are lots of trends with UK that explain why they're on such a bad losing streak. Turnovers is one of them that stands out a bit more than others.