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Opponent Breakdown: Kentucky Defense

UK’s defense has struggled in the second half of the season. They will look to avoid a major upset in the rivalry game.

Missouri v Kentucky Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images

Kentucky has a chance to win ten games this year and they’re riding their defense to that win total. I did a spot on ESPN 680 this summer and I was asked about how UK could do this year and I truly saw the potential for 8 wins. The issue for this program, though, has been the absolutely abysmal play by its defenses. Mark Stoops is a former defensive coordinator and until this season his defenses have been what you would expect from an offensive guy. He’s finally figured it all out this year and his veteran group is the key to the team’s success.

The defensive line for UK has been the biggest improvement in the system. They’ve spent the last few years with guys there that were not much more than warm bodies. They’ve improved their tackle for loss number this year by 8 even with two games left. They’re making more plays but more than that, they’re being more disruptive. I’ve stressed the importance of defensive linemen not always making the play but impacting it by being disruptive. This line does a great job of that. They keep the second level players clean and those guys make a lot of plays.

You’ll get tired of hearing the name Josh Allen this week but he is one of the best players in the country and Kentucky deserves some real credit for finding him as a recruit and developing him. Allen was a two-star talent out of New Jersey and UK landed him as a filler in his recruiting class. He worked on his body once he got there and now he’s a 6-5/260 outside linebacker who has the school record for sacks. Allen plays a hybrid pass rusher role for the defense and he’s improved his skills as a zone defender against the pass and he can play the run very well. No team has figured out how to block Allen. I doubt that UofL will be the first to do so.

The new additions at linebacker are another reason why this defense has improved. Denzel Ware decided to transfer after last year and Courtney Love graduated. Boogie Watson and Kash Daniel have been much better as replacements. Watson doesn’t get the stats that Ware did but he’s a more complete player and he allows Allen to be the key pass rusher. Daniel is just miles ahead of Love as a middle linebacker. Love was a leader and I understand why they stuck with him but they did so while leaving a better player on the bench. Daniel is a really good athlete so he plays the run and the pass well. The biggest positive is that he can run down plays in the backfield. He and Jordan Jones team up very well when it comes to creating negative plays.

The Kentucky Secondary has a tendency to be boom or bust at times but they have been really solid for the most part. This defense is very opportunistic with 18 turnovers on the season. They have play makers at corner and safety and all of them make plays at all three levels of the defense. Mike Edwards and Darius West are the key guys at safety. Louisville doesn’t do anything well on offense but they have had some success running the football the last few weeks. These two guys will be the keys to stopping that run game. Both like to get up the field to make plays and they are very solid tacklers. I’d also be surprised if one of them doesn’t force a turnover or two.