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Opponent Breakdown: Kentucky Defense

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Stoops is a former defensive coordinator and the 2018 season finally showed that he knows what he’s doing. His veteran group led the team to one of the best seasons in program history and produced a couple of NFL draft picks. Those veteran guys are gone but his young group has been able to do a very good job of keeping teams out of the end zone in their absence.

Kentucky doesn’t have a bunch of studs up front but they do their jobs really well and that’s what this defense needs from them. UK runs a 3-4 and their line is tasked with plugging gaps and holding up blocks. They don’t get a ton of penetration but they will hold their ground and make it really hard for you to run the football. This is one of the biggest defensive lines that UofL has seen this year and they’re hard to move. Calvin Taylor is the best of the group and he’s 6-9/300. Taylor can use his length to push guys around and I’ve been impressed with how agile he is.

The line is big but I think they’re lacking a bit when it comes to their mobility. UofL loves their stretch runs and to defend them you have to be able to run. Taylor is a nice athlete but I’m not as sold on the other guys they have up front. We could see a lot of play action off of stretch runs this week.

Linebacker is the best overall group on this defense in my opinion. They Josh Paschel as a hybrid end and linebacker even though he’s 284 pounds but he’s been solid in that role. He will be key as that edge guy on stretch plays as well as the read on the option. Boogie Watson plays the other outside linebacker spot and he’s a play maker. Watson has 7.5 tackles for loss on the year on only 27 tackles. Both of these guys will be key as Louisville wants to work the edges of the defense. They are two of the best play makers on the defense so UofL will have to find ways to neutralize them.

In the middle, UK has two really good players in DeAndre Square and Chris Oats. Both of these guys can run really well and they chase down plays outside the tackles really well. Square is the more consistent player but Oats is a guy that has a bit of star potential down the road. I mentioned the stretch runs earlier and these guys could be key against them. They have the type of speed that makes those plays hard because they can shoot through gaps.

Kash Daniel is technically the starter over Oats and that’s a positive for UofL, in my opinion. Daniel is a good linebacker inside the tackles but he isn’t exceptional when it comes to tracking things down on the perimeter and he’s flat out bad in coverage. I wouldn’t be surprised to see UofL try to use more of their tight packages in hopes that they can get Daniel lined up in coverage against Marshon Ford or a running back. That’s an easy win for Louisville.

UK’s secondary is somewhat of an unknown because Kentucky hasn’t played many good offenses and when they have, they haven’t been very good at stopping the pass. Florida and Mississippi State both completed over 70% of their passes while Tennessee had no problem throwing the ball once they made a change at quarterback. I don’t know that they’ve played an offense that can do the things that Louisville does throwing the football. UT’s athletic receivers had their way with them and they really haven’t been tested much outside of that game since they played Florida.

UK was hit hard by graduation in the secondary. They had to replace all of their full time starters and didn’t have much experience to work with. They brought in Brandon Echols as a JUCO transfer and he’s played fairly well. He’s actually maybe at his best in run support which will obviously factor into the game. Cedric Dort and Jamari Brown have both played on the opposite side of Echols. Brown has been pretty impressive in coverage, in my opinion. These guys are all good at playing tight coverage and they don’t get beat for big plays too often. Even though they don’t make a lot of big plays, they have made the routine ones.

The safety spot for the Wildcats has been solid with Yusef Corker leading the team in tackles. Jordan Griffin and Quandre Mosely split time at the other safety spot. None of these guys are play makers, so I don’t know that there’s any real concern with these guys for the offense. There hasn’t been an opposing player that has been able to handle the way that UofL puts them in “conflict” this year and I don’t see that happening this week. Scott Satterfield throws a lot of eye candy at safeties and the way they’re able to run the ball makes it hard to not put your safeties in man coverage. That’s a tough assignment for anyone and none of these guys have played a large amount of snaps over their careers. I wouldn’t call it a weak spot on the defense but their strengths don’t really worry me.