Kentucky will bring a new offensive scheme into the Governor’s Cup this year but the defense will be something that has been a staple for Mark Stoops. The 3-3-5 scheme has contained most opposing offenses for the last handful of years and they have been good again this season. UK looks to stop the run on early downs and then keep everything in front of them in passing situations. While the defense isn’t complicated, it is effective.
All good defenses have strong play up front and UK gets exactly what they want from their defensive line. Marquan McCall is the key at his nose tackle spot. The 6-3/344 senior does a great job eating up blockers and keeping the linebackers clean. He also makes a lot of plays in the backfield that don’t always show up on the stat sheet. McCall has a knack for forcing runs outside of their lane by getting penetration. He doesn’t always make the play but he disrupts things and allows someone else to make the play.
Josh Paschal missed time during his career due to a battle with cancer but he has come back and hasn’t skipped a beat. Paschal is a big defensive end but he is a great athlete and his closing speed has helped him become a real force on his side of the field. With UofL running outside zone so often, Paschal will be a key for UK’s defense.
J.J. Weaver is one of the best players on UK’s defense and he will only get better with more experience. Weaver plays a hybrid outside linebacker/defensive end role and he has been really effective for the Cats this season. The Moore high school product leads the Cats in sacks and he is second in tackles for loss. He also has one of UK’s 5 interceptions on the season. His size is such an asset for him as he can bat down passes and make plays on the edge by utilizing his length. Paschal and Weaver will be big factors in the run game this weekend as they both beat blocks very well. UofL will have to have an answer.
The Cats’ veteran defense is led by Deondre Square and Jacquez Jones who transferred in from Ole Miss. The duo plays behind a line that keeps them very clean and they make the most of it by making a lot of tackles at or near the line of scrimmage. Square plays on the weakside and his athleticism has helped him rack up 9 tackles for loss and 3 sacks. Jones has made a few plays in coverage this year that have been impressive.
Kentucky lost some talent in the back end and they’ve been a little more vulnerable because of it. UK is ranked 89th in opponent passer rating and 116th in opponent completion percentage. Where the Cats have been solid is opponent yards per attempt. UK will give you completions but they do a really good job of containing things. UK is one of the best teams in the country when it comes to limiting big plays. While the secondary doesn’t make a lot of big plays, they get the job done.
The key player in the secondary is Yusef Corker. Corker is third on the team in tackles and he is ranked fourth in the SEC in PBUs. He is a guy that can play in the box as well as cover down the field. Louisville has been able to beat some safeties this year as well as take advantage of play action that moves the safety out of position. I’m not sure how much success they will have with veterans like Corker and Tyrell Aijan on the back end.
Where Louisville may have some success is on the outside against Quandre Mosely and Carington Valentine both have had solid seasons but neither have made a lot of plays on the ball this year. They have combined for 9 PBUs and 1 interception and opposing receivers have done pretty well down the field this year. The overall pass defense is focused on keeping things in front of them. UofL has to find a way to get behind them.