Kentucky has been known for its defense during the Mark Stoops era and that is no different this year. Brad White has done a great job of taking this defense from being good to very good during his time as the defensive coordinator and I am fascinated by how he does it. UK has flat-out poor havoc numbers but they are still fielding one of the best past defenses in the country. The Cats have some flaws as they have given up some big rushing performances, but this defense keeps them in most games.
Kentucky has stockpiled a defensive line full of big guys who can eat up blocks and make it to get movement from your offensive line. This year’s team hasn’t been as impactful from a havoc standpoint but they allow the linebackers to run free and make plays. This group only has a few tackles for loss on the year and I think it is an issue that plays a big role in the overall performance of the defense. Teams that have been able to get positive yards running the football have come away with wins.
The linebackers are the most impressive group, in my opinion. They have a veteran group with solid depth that is led by J.J. Weaver on the outside. The 6-5/242 edge has been a very good player for the Cats even though his numbers are down this season. He provides a long and athletic edge defender who can help contain speedy players. Jordan Wright is on the opposite side of the defense and these two combine to make up a really good edge duo who can do a bit of everything.
Wright is going to be a key player in this game as he plays to the field side which is where UofL will likely run more outside zone. He is also used frequently as an edge rusher in passing situations as well as the third down lineman in their nickel package. At 6-5/231, he is another long athlete that is hard to get around on the edge.
Deandre Square has missed some time this year but he is this week’s winner of the “He’s Definitely Going To Be Healthy For UofL” award. Square is on the depth chart this week after being out for the last three games. He is the best player on this defense from a production and experience standpoint and he is the type of vocal leader this defense can feed off of. Square is perfect in this defense because he can run and he doesn’t miss a lot of tackles. With the defensive line eating up blocks, he can make a lot of plays.
The leading tackler for the defense is D’Eryk Jackson. He and Trevin Wallace provide some very good depth and playmaking ability in the middle. Wallace is one of the highest-rated recruits in UK history while Jackson is a steady player who has great size and tackles extremely well.
Kentucky has been extremely consistent in the secondary during Stoops’ time in Lexington. They have fielded a group of big corners who can be physical in coverage and safeties who can tackle well. Carrington Valentine and Keidron Smith are two of the most experienced corners that UofL have seen this season and they both have shown that they can make plays for the defense. Smith is a transfer from Ole Miss who had seven tackles against the Cards last year. He is a long player who doesn’t have great speed but he does know how to use his length to his advantage.
Safety is another deep position for the Cats with Jordan Lovett pushing his way into the starting lineup as a redshirt freshman. Lovett was one of the recruits that I really wanted to see UofL get out in the state but he didn’t show much interest. He was a ballhawk in high school but he has racked up a lot of tackles for the Cats this season. Tyrell Aijan is the veteran of the group and provides a solid all-around option in the back end.