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Kentucky Wildcats Defensive Preview

Who’s ready to see the 50th best defense magically hold the Missouri offense to negative points?

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Georgia Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When I think of Kentucky football, I think a super commitment to the run and a havoc-y defense. And, lo and behold, that’s exactly what Kentucky is this year. The defense isn’t as elite as it was last year (15th in defensive SP+ last year, currently 50th this year) but, as we saw, any defense can rise up and have a career day against the Missouri offense. So, let’s see the lineup that we’ll be cursing for 60 minutes on Saturday!

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Kentucky
Calvin Taylor, Jr.
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive End

T.J. Carter - SR: 12 tackles/3 TFLs/1 sack

Kordell Looney - R-JR: 4 tackles/1 TFL/1 sack/1 PBU

Nose Tackle

Quinton Bohanna - JR: 9 tackles/1 TFL/1 sack/1 PBU

Marquan McCall - SO: 8 tackles/1 TFL/1 PBU

Defensive Tackle

Calvin Taylor, Jr. - R-SR: 17 tackles/4 TFLs/3 sacks/3 PBUs

Abule Abadi-Fitzgerald - R-SO: 1.5 tackles

The stat: Third Down Conversions

Kentucky isn’t super great at stopping the run in the open field but are absolutely deadly in power situations (3rd/4th and short, any down with goal to go), including 15th in the nation at stopping 3rd-and-short specifically. This season Missouri has shown stretches of being incapable of converting third downs and it absolutely bit them in the butt last week. Winning 1st and 2nd down is important but how the Tigers convert 3rd downs this week will be telling in how successful they are overall.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Mississippi State
Kash Daniel
Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Rush End

Josh Paschal - R-SO: 18.5 tackles/5 TFLs/1 sack/1 PBU

Jordan Wright - R-SO: 10.5 tackles/2 TFLs/1 sack

Strongside Linebacker

Jamar Watson - R-JR: 17.5 tackles/5.5 TFLs/3.5 sacks

Jared Casey - FR: x

Middle Linebacker

Kash Daniel - SR: 29 tackles/4 TFLs/3 PBUs/1 INT

Chris Oats - SO: 22 tackles/0.5 TFLs

Weakside Linebacker

DeAndre Square - SO: 40 tackles/4 TFLs/1.5 sacks/1 PBU/1 INT

Jamin Davis - R-SO: 1.5 tackles

The stat: Passing Down Success rate

The Wildcats excel on standard downs defense (49th) but fall apart on passing downs (104th). If you quickly scrolled through the stats take another look: the line and linebackers are super active in breaking up passes and a lot of that is from being active in what I’d call the “quick passing lanes” (passes to the sideline, screens, slants, etc.). Conceding the fact that Missouri will have some difficulty on standard downs, it’ll be incredibly important to win passing downs, and to do that we need some receivers to step up OR the ground game to have a huge bounce-back week (Kentucky isn’t great at defending the run on passing downs, by the way).

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Georgia
Yusuf Corker
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Cornerback

Cedrick Dort, Jr. - R-SO: 7 tackles/1 PBU

Jamari Brown - R-FR: 14 tackles/1 TFL/5 PBUs

Free Safety

Yusuf Corker - R-SO: 42.5 tackles/3 PBUs

Taj Dodson - FR: 2 tackles

Strong Safety

Jordan Griffin - SR: 9.5 tackles/1 TFLs/1 sack/2 PBUs/1 INT

Quandre Mosely - JR: 10.5 tackles/1 PBU/1 INT

Cornerback

Brandin Echols - JR: 30.5 tackles/1 TFL/1 sack/7 PBUs

M.J. Devonshire - FR: 2 tackles/1 PBU

The stat: Passing completion rate

I think we all agree that last week was not a good passing day for Kelly and the receiving corps. Kentucky is 69th in completion rate nationally: if the front seven isn’t knocking the ball down the secondary will give up slants and comebacks pretty consistently. However, they rank 11th in explosiveness, giving the picture that the corners play off coverage and come crashing down the second the ball is caught. That’s going to require some sure hands from the Tiger receivers and because they certainly haven’t shown a capability of getting open deep. In my Beyond the Box Score this week, I requested that the slot receivers and tight ends (read Johnson and Okwuegbunam) get targeted much more often: this would be a good week to implement that request.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Florida
Max Duffy
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Kicker

Chance Poore - FR: 14-14 PATs/3-7 FGs

Punter

Max Duffy - JR: 33 punts/48.2 avg/3 touch backs/6 fair catches/19(!) inside the 20

Kick Returner

Lynn Bowden, Jr. - JR: 8 returns/25 avg

Punt Returner

Josh Ali - JR: 6 returns/7.7 avg

The stat: managing the little things

I’m pretty sure Bill C. harped on this back in the day, but it mostly shows itself as penalties and special teams impact. Max Duffy is an excellent punter that can utilize field position as a weapon against the Tiger offense. Lynn Bowden, Jr (the receiver, not the QB) has been an impact returner. The Tigers can’t afford to have those two add hidden yardage to tilt the field in the Wildcats’ favor. The good news is that Chance Poore has been an aptly named kicker, making less than 50% of his kicks, and Josh Ali hasn’t done much damage as a punt returner. If Missouri lets penalites and special teams tack on extra yardage in Kentucky’s favor then they can absolutely lose, just like last week. Be good in all three phases of the game, please!