Strong defense has been one of Kentucky’s hallmarks the past few years, but so far this season? Not so much. After two games, Kentucky ranks No. 32 in the country in total defense, giving up almost 400 yards per game. Those numbers are even worse when it comes to pass defense. Right now, the Cats are giving up an average of 276.5 passing yards per game, which ranks No. 51 in the nation. That’s an average of 13.83 yards per completion.
On today’s SEC Coaches Teleconference, Mark Stoops said he can’t remember the last time his team gave up 35 points, a result of a poor second half vs. Ole Miss’ explosive, tempo offense.
“The first half, again, was probably winning football, as explosive as they are. Defensively, I think we had three or four possessions that were three-and-outs, so you’re getting some steps. Second half was an issue when they got off the bounce. What was it at the end of regulation, 35 [points]? I don’t even know off the top of my head, but it seems like it’s been a while since we’ve given up 35 in regulation.” (For the record, it was 2017 vs. Louisville.)
Yet, new week, new season, according to Stoops, who likes what he’s seen in practice the past few days.
“I feel good about having another good week of practice this week and we will continue to grind and to work and to improve and we’re going to look at it each week as a one-week season. It’s a brutal schedule. It is what it is and win or lose, you’ve got to hit the reset button and be ready to go next week.”
A reporter even offered Stoops an excuse, pointing out that due to the schedule this season, Kentucky — and everyone else — didn’t get its usual non-conference warm-up games. Stoops didn’t take it.
“I think there’s no question that it’s difficult,” Stoops said of the conference-only schedule. “No way around it, but it is what it is. We all have to play under the same situation and you’ve got to find plays and find ways to win. I think you could look at the glass half empty or the glass half full in every game. Win or lose, I know those coaches are looking to improve no matter if we win or lose. Certainly it’s more difficult after a couple of losses and the margin for error is very small. We gave ourselves some opportunities in both games to win. That’s the good news and we’ve got to clean up on some areas and find ways to make plays in critical moments to win the game.”
I stayed on the line for Mike Leach’s turn in hopes of getting a good quote. I was rewarded with his response to a reporter asking about defenses dropping eight players into zone coverage vs. the Air Raid, aka the Drop Eight.
“Well, we would have been out of business two decades ago if it was too hard. I think you just go out there and execute. It’s nothing new, you know. It’s like we have a misstep and everybody thinks it’s something new. Well, that’s ridiculous. I mean, there’s a bunch of film on the internet they can go watch if they’d like to see both positive and negative playing against Drop Eight.”
He’s right. When Leach was at Washington State, in-state rival Washington used the Drop Eight to slow down the Air Raid to great success. According to S&P+’s offensive percentile performance stat, in the last four Apple Cups, Leach’s offense posted 33%, 55%, 42% and 35% scores. For more on the Drop Eight, check out this breakdown from January 2019.
It looks like Mother Nature will give Kentucky’s secondary a hand on Saturday, but if all else fails, Drop Eight?