Time for UK Defense to 'Push Forward' after Solid Outing

Mark Stoops pulled no punches last Wednesday.

Kentucky’s defense had just turned in a practice effort that left him fuming, so he let the Wildcats know about it.

“I believe they heard what I said on Wednesday,” Stoops said. “I wanted them to hear that because it was true.”

Difficult as the message was to hear, it may have been exactly what the doctor ordered. UK’s performance on Saturday in a critical win over South Carolina suggests as much.

The Cats played by far their best defensive game of the season in holding the Gamecocks to 10 points and 268 total yards, season bests by a wide margin in both categories. 

“We had to look at what we’re doing to put them in a position to play that way, to play with the technique and to play fast and to play harder,” Stoops said. “I think we’ve made strides in doing that so you put that all together and there’s a lot of things: there’s better technique, there’s better effort, we executed our assignments much better.”

That good execution, as it often does, started up front, specifically with defensive end Denzil Ware. The sophomore had five tackles and a pair of sacks, including one on fourth down that ended South Carolina’s final drive and preserved a 17-10 victory.

“I really felt like he played his best football of the year,” Stoops said of Ware, who was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week. “We really needed him to step up and he did. I felt like we had some good pressure when we needed to with just rushing four and as you know, we hadn’t done that a lot. It was good to see them step up and get that pressure.”

UK had four sacks as a team as the Cats consistently bothered South Carolina’s Brandon McIlwain. The secondary was a beneficiary of the pressure, playing its best game in spite of not intercepting a pass for the first time this season.

“The secondary played great,” Stoops said. “They kept things in front of them and played smarter and made good plays on the football, so I was very pleased about that.”

McIlwain managed only 15 completions in 30 tries and UK allowed only 5.9 yards per attempt, but duplicating that feat against Nick Saban and Alabama will be no easy task. The Crimson Tide (3-0) are ranked No. 1 for a reason, boasting a balanced offense that has gained 949 yards through the air and 985 yards on the ground.

“They’re led by arguably the best coach of all time in college football and it starts there,” Stoops said. “What impresses you about them is their whole program. Top to bottom, they do things right. They’re extremely talented and very well coached. There’s a lot you could talk about what they do right.”

Few opponents play at Bryant-Denny Stadium and win, a fact Stoops and his charges are well aware of. 

“You’ve gotta just control what you can, and it starts today,” Stoops said. “They’re a fabulous football team, but we’re going to go out there and play every play the best we can and execute the very best we can and compete at a high level on every play.”

That’s what the Cats did against South Carolina. Now they’ll go to work to make sure they do the same Saturday evening.

“I’m confident we’ll continue to push forward,” Stoops said. “I really (am). Our players are growing, and it is what it is as far as our experience and what we have, especially defensively. And I think they learn every time they take the field and every time we practice and we’re gonna continue to do that.”