Wildcats' defense improving

October 22, 2003|LARRY VAUGHT

LEXINGTON -- Confidence is something the Kentucky defense lacked when the season started.

Not only were the Cats missing seven starters off last year's team, including NFL first-round draft pick Dewayne Robertson, but they also had to adjust to new defensive coordinator Mike Archer and his 3-4 alignment.

But going into Saturday's game against Mississippi State here, the young UK defense seems to be full of confidence.

"I think our defense is gaining more confidence every game," said coach Rich Brooks. "The more they play and understand what they are doing, the more confident they play.

"We had fewer assignment mistakes the last game. That's why we played well. We had players spending more time looking at game tape last week and it showed."


The Wildcats are giving up 343.2 yards per game, which is eighth overall in the Southeastern Conference in total defense. They are sixth in pass defense (192.4 yards per game) and rank 39th nationally in pass efficiency defense.

One reason for UK's overall success has been stopping big plays. UK has allowed just five players of 40 or more yards this season compared with an average of 16 per season the previous two years.

UK has held six straight opponents to under 30 points

The Wildcats have also held six straight opponents under 30 points, something that had not happened since 1993 when Archer was defensive coordinator under Bill Curry.

"I think we just believe more in what we are doing," senior defensive tackle Jeremy Caudill said. "We've had guys step up and take responsbility for their actions and coach Archer does a great job of preparing you for every game."

MIssissippi State (2-5) is averaging 383 yards per game, seventh in the SEC, and is scoring 25.9 points per game. In last week's 45-13 loss to Auburn, Justin Jenkins had seven catches for 113 yards, his fourth 100-yard game of the season, and Nick Turner scored on a 77-yard run.

"We have a lot of guys with speed. Our offense should be a whole lot better," Jenkins said.

Mississippi State coach Jackie Sherrill announced Oct. 17 he would step down after this season ended. Jenkins, though, insists State is still intent on avenging last year's 45-24 loss to the Wildcats when the Wildcats forced five turnovers and got two punt return touchdowns from Derek Abney.

"They are a much more physical team now, especially on defense," Jenkins said. "That's kind of surprising because a lot of people think of them as being soft. They've made great strides with their defense. I respect them for that. Kentucky is a team now that you better be ready to play.

"I know we have a lot more respect for them this year. They really don't get the respect they deserve. I've always been impressed with (quarterback Jared) Lorenzen's size and ability to move. Abney is small, but fast. You can't substitute for speed, and he's obviously a game-breaking player."

Inside linebackers are developing

However, Brooks hopes Kentucky is also developing those type of players on defense. Inside linebackers Chad Anderson and Dustin Williams combined for 26 solo tackles last week against Ohio. Anderson has 44 stops in the last three games and Williams 32.

"Our inside linebackers clearly had their best game of the year last week," Brooks said. "Our linebackers missed fewer tackles than they have all year."

State quarterback Kevin Fant threw for just 73 yards against Auburn when he was 8-for-22 passing, but Turner had his second 100-yard rushing game. Turner is second in the SEC in all-purpose yardage at 146.1 yards per game and fifth in rushing at 80.6 yards per game.

"We just have to make sure we stop them early," Caudill said. "We don't want them to get any confidence."

Brooks hopes his team has plenty of confidence after outscoring Ohio 28-7 in the second half last week to win its third game. A win over State, which has lost 10 straight SEC road games, would let Kentucky even its record at 4-4.

"Not only did we get a win, but we played well the last 30 minutes," Brooks said. "When you finish on a semi-positive note, score 28 points in the second half and get three takeaways, you feel better about what you've done. They enjoyed making plays and had fun doing it. Now we just have to do it again."

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