Kentucky at South Carolina Preview: Checking in on Kentucky's Defense

LEXINGTON KY - JANUARY 29: Ashley Judd cheers on the Kentucky Wildcats during the SEC game against the Georgia Bulldogs at Rupp Arena on January 29 2011 in Lexington Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

This post continues our series on the Kentucky game. Yesterday, we talked about the 'Cats' struggling offense; today, we're talking about their defense.

Whereas Kentucky's offense is the worst in the conference, its defense is actually fairly solid. I got to watch a good bit of their game against Florida, and while Florida rung up a lot of yards and points against the 'Cats, the statistics are somewhat deceiving. Florida got a handful of big plays out of the running game that turned that game into the blowout it was, but I was actually fairly impressed by Kentucky's defensive speed, physicality, and schematic aggression. The defense has been fairly stout in other games, too.

The key things to note about this year's version of Kentucky's defense is that it has a new coordinator, Rick Minter (former Cincinnati and Marshall head coach). Minter has installed a 4-2-5 scheme that features a variety of different alignments and lots of blitz packages. You can expect Kentucky to be very aggressive schematically and to try to fool Carolina with lots of shifting looks.

Of course, Kentucky's new scheme has yet to produce the desired results: While the 'Cats rank a respectable 53rd in total defense (that's not bad considering how little time their offense typically spends on the field), they're 90th in sacks and 105th in tackles for loss, two categories Minter promised improvement in. Why? It's simple, really--teams aren't passing against Kentucky. Florida did nothing but run the ball--a lot--and toss a variety of screens and swing passes. Kentucky stuffed the Gators a few times early, but eventually the defense wore down because its offense didn't give it any help.

That's exactly what I feel our offense should do, both because it's what Kentucky is most vulnerable to and because I want to see us give Connor Shaw some time to settle in. I'd like to see just enough passing--with many of the plays being designed screens--to keep the defense from keying in on Marcus Lattimore, and past that, I'd like to see us go to Lattimore at least 25 times as well as run some zone-read and see what Shaw can do on his feet. If Shaw settles in and begins to see some creases in the defense, we should take some shots downfield as the game develops. I believe we'll see that Shaw is much more accurate than Garcia in that regard, and I'd like to see one of our receivers haul in a TD pass of more than 30 yards. However, more than that, I'm hoping that the coaches are encouraging him to take what the defense gives him. No one needs to be a hero in this game. Just get the win by a respectable margin, regain some confidence, and move on. I like Shaw in this situation, as I feel that one of the major ways we're going to see he's a better option than Garcia at this point--even more so than accuracy--is that he will take what the defense gives him, going to checkdown versus forcing the ball downfield when the play isn't there.

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