Kentucky's defense faced a lot of negative publicity last season, even though its yardage numbers weren't all that bad.
But the Wildcats had a knack for giving up good field position and allowing too many scores. One way to cut down on both of those is to generate turnovers, something the Wildcats struggled at mightily last season.
Following Kentucky's Sunday practice in shells (helmets, shoulder pads and shorts), second-year coach Joker Phillips addressed that very issue.
Kentucky went 4-0 in 2010 when the Wildcats won the turnover margin, but just 2-7 when tying or losing the turnover battle. On the year, the Wildcats had a -4 in turnover margin, forcing 16 and giving up 20. That ranked Kentucky tenth in the SEC and the Wildcats' 16 turnovers tied them at No. 102 nationally.
Numbers like that will get you a 6-7 record and that is something Phillips doesn't want to repeat, so he's putting special emphasis on creating turnovers during preseason camp.
“The difference from us winning seven, eight, nine games last year was turnovers,” Phillips said. “Let’s be real. It was us creating turnovers and creating takeaways and us giving the ball away. Everybody has to understand how important turnovers are to this football team and this football program. It is the difference for us, it really is.”
It's not just low turnover numbers that have Kentucky's defense fielding a bunch of questions this year. Though the Wildcats' defense ranked sixth in the league in total yards (354.2 yards allowed per game), Kentucky surrendered the second most touchdowns on the season with 44.
New defensive coordinator Rick Minter arrived this spring, bringing fun new philosophies and formations. He's adding multiple defensive schemes to the 4-3 formation that Kentucky has primarily used in recent years. With those schemes have come questions -- questions of whether this defense is ready for such a transition.
But players and staff members insist it's not so much the formations as much of the attitude that Kentucky needs to work on. Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan said he's seen a definite attitude change and a bit more confidence from his side of the ball and assures that the Wildcats will be fine defending the ball this fall.
"I'm not really worried about the defense," he said. "I have the kind of relationship with everyone where I trust them to the extent that I know they are going to take care of business. We have been through so much together that we don't have room to make mistakes that are going to be so costly. We are still going to make mistakes, but we are going to try and capitalize off of them, turn it around and have a great season this year."