Two weeks ago, Kentucky’s defense looked lost. On the road against a tough Louisville team, the Wildcats were beaten down up front and picked apart in the secondary.
The result: a 32-14 loss and 466 offensive yards for the Cardinals.
For a Kentucky defense replacing six starters, including all four linebackers, it wasn’t close to the start it wanted.
But there’s always more than one game to a season.
In Week 2, the Wildcats’ made vast improvements. Yes, the competition wasn’t nearly has a tough as Louisville, but Kentucky’s defense made the strides needed heading into the rest of the season.
There was still some bend, as the Wildcats surrendered 409 yards to Kent State, but Kentucky only gave up 14 points and actually won the game. Getting the win and slowing down the scoring was a major confidence booster for this team, but coach Joker Phillips still wants to see less give from his defense.
“The thing that we can not do is we can’t give up big plays,” Phillips said. “We gave up three or four big plays against Kent.
Two of those big plays resulted in both of Kent State’s touchdowns, as Dri Archer rushed for a 47-yard touchdown and Traylon Durham rushed for a 26-yard touchdown. That’s on the defensive line and the linebackers.
To help out the linebacker play, the Wildcats moved outside rusher Alvin Dupree to the weak side position and Taylor Wyndham to the hybrid rusher position. Adding Wyndham, a senior, to the linebacker unit gives the group more experience to go along with junior Avery Williamson and sophomore Miles Simpson.
“We have a little bit more game experience, became a little bit older,” Phillips said of the linebackers.
Having that experience is something Phillips hopes makes this group grow.
This week, the Wildcats take on Western Kentucky, which is one of the better teams in the Sun Belt. The Hilltoppers like to run the ball and have averaged 164 yards on the ground against the Wildcats in their last two meetings.
If Kentucky’s defense is going to take the next step before SEC play, it has to buckle down and stop the run this weekend. The Wildcats are 13th in the SEC in rush defense, giving up 200.5 yards per game.
That has to improve, and it has to improve now.