Turnovers a top priority for UK defense this season

Cats adopt turnover-minded approach

jsmith3@herald-leader.comAugust 4, 2011 

  • Forcing the turnover

    How SEC teams fared in forcing turnovers last season. Only 13 of the nation's 119 NCAA Division I teams forced fewer than Kentucky:

    Team Fum. Int. Total

    LSU 13 19 32

    Florida 7 22 29

    Mississippi State 15 13 28

    Tennessee 10 18 28

    Alabama 4 22 26

    Georgia 10 16 26

    South Carolina 16 10 26

    Arkansas 14 11 25

    Auburn 10 12 22

    Mississippi 12 6 18

    Kentucky 7 9 16

    Vanderbilt 6 9 15

Scheme. Schmeem.

Alignments like a 4-3 or a 3-4 or a 4-2-5 are pretty meaningless in the grand scheme of things, Kentucky's new co-defensive coordinator said in a recent interview.

"Everybody's talking about the new scheme," Rick Minter said from a table in his office. "Seriously, it's overrated."

What isn't overrated, he argues, is forcing turnovers.

It was something UK's defense didn't do enough of last season.

The Cats managed just 16 takeaways in 13 games, the second fewest in the Southeastern Conference in front of Vanderbilt, which had 15. The 16 turnovers were the fewest for a UK team since 2005.

So Minter is happy to talk about his new scheme, but he preaches getting the ball as much as he teaches the X's and O's.

"We all talk about the scheme and the how-to's and the whys," Minter said, "but we can't forget the No. 1 goal is to go get the ball."

He doesn't just preach it.

He demands it.

When Minter took over as the main defensive coach, a new mandate went out that defenders had to get at least three turnovers apiece per practice.

If not, there was running.

Lots and lots of running.

"And I don't know about you," senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed said, "but I'm tired after practice, so I don't feel like running."

It has given UK's defense — which returns 10 of its top 11 tacklers from last season, including Winston Guy, who led last year's team in interceptions with three — a new sense of purpose.

As they report to camp on Thursday, they will carry a different mind-set, the players said.

"When we're in practice, we're trying to hit those guys to knock the ball loose and, every time the ball's in the air, it's just as much ours as it is the receiver's, so we're going to get it," Sneed said.

Danny Trevathan, UK's defensive star with his SEC-best 144 tackles last season, said Minter is making the unit more aggressive.

"Guys are diving after the ball, sacrificing their bodies and getting turnovers," said Trevathan, who also had 16 tackles for a loss and four forced fumbles last season. "He said he was going to change turnovers (numbers) and change the defense, and he's been doing that."

Minter said there had to be an attitude adjustment, a swagger adjustment, for the defense, which recovered just seven fumbles and picked off nine passes.

Setting turnover quotas was a part of making that adjustment.

"It gets down to the heart of the players, the intensity of the players, how hard they're willing to play," Minter said. "Football as much comes from the heart and the will and the want-to as it does the brain."

Last year's defense was 11th of the 12 SEC teams in interceptions. Of those picks, UK gained only 4 yards and didn't score a touchdown. Only the Cats and Mississippi didn't score on an interception last season in the league.

"The scheme we've had in past years, it wasn't really (designed) for us to get as many turnovers," senior cornerback Randall Burden said. "But now, with Coach Minter, we'll get more turnovers because we're staying deeper than we usually do. So we'll get more picks this season."

Picks and forced fumbles are the reason teams win, Coach Joker Phillips argues.

It's why he brought in his old boss, friend and mentor to overhaul the UK defense.

"If you look across this league, what's winning is teams that are playing great defense," Phillips said. "For us to take this thing to the next level ... we have to play great defense."

Trevathan agreed.

"We need to get turnovers," he said. "Turnovers like (Minter) emphasizes. They're the big key in the SEC. That's what wins games: turnovers."

The UK statistics back up what Phillips and Trevathan are saying.

In 2006, when UK finished 8-5, the Cats forced 32 turnovers (14 interceptions and 18 recovered fumbles), twice the number of takeaways they had last season.

In 2009, 2008 and 2007 (all winning seasons), Kentucky had 20-plus turnovers.

UK wants to get back to being one of those teams, and that starts with defense, Minter said.

"Coach Phillips has us on the field for one reason: get the ball," Minter explained. "So we want to be a take-away team first. We want to be aggressive stopping the run. We want to be productive on third down. Then we want to get off the field."


■ Single-game tickets went on sale Wednesday. Tickets for the Louisville game are $75 each; $46 for the SEC opponents and $41 for the games versus Central Michigan and Jacksonville State.

Tickets may be purchased online at UKathletics.com, via phone (800) 928-2287 or at the Joe Craft Center Ticket Office.

Season tickets also are available.

■ Players officially report for camp on Thursday and have Media Day on Friday.

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