John Clay: Minter's defense deserves credit, too

Roark deserves credit, but don't forget the defense

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistNovember 28, 2011 

Yes, Matt Roark seized the day. One game at the position, his only game at the position, the senior wide receiver turned quarterback rushed for 124 yards and led Kentucky to its first win over Tennessee in over a quarter century.

Randy Sanders deserved the pat on the back. It was the UK offensive coordinator who came up with the crafty game plan. Then Saturday, Sanders not only stuck to it, he executed it, guiding Roark through a 60-minute effort one half, one quarter, one play, one snap at a time.

That's coaching.

Yet lost a little in the jubilation from Saturday's squeeze of the Big Orange was the job done on the other side of the ball, the unit that kept the Vols at bay so Roark's play could show the way to the 10-7 win.

Consider this: Kentucky gained all of 217 yards of total offense on Saturday.

When was the last time a Kentucky team gained less than 220 yards of total offense and won a Southeastern Conference football game?

That answer would be 19 years ago when UK managed 203 yards and still knocked off South Carolina 13-9, the Gamecocks' first year in the newly-expanded SEC.

So take a bow Danny Trevathan, Winston Guy, Ronnie Sneed, Taiedo Smith, Randall Burden, Luke McDermott, Anthony Mosley and the other Cats who made their final college football game count on Saturday.

And take a bow, defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

It was about this time a year ago when Joker Phillips turned his much-maligned defense over to his old boss, the 57-year-old former defensive coordinator at Notre Dame and head coach at Cincinnati whom Phillips rescued from his Indiana State outpost for another shot at directing a major-conference defense.

Not that this season was smooth sailing, mind you. A bad Florida offense gained 520 yards on Minter's men. South Carolina scorched the Cats for 620 yards on an embarrassing afternoon in Columbia. Vanderbilt gained 410 yards on UK during a 30-point win in Nashville.

Yet Minter never flinched. He was blunt in his assessments and focused on his task of bringing a more disruptive, aggressive scheme to the defensive side of the ball.

And by season's end, even with its players either banged, bruised or — in the case of junior defensive end/linebacker Ridge Wilson — missing, Kentucky played its best defense of the season.

Georgia gained only 317 yards while gaining a hard-fought 19-10 win on Nov. 19. Saturday, Tennessee gained all of 276 yards, even though in Tyler Bray the Vols used a real-life, actual quarterback.

Better still, you could see hope for the future in players like Bud Dupree, Christian Coleman, Ashely Lowery and Eric Dixon. All are either true or redshirt freshmen.

Don't forget Mister Cobble, Donte Rumph, Avery Williamson, Mike Douglass and Miles Simpson. Those are either sophomores or redshirt freshmen.

Next year won't be easy, of course. On an offense that struggled from start to finish, Phillips must replace three-fifths of his offensive line as well as his second-leading receiver (Roark), locate some playmakers and transform the growing pains incurred this year by Maxwell Smith, Josh Clemons and Demarco Robinson into sophomore success.

Meanwhile, on defense, not every year or career do you have the pleasure of coaching a tackling machine the likes of a Danny Trevathan.

And not every year do you have someone make the position change from safety to a hybrid linebacker before his senior year and turn it into a standout season like Winston Guy did this year.

But that path to stardom began when Minter arrived on campus and determined the safety from Lexington Catholic needed to be closer to the line of scrimmage.

That's coaching.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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