Kentucky's run defense going back to basics

jsmith3@herald-leader.comSeptember 3, 2013 


    Miami (Ohio) at Kentucky

    When: Noon

    Records: Miami (Ohio) 0-1; UK 0-1

    TV: FS South

It's quite possible that trying to do too much on Saturday was the Kentucky defense's undoing.

"Everybody was trying to do everyone else's job and just kind of forgot about their own job," senior defensive tackle Donte Rumph explained Tuesday.

Linebacker Avery Williamson said the same the day before: "Don't try to do anybody else's job, just do your assignment and that's how we can win the game."

Players were trying so hard to make plays that they ended up missing assignments or costing their team valuable yardage and points in a 35-26 loss to Western Kentucky.

When Rumph was asked to explain how a player could do too much, he gave an example of something he himself had probably done last weekend.

The senior described leaving the gap he was supposed to be covering to make a play or leaving an assigned double-team.

"You miss the tackle and that offensive lineman ends up getting up on the linebacker on the corner and it turns into a big run," Rumph said. "Little things like that can make a huge difference."

That's been the message this week as UK tries to erase memories of the WKU loss and focus on the immediate future, a home opener against Miami (Ohio) on Saturday.

Moving to the 4-3 alignment under new coach Mark Stoops and defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot was supposed to help a Kentucky run defense that gave up 200 or more yards on four occasions last season, along with 25 touchdowns.

On Saturday in Nashville, UK gave up 215 rushing yards and four scores. Only four other teams in the nation allowed that many rushing TDs in their openers.

Western Kentucky had two runners, Antonio Andrews and Leon Allen, who rushed for nearly 100 yards each. Then there was Keshawn Simpson, who powered in two scores to go with his 34 yards.

UK was one of 14 schools nationally to give up eight runs of 10-plus yards. (One of those was the Cats' next opponent, Miami.)

Western Kentucky Coach Bobby Petrino said his offensive linemen were giving his runners the space they needed.

"It was hot and humid out there, so for some reason when the offensive linemen are running and moving the ball, they don't get as tired and the defensive linemen do," Petrino said. "So we just kept going after it."

As a result, Kentucky is going back to the drawing board.

"You can be a big guy, but if you're not in the right spot, it doesn't help you," defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh said. "Those are things we're working on this week."

The problem wasn't just with the defensive line, thought to be one of the team's strengths thanks to veteran talent and lots of depth.

"Any time people are getting big chunks on first, second down like they were doing, then it's poor team defense," Stoops said on Monday. "It was at all levels. It was D-linemen trying to do too much, and it was poor pursuit by the second level at the linebacker position, on things that we worked extremely hard at. And then it was poor position and poor reaction from the secondary in certain situations. So it was everybody."

The run defense issues have been the catalyst for some position adjustments, including TraVaughn Paschal's move from backup defensive end to starting linebacker.

"We're just trying to get better, you know," Eliot said. "We're not trying to re-invent the wheel. Just trying to get better at what we're doing, trying to get to where we need to be defensively."

Stoops and Eliot have been through this sort of thing before, dealing with the growing pains of breaking old bad habits and creating new ones. In their first season at Florida State, they helped the Seminoles decrease the total number of rushing yards allowed by 75 a game.

The coaches inherited a defense that was 108th nationally and finished No. 29 in the country against the run after one season. By Stoops' second season as coordinator, FSU was the second-best defense in the nation against the run.

Playing against Miami should help UK's numbers improve. Last week against Marshall, the RedHawks managed just 74 yards on 34 attempts (2.18 yards per carry).

But it's a long season and Kentucky needs to get stronger against the run.

"Playing in the SEC, I knew we had to stop the run, and that's where we gotta get better," Brumbaugh said. "We're going out this week and we're just gonna roll our sleeves up and go to work."


UK linebacker Williamson was named to the SEC Community Service Team by the league office on Tuesday.

"A lot of us on this team are doing more than just playing football, and I think that's important," said Williamson, who had a mission trip to Ethiopia in May and participated in various community events in Kentucky. "I care about this community and helping others. ... I will continue giving back to my community, no matter where it is, for the rest of my life."

■ Rumph, who injured his shoulder against WKU and had his arm in a sling after the game, said the sling was precautionary and that he's ready to go against Miami.

When the senior reinjured his surgically repaired shoulder, he initially "was like, 'Oh, man.' Then I was like, 'Calm down. You're fine. You're overreacting.' I calmed it down and got it feeling good."

■ UK makes it a policy to not allow injured players to speak with the media. On Tuesday, it did not make cornerbacks Cody Quinn and Nate Willis, nor linebacker Kory Brown, available. Stoops does not give regular injury reports during the season.


Miami (Ohio) at Kentucky

When: Noon

Records: Miami (Ohio) 0-1; UK 0-1

TV: FS South

Jennifer Smith: (859) 231-3241. Twitter: @jenheraldleader. Blog:

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