Denzil Ware sits alone in his room staring at the screen.
If the Mississippi State offensive line has a tiny gap somewhere or its quarterback has a tendency, Kentucky’s sophomore is going to find it.
“I like to watch players to see what they do under pressure situations,” the UK outside linebacker said of his extra film study. “Some people fold under pressure and some people don’t. I try to pick those guys out.”
His brown eyes are glued to the hands and the feet of new Bulldogs quarterback Nick Fitzgerald. Like a forensic investigator, Ware is searching for any telling twitch.
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When Ware finds one, he tries to zero in on it and use it to his advantage. He usually shares it with his friend Josh Allen on the other side of the Kentucky defensive line.
Together the dynamic duo has combined for nine of Kentucky’s 14 sacks already this season. Each already has as many sacks this season (4.5) as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Za’Darius Smith had two years ago for the Cats.
We just look at each other like I know what he’s about to do and he knows what I’m about to do. We just have that chemistry on and off the field.
UK’s Josh Allen talking about fellow linebacker Denzil Ware
Allen and Ware are making their own mark this season.
“That’s how we expect them to play,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said of his sophomore outside linebackers. “With that kind of effort. … They see the energy that they’re playing with and they see how fast they’re running to the ball and playing. That’s contagious. They need to continue to do that.”
And the blitz brothers are making each other better.
“I love the way they’re playing,” middle linebacker Courtney Love said of Allen and Ware. “They’re doing phenomenal. This last game they both were (our) players of the game and that was great to see.
“They were getting a lot of penetration on the edges and sacks when we needed it. It was awesome.”
Of course, it’s not just about Allen and Ware getting pressure on the quarterback. So much of their success has come from the UK defensive improvement the past few games.
Kentucky’s defense is playing the run better with opponents averaging just 135 yards rushing in the last three games, which forcing foes into predictable passing situations.
“Fundamentally we’re getting much better and in the proper spots on first and second down in the run game,” Stoops explained of UK’s pressure. The team’s 14 sacks is just three shy of the Cats’ total last season.
On film, the defensive players such as Ware can see the pressure start to affect the opposing quarterback. They see him start to buckle under the pressure, when he knows a defender is coming.
“They’ve been very relentless to the football in predictable pass situations,” Stoops said.
Third and long.
“That’s when me and Denzil go to work,” said Allen, who already has more sacks this season than he had tackles as a true freshman all of last season.
Allen called it his “happy down.
“I don’t feel tired anymore,” the sophomore said. “I just put all my energy into third down and do what I can.”
Victories and defeats this season have hinged on third down for Kentucky. In UK’s three losses, opponents converted on third down 62.8 percent of the time. In the Cats’ three wins, that number drops to 32.5 percent.
Kentucky will face a Mississippi State offense this week that is 12th in the league on third-down conversions at 33.3 percent.
That’s a number both Ware and Allen hope to see decline.
Together, they’ve built a connection.
“We just look at each other like I know what he’s about to do and he knows what I’m about to do,” explained Allen, who has 32 tackles and is second on the team in tackles for loss with 5.5 (behind Ware). “We just have that chemistry on and off the field.”
They also have developed the kind of relationship where they feel comfortable critiquing one another and watching film together.
“On the field, if he messes up, I gotta get on him and he knows that,” Allen said. “When I mess up, he gets on me. When I get frustrated, I know he’s there to pick me up. When he’s down, I’m there.”
There’s also some playful banter along the way.
The two need just three more sacks to equal Bud Dupree’s 7.5 sacks he had in his senior season before being picked in the first round of the NFL Draft.
And while Ware, who has 26 tackles and four quarterback hurries this season, said the only stat he monitors is wins and losses, it’s clear that both want their share of the sacks stats.
That’s just fine with Stoops.
“They definitely have a little fun, but that’s good,” he said. “Let’s see who can get the first sack? I’m all for it.”
And the pair makes it fun for everyone around them, said Love, who hears plenty of their playful chatter from his spot at middle linebacker.
“They’re hilarious,” he said. “They’re like big brother and little brother. I love it.”
Mississippi State at Kentucky
7:30 p.m. (SEC Network)