Before the reporter could even finish the question about criticisms of Kentucky’s much-maligned defense, Denzil Ware smiled.
“You talking about the Lee Corso thing?” Kentucky’s sophomore linebacker asked.
Yes, Kentucky’s players heard that the commentator on “College GameDay” had some unkind things to say about their defense which had given up 500 or more yards in each of the first three games of the season.
“Kentucky might have the worst defense in the history of football,” Corso said on the panel in Knoxville. “Their fans can’t wait for basketball.”
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Ware hadn’t seen the comments live, but he saw it blow up on social media. So he went to see if the video was for real.
“And it was real,” he said.
So the defensive end, who had five tackles and two sacks in Kentucky’s 17-10 win over South Carolina on Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium, made sure his UK teammates saw the comments, too.
“I got on social media and sent it to all the linebackers and everybody on defense and I said, ‘Let’s just go out here and get this win and play our game and forget the critics and everybody that’s outside looking in,’” Ware said. “We know how we can ball. Let’s just play our game.”
The team tries not to listen too much to the criticism, Ware said. There’s not much they can do about it.
“At the end of the day, critics are going to be critics,” Ware continued. “He might praise us tomorrow because of the great game we had today. I don’t let the outside that’s looking in affect me.”
The defense itself has taken some deserved criticism this first month of the season, but D.J. Eliot sees a group that makes improvements.
“They knew they were better than the criticism they were taking,” the defensive coordinator said. “I think they believed if they executed and played hard and finished plays, then they could play good defense.”
Much of the discussion going forward will be about moving forward, Coach Mark Stoops said.
“These guys mean right, we had work to do and have work to do and we’ll continue to work at it,” he said of the defense specifically. “But they come to work. They have accepted it; they looked in the mirror. You can’t change the past, but we can certainly change our future and push forward.”
The team has stopped harping on the things that can’t change, Ware said, and looking ahead to what they can improve.
“It would be nice to be undefeated right now, but things happen,” Ware said. “We can just get better from here.”
Run and run and run
On one drive in the fourth quarter, Kentucky ran the ball 11 straight times, including seven in a row for Benny Snell, who capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring run to put the team up for good.
From starting running back Boom Williams’ perspective, it was deflating for the South Carolina defense.
“It really tears down a defense when you have myself and then you have Benny come in and make those tough runs and being able to extend drives,” said Williams.
Kentucky, which didn’t pass the ball in the fourth quarter, finished with 216 yards on 50 carries.
“They finished and that’s the bottom line,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Gran, whose offense had the ball for 10:41 of the fourth quarter compared to 4:19 for the Gamecocks. “We took time off the clock and that’s our job. I was really proud of that.”
It made his job easier, said new UK quarterback Stephen Johnson, who finished the day completing 11 of 19 passes with an interception.
“Having Benny, Boom, Jojo (Kemp) and all the other running backs truly is a great asset to have with our offense,” Johnson said. “All those guys can get first downs, extend plays and do anything necessary for us to win. So I mean those guys are fantastic to have on the team.”
Update on Cats commit Koback
UK commitment Bryant Koback was unable to make his planned visit to Commonwealth Stadium for the Cats’ victory over South Carolina on Saturday after suffering a broken leg in his high school game the night before.
Koback — a 6-foot, 205-pound running back from Holland, Ohio — was scheduled to undergo surgery for the injury Saturday. He was having a stellar senior season up until Friday night, rushing for 1,093 yards and 20 touchdowns in only four games.
Ohio State Coach Urban Meyer visited Koback’s school earlier in the day Friday, and the Buckeyes were keeping an eye on him for a possible scholarship offer. Koback is the Wildcats’ only running back commitment for the class of 2017.
Other news and notes
Kentucky was without several key playmakers against the Gamecocks, including starting left tackle Cole Mosier, who injured his ankle at Florida and hasn’t returned. True freshman Landon Young started in his place. … Dorian Baker, one of last year’s top wide receivers, was not dressed for the game. He’s been battling a hamstring injury.
▪ Sophomore quarterback Drew Barker, who is sidelined for the next few weeks with a back injury, was on the field for the game.
▪ Sophomore linebacker Kobie Walker went down in the first half with a shoulder injury and did not return.
Staff writer Ben Roberts contributed to this report.