Sports

Mark Story: UK defensive boss under fire

Steve Brown better get out the fire suit.

Since Florida hung 48 points and 466 yards on the Kentucky defense Saturday in its annual strafing of the Wildcats, the Bunsen burners have been fired up beneath the seat of the UK defensive coordinator.

With explosive dual-threat quarterbacks Jeremiah Masoli (Mississippi) and Cameron Newton (Auburn) — kryptonite to Kentucky defenses has long been QBs who can both run and throw — directly ahead, it may be a while before the temperature turns down for Brown.

Yet whatever issues you may have with the UK DC, his schemes and his strategic adjustments (or lack thereof), I dare say Brown is not the most pressing issue negatively impacting the Kentucky defense.

Jarmon, Peters, Pryor, Jenkins, Williams, Maxwell, Johnson, Kelley, Jones, McClinton, Harrison and Lindley are.

The most casual of UK football fans will recognize the surnames of departed defensive stalwarts from the past two seasons. Of those players, five — Jeremy Jarmon, Corey Peters, Myron Pryor, Micah Johnson and Trevard Lindley — have been on active NFL rosters at some point this season.

At Kentucky, you cannot lose that much talent from one unit over a two-year period and it not have a significant impact on performance.

That UK also lost a veteran starting cornerback, Paul Warford, and the player thought to be its most physically imposing defensive tackle, Mister Cobble, due to academic issues this pre-season did not help.

Given all that, it shouldn't be shocking that UK appears to have some defensive issues that SEC-caliber talent can exploit.

Amid the harsh post-Florida rehash, I've thought again about something Rich Brooks once said.

While explaining the challenges of constructing a winning program at an historically challenged football venue such as Kentucky, Brooks noted that it is difficult to build a team's offense and defense to a high level at the same time.

That phenomenon may owe to nothing more complex than it being hard for UK to recruit enough elite-level players to be "SEC good" on both sides of the ball simultaneously.

Whatever the reason, even during the "uptick" in Wildcats football fortunes of the past four seasons, an offense/defense imbalance has been the pattern.

In 2006 and 2007, UK developed a potent offense built around veteran skills players in quarterback Andre Woodson and playmakers Keenan Burton, Rafael Little, Steve Johnson, Dicky Lyons and Jacob Tamme.

In both seasons, however, the Kentucky defense allowed almost 30 points a game.

By 2008, the Kentucky D had improved dramatically, surrendering only 21.5 points and 332 yards a game and all but single-handedly beating Louisville with two fumbles returned for touchdowns.

The UK offense in '08, ravaged by both graduation and injuries, was a shell of what it had been, dropping from 36.5 points a game in 2007 to 22.6.

Last season, the Cats' offense was improving and the defense was slipping back from its '08 high. As it turned out, both were decent, neither was exceptional.

This year, with a fifth-year senior quarterback (Mike Hartline) and two All-SEC-caliber playmakers (Derrick Locke and Randall Cobb) on offense, Kentucky should have its most prolific attack since 2007.

Meanwhile, as the conference season plays out, I suspect it will become apparent that the Cats' defense is in full rebuilding mode.

What is not up to debate is that Brown and his Kentucky defenses have had no answers for the combination of Florida's elite athleticism and Urban Meyer's spread-option offense.

Over his four seasons calling the UK D, Brown has seen his squads surrender 427 yards or more all four years to the Gators. Florida has scored 45, 63, 41 and 48 points in those games (though, in fairness, UK suffering blocked punts and committing turnovers have played a role in that).

Given that annual Kentucky opponents Louisville and Mississippi State have both hired former Meyer assistants to run their offenses, it would behoove UK to figure out how to consistently defend run-oriented spread attacks.

That aside, those applying the heat to Brown's seat four games — three wins — into a season should, out of fairness, take into account the personnel losses to the Kentucky defense from the past two years.

In a message-board world, I wouldn't count on that.

Which is why Steve Brown could use a good flame-retardant suit.

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