UK Football

Kentucky’s defense vs. nation’s No. 1 offense: Can Cats prevent a Cards explosion?

After each win and each loss, Kentucky’s coaches compile good, bad and ugly tapes to use as teaching tools.

After a bad loss at Tennessee, the good tape for the defense included 32 Volunteers run plays for 104 total yards or just 3.3 yards per carry.

The bad tape proved to be quite ugly.

The Vols generated some 272 yards of offense on just nine runs, some 30.2 yards per carry.

Several times, those high-octane plays equaled points, like passes of 24 and 51 yards or the scoring run of 45 yards by quarterback Joshua Dobbs or the 29-yard scamper for running back Alvin Kamara.

Then there were the 110 yards after missed tackles that made ugly look even uglier.

“It was all about the explosive plays,” Cats Coach Mark Stoops said after the loss at Tennessee. “There were nine explosive plays in the run game alone. That is a bad recipe right there.”

To avoid a familiar bad taste in its mouth just a few days after Thanksgiving, Kentucky’s defense is going to have to cook up something different at No. 11 Louisville.

And UK will have to do it against a Cardinals offense that feasts on the big play.

Louisville (9-2) leads the nation in long scrimmage plays with 233 for 10 or more yards. The Cards’ plays of 20 or more yards are first nationally as well.

And the Wildcats have a lot of weapons to prepare for, including Lamar Jackson, the Heisman Trophy front-runner, who has accounted for 47 touchdowns this season with 19 rushing and 28 through the air.

Of Louisville’s 109 plays of 20 yards or more, Jackson was in on 59.6 percent.

Thanks to so many big plays, Jackson does his work quickly and effectively. Of his 47 touchdowns this season, 37 of them came on drives that lasted less than three minutes.

“They are good across the board and they’re well-coached across the board, but when they need a play, he’s there,” Stoops said of Jackson, who killed UK last season with 186 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries to go with his 130 yards passing and another score.

“He’ll run or throw or make a good decision and will his team to win, so you have to have a lot of respect for somebody like that.”

What was learned at Tennessee?

After that disastrous showing against Tennessee and its own mobile quarterback, Kentucky (6-5) went back and looked at the good, bad and ugly of that footage in Knoxville.

What did the Cats learn?

Tennessee put in some new offensive wrinkles that UK was slow to respond to, Stoops said. There were breakdowns fundamentally, including missed tackles and players playing out of position.

The Cats did play most of the game without leading tackler Jordan Jones, who was suffering from back spasms.

“All of us, whether it’s the scheme or structure of the defense, whether it’s missed tackles, or whether it’s the details of the defense, we need to execute better,” Stoops said of his defense, which has given up 22 runs of 10 or more yards in the past two games.

“If our position on the football was much better, we wouldn’t have missed as many tackles,” Stoops continued.

There was plenty to learn from that Tennessee loss, including figuring out just how physical the young defense needs to be, redshirt freshman Eli Brown said.

“We can’t be out-physicaled and I feel like that’s what happened today on the defensive side,” the linebacker said in Knoxville. “It will never happen again because we have so much pride on our team and next game you’re going to see a lot of anger coming out.”

The head coach has seen his defense make strides all season, learn from past mistakes and improve. It will get perhaps its biggest test on Saturday at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium against the Cardinals, who have been burning opponents with explosive plays all season.

The nation’s best offense has had three games this season of 600-plus yards, including a monstrous 845-yard game at Syracuse early in the season.

The Cardinals are coming off their worst offensive output (312 yards against Houston) in the last 19 games.

Much like Tennessee, Louisville puts a lot of pressure on a defense both inside and on the perimeter.

“He’s got a lot of offense,” Stoops said of Louisville Coach Bobby Petrino, who is 7-1 against Kentucky and undefeated as the Cardinals coach. “Very good play-caller, keeps you off-balance. And obviously it doesn’t hurt with Lamar Jackson, when things break down, he can kill you. He’s a dynamic player.”

Kentucky is just hopeful that the tape after this game has way more good than bad and ugly.

Next game

Kentucky at Louisville

Noon Saturday (ESPN)

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