UK Football

UK defenders say bad tackling behind problems stopping the run

Alex Allen (10) rushed for 110 yards and scored three  touchdowns last week against Gardner-Webb. His backfield mate, Nate Burney, ran for 119 yards.
Alex Allen (10) rushed for 110 yards and scored three touchdowns last week against Gardner-Webb. His backfield mate, Nate Burney, ran for 119 yards. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Louisville running back Bilal Powell hit the Kentucky defense for 153 yards.

Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey dialed up 184.

Powell and Rainey didn't pop up on any pre-season Doak Walker Award watch lists, so you know Akron tailbacks Nate Burney and Alex Allen are licking their chops for the chance to see what they can do against the Cats at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday.

Akron fell to 0-2 after a stunning 38-37 home loss to FCS school Gardner-Webb over the weekend, but there's been nothing wrong with the Zips' running game.

Burney, a shifty 5-foot-6, 171-pound senior, ran for 119 yards on 17 carries against Gardner-Webb, while the bigger Allen (6-0, 210) rushed 20 times for 110 yards and scored three TDs. The Zips also have a veteran offensive line with three returning starters.

Kentucky Coach Joker Phillips is familiar with Akron offensive coordinator John Latina's work at Notre Dame, and he was on the same University of Minnesota staff as Akron offensive line coach Mitch Browning.

"They'll be a big test for us," Phillips said. "They know how to run the football."

Kentucky also needs to come out of the gate with more juice in the second half. The Cats were lackadaisical in the third period after building a 20-3 lead against Louisville, and they missed a short field goal and allowed an 80-yard drive to start the third against Western Kentucky.

"It's discouraging that our guys are relaxing," Phillips said. "That's the thing we talked about at halftime: Let's show how mature this football team has become in a week. We let up. We didn't keep the pressure on."

"There is a certain of sense of comfort when we're ahead because the game isn't on the ropes," said junior cornerback Anthony Mosley. "That's one thing we have to do is finish the opponent if we have them down big."

This would be a good week for the Cats to work out their problems with stopping the run, because things won't get any easier in the coming weeks. Florida's Jeff Demps is averaging 12.5 yards a carry, and South Carolina freshman Marcus Lattimore burst onto the national scene with a 182-yard performance against Georgia.

While the coaching staff is constantly harping on being disciplined, assignment-sound and controlling gaps against the run, the players say it's much simpler than that.

"A lot of it is just missed tackles," said sophomore defensive end Collins Ukwu. "Just fundamental things like wrapping up. There aren't a lot of blown assignments."

A good chunk of Rainey's yards came as the result of carrying Wildcat defenders down the field.

"On one play we had him hit for a five-yard gain, and he pushed us for about 10 more yards," Mosley said. "It's just a matter of getting down low, being sure when we have the tackle, and everybody rallying to the ball."

Phillips made a point to put his team through an intense, physical fall camp, so he's somewhat perplexed by the tackling woes. He said junior safety Mychal Bailey was a tackling machine in practice, but Bailey has struggled in the first two games.

"Mychal, one thing he had done in the pre-season is tackle," he said. "I don't know if he's beat up, but one thing he's not doing, he's not pulling the trigger, what we call, going and attacking people. We're not wrapping it up. We're hitting way too high, and guys are carrying us for extra yardage."

Kentucky ranks 94th among FBS teams in run defense, and there's a sense of urgency among the players to get things fixed.

"We haven't even hit SEC play yet," Ukwu said. "We were saying after the Louisville game that we had to come out against Western Kentucky and stop the run, and we didn't do it. Now this is definitely the week that we have to do it."

UK-Florida on ESPNU

The Sept. 25 Kentucky-Florida game will kick off at 7 p.m and be televised by ESPNU.

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