UK Football

UK football: LSU run game poses huge threat to Cats' defense

Kentucky linebacker Josh Forrest, left, sacked Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Pete Thomas in the first half Saturday. Forrest converted to linebacker from safety.
Kentucky linebacker Josh Forrest, left, sacked Louisiana-Monroe quarterback Pete Thomas in the first half Saturday. Forrest converted to linebacker from safety. Herald-Leader

In his first full season at middle linebacker, Josh Forrest has had his share of light-bulb moments.

"Every week," Forrest said. "Every week something new comes up and I go, 'OK. OK.'"

There's still a learning curve to the job for the former wide receiver-turned safety-turned middle linebacker, who took over full time after the graduation of Avery Williamson.

On multiple occasions after Kentucky's win over South Carolina two weeks ago, Forrest's name and those of his fellow linebackers came up for missed assignments and not being physical enough.

The Cats won the game, but they had been gashed for a season-high 282 yards by the Gamecocks and star runner Mike Davis.

It was the second-most yardage given up on the ground to an opponent in the Mark Stoops era, behind only the 299 the Cats surrendered to Alabama a season ago.

"Wasn't good enough, wasn't up to our standards," Stoops said of his linebackers. "They're taking that to heart and they're working hard."

Kentucky's linebackers were much improved against Louisiana Monroe, giving up just 77 yards on 40 carries. Forrest even had an interception for a touchdown in the rout.

"We were much better," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said, naming linebacker Khalid Henderson as one of the bright spots. "We played better against the run. Linebackers played better, which is good."

It was especially good for the center of the Kentucky defense to get some confidence back, because on Saturday at Louisiana State, the light-bulb moments that Forrest described will be more like headlights attached to a freight train coming at them.

Lately for LSU, that train has been named Leonard Fournette, a freshman tailback, who was named the Southeastern Conference's freshman of the week for his career-high 140 yards and two touchdowns on 27 carries at Florida last week.

The eye-popping numbers came against a Gators defense that had held opponents to just 103 rushing yards a game and had given up just two rushing touchdowns before Fournette's scoring runs of two and 12 yards.

"He's one of those backs that gets stronger as the day gets longer," LSU Coach Les Miles said. "Really runs the football like we're used to having it run around here."

Watching the 6-foot-1, 230-pound tailback this week, Stoops was impressed.

"You could just see him gaining more and more confidence with every run," Stoops said of Fournette, one of the top recruits nationally in the class. "He's extremely talented, very big and very powerful."

And very dangerous for the UK run defense, which has allowed 200 or more yards twice in its first six games. Fournette, who leads the LSU ground attack with 93 carries for 504 yards, will be a tough player to contain.

"He is extremely athletic but yet has size where he can run you over too," Eliot said of Fournette, who also had 85 yards on kickoff returns to finish with 225 all-purpose yards last week. "And he's become a better player every game."

Kentucky's defense will have to be more stout than it has been all season against perhaps one of the best pure rushers it will face this season with a big line in front of him.

"They're a pretty physical bunch up front," Stoops said. "You could tell they enjoy run-blocking and coming after you and running the ball downhill, so we'll have our hands full."

Harmon will miss first half

Kentucky cornerback J.D. Harmon, who is a leader on special teams, will miss the first half against Louisiana State for a hit on a Louisiana-Monroe player, Stoops confirmed Wednesday.

"We can't take a shot on a guy that's unprotected," special teams coach Craig Naiver explained of Harmon's hit. "It's a very aggressive play, a very physical play. We've got to be smart with that. It's part of the rules now and we've gotta follow them."

Stoops defined the hit as "close to being an illegal hit or an illegal hit that wasn't called." He said he talked with SEC officials this week about it.

"We just felt like it was the right thing for me to do to suspend him for a half a game."

Harmon is tied for eighth on the team in tackles this season with 22, including two for a loss. He also has three quarterback hurries and two forced fumbles for the Cats, plus two kickoff returns for 53 yards.

"He's been a spark on those units as far as coverage team, return teams, all those," Naivar said of Harmon, who has been the leading overall producer on special teams this season. "We're going to miss him the first half and be glad when he comes back."

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