UK Football

UK football: Cats' looking to dial up pressure on freshman QB

Mark Stoops
has expressed confidence in "where we're at" on the  recruiting trail.
Mark Stoops has expressed confidence in "where we're at" on the recruiting trail.

Reggie Bonnafon is not your average true freshman.

The Louisville quarterback has been comfortable in the pocket and made plays when he's needed to make plays. He led the Cardinals to a win on the road at Notre Dame last week.

"I've been impressed. Very cool," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said. "He's been just very poised back there, making good decisions."

But the Cats would like to do everything they can this week to make him look more like the true freshman he is.

"You know you never can get too much pressure on the quarterback," UK defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree said. "We wish to sack the quarterback every time we can. But we just gotta get better at executing blitzing and pass rushing and we should have a lot of pressure this week."

Kentucky's pressure in general has to improve if the Cats want to have a chance against the Louisville offense and get their sixth win for bowl eligibility.

UK has managed just seven sacks in the past five games and only eight quarterback hurries.

The defense, ranked No. 22 nationally in interceptions with 13, have only managed two in the past five games, including none in the past three.

"We've tried everything from pressures, to zero pressures to zone blitzes to regular zone, so we've tried it all." Stoops said of his defense, which has especially struggled on third down plays, holding opponents to 34.8 percent in the first six games and then allowing them to connect on 54.1 percent in the last five games.

"What we've been doing, obviously hasn't been enough because at the beginning of the season we were shoving people out and we was a real stingy defense, now it's like flood gates have opened," defensive tackle Mike Douglas said. "We've gotta patch it up."

That includes getting more pressure on Bonnafon and a Louisville offensive that hasn't always been the most stout, allowing Cardinals quarterbacks to get sacked 33 times.

The Cardinals are allowing three sacks a game, which is tied with Kentucky for 114th in the country. Louisville has allowed 7.6 tackles for loss a game this season, 120th in the nation.

If Kentucky sees an opening, it has to take it.

The plan is to confuse and confound the quarterback as much as possible.

"You've got to constantly mix it up," Stoops said, noting that the Louisville offense does more than its share of mixing it up.

"They've run it a bunch on third down and had great success," he said. "They hurt Notre Dame running the ball on third and long. So that's keeping you off balance.

"We're all trying to do that, both sides, us with pressuring and playing zone, them with running and screens and also drop-back pass, so it's about execution and it's about making plays."

The Cats' loss at Tennessee was especially frustrating for the Kentucky defense, which several times had players in position to make plays on quarterback Joshua Dubbs, only to see him slip away.

"Whether he escapes a sack or you're rolled right up into a coverage and they still convert it on you, it comes down to making plays," Stoops said.

Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot agreed, noting that the pressure was there, but it didn't end in a sack.

"There was a handful of situations in the last game where the defensive linemen won their one-on-one with the offensive lineman and then the quarterback made them miss," he said.

"So the emphasis for us has been more on getting that guy on the ground than it has been on our pass rush."

The frustrating down for Kentucky has been third down, three different defenders said on Wednesday. The Cards are 82nd nationally in that statistical category, converting on 38.2 of their third downs this season. They connected on six of 14 tries against the Irish last weekend.

Then it snowballs, said Kentucky defensive end Jason Hatcher, a Louisville native and Cardinals fan growing up.

"We'll stop a team first and second down and they'll get to convert on third down, third-and-medium," he said. "It's like we never get a chance to get off the field and rebuild and get our energy back."