Jen Smith on UK Football

Q&A: Cats’ Eliot on key to defensive improvement, better pass rush

D.J. ELIOT

On focus this week: “We’ve got to get better fundamentally. This is a fundamental week. You’ve got a game plan week, game plan week, game plan week, bye week’s a chance just to get back to fundamentals. Worry about the little things, worry about each player and what he needs to do, where he is right now, where he needs to go and how we’re going to get him there. So it’s a big fundamental week. It’s a week we get to go against the offense, good on good against the offense again. It’s good to have that because sometimes that’s the key to getting better: Go back to the basics, go back to the fundamentals, go back to working hard, go back to what you can control and getting ready for the next opponent we’ll start next week.”

On new players at outside linebacker: “Kengera (Daniel) had a big play at outside backer for us in the game last week. Jordan Bonner has been there ready to go. He got a few players in the Alabama game. We’ve tried Alvonte Bell there, moving him around, too, so we’re working a few guys in there to create depth there with our injuries. We’re leaning on our ones a lot. They’re getting a lot of plays. Josh and Denzil are playing a lot of plays, but they’ve played well and been able to keep up. We just need to continue to build depth and try to get different guys in those spots so we can get the right guy in there heading into the future.”

On how big that play was for Daniel's confidence:It was great. He executed. He made the play and he knocked 'em back and arguably it could have won us the game. So I think that we were excited for him and I think that he gained a lot of confidence being able to go out there and do that in a pressure situation, so it was great.”

On what Josh Allen, Denzil Ware are doing better to affect games with their pass rush:Better pass rush happens when you get the offense in passing situations. One thing they're doing better is they're playing the run better. When we stop the run it gets the offense in a passing situation and then it opens up some opportunities for good pass rush. Ultimately, I think that they're playing the run better and they're getting more opportunities against an offense in a pass situation.”

On what ways he's seen UK's young defense grow this season:Well, one thing that I was always impressed with them is they never lost confidence in themselves. They never lost hope in what we could do this year and who they could be, and they knew that if they just got a few things corrected and they continued to work hard and continued to buy in that they would see some success. So one thing that I've seen is a great attitude and a great work ethic and a belief in what we're doing and what they're doing, and that's allowed them to build and become better.”

On if biggest change for defense has just been more experience: “That’s been the biggest difference. We haven’t done really anything different. We haven’t practiced any different, haven’t called any different schemes. But what we have done is corrected our mistakes. So the mistakes that they’ve made they’ve corrected, so there’s less and less mistakes in every game.”

On if it was hard to keep players confidence up early in the year: “It would have been if they were getting beat. I think if we would have put the film on and said, ‘Listen, you did everything right, that guy’s just better than you,’ I think there confidence would have gone in the tank pretty quick. But when we said, ‘Look, it’s nothing he did, it’s what you did. You gave him that play, you didn’t play this properly, you didn’t line up right, you didn’t communicate, you didn’t play the technique,’ we can fix that. That’s an easy fix, and when we do that you’ll start being a lot more successful.”

On if Matt Elam is practicing: “Matt is day to day.”

On what he likes about Mike Edwards’ recent play: “Mike is an extremely good player. Mike is arguably the best player on our defense. Mike is very smart. Mike is very athletic. Mike is our best cover guy. Mike is probably our best as coach says ‘football IQ’ guy on defense. Mike may be our best tackler. Mike may be our best blitzer. I like a lot of things that Mike’s doing. He’s a very good player.”

On holding Vanderbilt to two field goals and how they played better when the field got tighter: “Well, when the field gets tighter, you have less vertical threats, so you tighten up your defense. That always helps when you’re able to play good defense in the red zone. I think our guys understand situations. The red zone situation is a critical one. You have to play disciplined on defense to keep a team out of the end zone and force them into field goal situations. Lately, we’ve been able to do that.”

On if the way he and Mark are working together is similar to what they did at Florida State: “It is. We always worked well together. I think 20 years. So it’s been 20 years. So we’ve always worked well together. You know what I mean? It is more similar to Florida State in the fact that it’s not all on me. Do you know what I’m saying? It’s not all on me. It’s somebody in there that’s like ‘Hey, man, you work on this, I’ll work on this. Let’s get back together. Let me hear your ideas, my ideas. Let’s call this on this time, you call this on that time. I’ll look for this, you look for that.’ So, it’s been good. Now, he’s had to relieve some head coaching responsibilities but he, going into his fourth year, there’s not as much strain on him. You know? So he’s been able to come in there and work with us on defense more.”

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