John Clay

UK defense deserves fans' appreciation

At his press conference Tuesday, Rich Brooks appeared a little ticked. OK, not ticked so much as maybe just a teeny bit miffed.

Brooks loves defense. And for six years now, piece by piece, the Kentucky coach has built toward what he now thinks is a formidable defensive unit.

Then, lo and behold, after his defense dominates Sunday's 27-2 win at archrival Louisville, all his fans want to discuss is how ineffective the normally explosive UK offense looked.

Forgive them, Coach, offense is all they know.

There hasn't been a killer defense around these parts since Art Still, Mike Siganos, Dallas Owens, Jerry Blanton, Richard Jaffe and company wore the Blue in 1977.

Now that was a defense. It blanked Georgia in Athens, Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, surrendered seven points or less to North Carolina, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Florida.

That was more than 30 years ago, however, and history has not been an easy read since. Jerry Claiborne fielded some steady and even underrated defenses over his eight years, but none you would deem dominant. Then Claiborne's retirement in 1989 started a downward spiral.

Bill Curry began the slide with coordinator Larry New. Hal Mumme carted the untested Mike Major with him from Valdosta State, much to the chagrin of the UK fans. (In Major's defense, his hands were tied by his pass-happy head coach.) The late John Goodner was an improvement by comparison.

Mike Archer served two tours of duty, one under Curry, one under Brooks, before evacuating to North Carolina State, turning the controls over to Steve Brown.

Last year's defense, the first under Brown, allowed nearly 56 yards fewer per game. In Sunday's opener, UK allowed the fewest points (2) in a road game since that '77 trip to Virginia Tech. Now there's a stat.

Yet, what about the offense?

"You know the one thing I found out about our fans is that they love offense," said Brooks, who did his call-in show Monday night, "but they're not too keen on defense. We need to get them a little more excited about those guys that make plays on defense."

He's right, especially when the Louisville offense produced a meager 205 yards and not a single point.

But the alarmists have a point as well. This Louisville is far from SEC-caliber. And for Kentucky to prosper in such a robust league, it needs to use these next three non-conference games — Norfolk State on Saturday; Middle Tennessee on Sept. 13; Western Kentucky on Sept. 27 — to upgrade an offense that sputtered Sunday.

Brooks confirmed that Tuesday, saying his line needs to be more aggressive off the ball, his backs need to hit the holes with authority, and his receivers — this was where the coach evoked some real fire in his voice — need to block downfield.

"There's going to be some (receivers) sitting on the bench you wouldn't expect to be sitting on the bench if they don't start competing," said the head coach.

Competing wasn't a problem with the defense. No question about that. And there's no question it cannot afford to get the fat head these next three weeks.

"It's amazing how we played (considering) how many mistakes we had," senior cornerback David Jones said Tuesday.

And Jones himself was something of an unsung hero. In his first collegiate start at corner, the senior lined up on the other side of the field from All-SEC selection Trevard Lindley. Wanting no part of Lindley, Louisville picked on Jones. The former Belfrey star acquitted himself nicely.

"David Jones played the best game since he's been here," Brooks said.

His play was one of those little things that make a defense successful, one of those things that need to be appreciated about a team whose strength appears now to live on that other side of the football, the side that plays defense.

UK fans may not be used to that.

But they can learn.