Sidelines with John Clay

Kentucky football: Maybe the defense is better than we thought

Kentucky cornerbacks Derrick Baity (29) Chris Westry (21) combined to tackle Vanderbilt Commodores running back Ralph Webb (7) during UK’s 20-13 win over Vandy on Oct. 8, 2016 at Commonwealth Stadium.
Kentucky cornerbacks Derrick Baity (29) Chris Westry (21) combined to tackle Vanderbilt Commodores running back Ralph Webb (7) during UK’s 20-13 win over Vandy on Oct. 8, 2016 at Commonwealth Stadium. Lexington Herald-Leader

At the halfway point of the season, let’s look at how the Kentucky defense has performed with regards to the level of competition provided by the opponent’s offense.

To do this, we subtracted the yards gained by the opponent against Kentucky from that team’s total yards for the year, then divided by the number of other opponents. Then we compared that average against the number of yards it gained on Kentucky.

Interestingly enough, four of the six teams the Cats have played to this point gained less yardage against Kentucky than their average against other opponents. And remember, UK’s defense is currently ranked 95th nationally in yards allowed per game at 437.0.

Here’s a game-by-game breakdown.

Southern Miss: Shannon Dawson, Kentucky’s offensive coordinator just a season ago, has been rocking and rolling as the Golden Eagles’ new play-caller. Southern Miss (4-2) is seventh in the nation in total offense, averaging 532.2 yards per game.

Dawson’s offense gained 520 yards in the 44-35 season-opening win over Kentucky in which the visitors stormed back from a 25-point first-half deficit. If you take out the UK game, however, USM is averaging 534 yards per game. So the Kentucky defense actually held the Golden Eagles 14 yards under their average.

Florida: The Sept. 10 game in Gainesville was by far UK’s poorest performance of the season, on both sides of the bar. The Gators dominated from start to finish on the way to a 45-7 victory that UK coach Mark Stoops called “embarrassing” for his team.

On the season, Florida’s offense has struggled. The Gators are currently 71st nationally in total offense. Take out the Kentucky game, and head coach Jim McElwain’s offense is averaging 368 yards per game. Against Kentucky, however, the Gators gained 564 yards. That’s 196 more than their non-UK average.

New Mexico State: We all were amazed at how the Sun Belt team rolled up 35 first-half points and 42 total in a 20-point loss to Kentucky on Sept. 17. Truth be told, however, Doug Martin’s Aggies have proven to be pretty good on offense. New Mexico State currently ranks 46th nationally in yards per game.

New Mexico State rolled up 500 yards that Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium. Take out the Kentucky game and the Aggies are averaging 422 yards per game. So Martin’s club gained 78 more yards than its non-UK average.

South Carolina: New head coach Will Muschamp and new offensive coordinator Kurt Roper have struggled to get the Gamecocks’ offense in gear. South Carolina currently ranks No. 124 out of 128 FBS teams in yards per game at 304.5 yards per game.

South Carolina was even worse against Kentucky, gaining 268 yards in the 17-10 loss. Subtract the UK game and USC is averaging 311 yards per game. So, by the numbers, this was Kentucky’s best defensive game of the season, holding the visitors to 43 yards below their non-UK average.

Alabama: Say what you will about Lane Kiffin, but the controversial ex-Tennessee and ex-USC head coach knows how to coordinate an offense. Under his guidance, Alabama is currently 24th in the national in yards per game at 489.8.

In its 34-6 win over Kentucky on Oct. 1, Alabama gained 488 yards. Take out that game and the Tide is averaging 490 yards per game. So the performance by the UK defense that night in Tuscaloosa was pretty much on par, Bama gaining two yards less than it does normally.

Vanderbilt: If South Carolina’s offense is bad, Vanderbilt’s offense is even worse. The Commodores are 126th out of the 128 FBS teams in yards per game, averaging just 299.5.

The Commodores gained just 282 yards last Saturday in their 20-13 loss to Kentucky at CWS. Subtract that effort and Vandy is averaging 303 yards per game. So Kentucky held the ‘Dores 21 yards below their non-UK average.

Kentucky defense versus opponents

Opponent

vs UK

vs Others

Difference

Southern Miss

520

534

-14

Florida

564

368

196

New Mexico St

500

422

78

South Carolina

268

311

-43

Alabama

488

490

-2

Vanderbilt

282

303

-21

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