UK 'D' 'not up to standards'

Photo by Chet White | UK Athletics

Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel makes a tackle during the Wildcats' 28-7 win against Mississippi State on Sept. 22, 2018, at Kroger Field in Lexington.

Following last Saturday's scrimmage, the first of fall camp, University of Kentucky football players and coaches came away equally disappointed -- especially on the defensive side of the ball.

Luckily for the Wildcats, they still have a few weeks left to shore up those issues. This weekend's second scrimmage will show just how much progress UK has made in a week.

According to senior linebacker Kash Daniel, one of the undisputed leaders of the defense, the Cats simply haven't lived up to the quality that they set for themselves a season ago.

"(Head coach Mark Stoops) wasn't pleased, and he shouldn't have been," Daniel said. "I know that each player on the defense wasn't pleased. I know each one of our coaches wasn't pleased -- not from a fact that we just looked absolutely terrible, because that's not the case. It's just the fact that we set a standard for ourselves each and every day we come out on this field.

"On Saturday, we felt like we didn't live up to that standard."

Last year, UK featured one of the top defenses in the country. The Wildcats ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense (16.8 points per game) for the program's best mark since 1979, when Kentucky limited opponents to just 13 points per contest.

Along the way, the Cats also finished 23rd nationally and fourth in the Southeastern Conference in total yards allowed per game (338.2).

With seven starters gone from that highly-touted defensive unit and a number of younger players trying to work their way into the rotation, Kentucky coaches have stressed that they don't have all the time in the world to get back on track.

"We've got to play better, and we've got to play better across the board," first-year defensive coordinator Brad White said. "We've responded at times this week, but still too many mistakes for all our likings -- players, coaches included. We've got to keep cleaning that up.

"There have been times where we have played well, and that's what we have to learn to do. We have to learn how to be consistent and how to sustain it."

According to Daniel, it all starts with effort.

"Urgency is different when you're on the practice field versus when you're in a scrimmage situation," the 6-foot-1, 226-pounder said. "Now, if you want to practice like you play, then that takes care of things.

"There are some guys that need to continue to learn how to practice each day here in college. This ain't high school anymore."

In the weeks leading up to Kentucky's Aug. 31 season-opening game against Toledo, Daniel plans to show his defensive cohorts how to approach each practice.

"If you do your job -- if you do it right -- things are gonna happen good for you," he said. "If you try to do somebody else's job before taking care of your job first, that's how you get out of position. ... This Saturday (in the second scrimmage), we just got to focus on doing our job each and every play.

"A football game is a war with 11 individual battles. Just as long as we win our individual battles, we'll be alright."

SECONDARY STILL 'A WORK IN PROGRESS'

After losing all four starters from last season's squad, in addition to projected starting safety Davonte Robinson already out for the year due to injury, Kentucky coaches are still trying to find the right mix of defensive backs.

"We'll keep spinning until we find the right rotation," White said. "A lot of guys are gonna have to step up. This isn't gonna be a situation like last year where Mike (Edwards) plays every snap and Josh Allen plays every snap and guys play the entire game. This is gonna be a rotation deal, and we're gonna have to trust a lot of different people."

Among those seeking playing time, true freshman M.J. Devonshire has been working with the first team during camp. The 5-11, 174-pound cornerback was a four-star recruit out of Aliquippa, Pennsylvania.

Others vying for spots include freshman safety Moses Douglas, junior cornerback Brandin Echols and sophomore safeties Tyrell Aijan and Yusuf Corker.

SOME POSITIVES SHINING THROUGH

Not everything has been a disappointment for UK's defense.

Coming up with third-down stops has been a point of optimism, according to White, but the only hold-up has been the process of getting there.

"We've been pretty solid on third down," White said, "but what I told the guys is there's no cheat code. You can't punch in a code and jump right to third.

"We've got to work our way through bad series. The way you work through bad series is you're good on first and second down, then you get a chance to get off the field on third."

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.