Mark Stoops put in excellent work as a defensive coordinator at both Arizona and Florida State. So it was a surprise that his first five teams at Kentucky were quite iffy on the defensive side of the ball.
That’s no longer true. In six games this season, the Wildcats are allowing 13.8 points per game — fourth in the country. No opponent has scored more than 20 points against this defense, and one of those needed overtime just to get there. The Wildcats are only allowing 3 points per scoring opportunity — the best mark in the country — but they’re also excellent at preventing opponents from creating scoring opportunities, too, ranking 18th nationally in success rate and 5th in IsoPPP.
Much like Derek Mason’s 3-4 defense, Mark Stoops doesn’t rely a ton on his defensive linemen to create havoc. Instead, the real stars of Kentucky’s defense are the linebacking corps, starting with 6’5”, 230-pound senior Josh Allen. Allen is great at creating havoc; on the season, he has 10.5 tackles for loss, six sacks, three pass breakups, and two forced fumbles. He’s one of the best defensive players in the SEC. Another senior linebacker, Jordan Jones, has 1.5 sacks and four pass breakups. Senior safeties Mike Edwards (5.5 tackles for loss and an interception) and Darius West (3 interceptions, team-leading 35.5 tackles) are also very good.
So basically, Kentucky can take away everything between the hash marks. If there’s a weakness on this defense, the cornerbacks aren’t anything special. Senior Derrick Baity has one interception and four pass breakups on the season, but nobody else at that position is anything special, and this isn’t a unit that has really been tested this season — the best quarterback they’ve faced is, I guess, South Carolina’s Jake Bentley? But Kentucky’s ability to stop the run means that the defensive backfield isn’t getting left out to dry very often. Points will be hard to come by in this game.