Cats’ defense has second-half resurgence in win over Toledo


Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Chris Oats (22) chases down a defender during the UK vs Toledo football game on Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019, at Kroger Field in Lexington, Kentucky. UK won 38-24. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

As the old saying goes, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. That’s reflective of the UK football team’s defense in their 38-24 victory over the Toledo Rockets on Saturday afternoon.

“They made some good plays on the football and settled in, and that’s just part of the playing good as a team,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said following the victory. 

Stoops was talking about his defense’s second-half turnaround after Toledo routed the Cats early. Both teams were tied at halftime as the Cats’ defense allowed 231 total yards and let Toledo go 5-for-8 on third downs.

“As a defense, we talk a lot about getting down on third down, and we had them plenty of times in the first half on third down, but we just got to execute. Just got to do little things better like communicate and execute,” Cats’ safety Jordan Griffin said.

But that execution soon came together. On Toledo’s first drive in the second half, linebacker Josh Paschal forced a fumble from Toledo running back Bryant Koback that the Cats recovered. Paschal, who missed most of last season with right foot melanoma, finished the game with four tackles, a sack and the forced fumble.

“It felt good to contribute again. I didn’t feel winded on anything,” Paschal said. “There’s some small mental errors I have to fix, but physically I feel better than where I was.” 

Toledo would punt on their next two drives before scoring a field goal. That’s due in part to linebacker DeAndre Square who made stops on third down in both drives. 

After two more drives that ended in Toledo punts, Square saw his prey and went for the kill. He tipped a pass from Rockets’ backup quarterback Carter Bradley and intercepted it. The Cats would convert that opportunity into a touchdown six plays later. 

Square finished the game with the interception, a career-best 11 tackles, a half sack and 1.5 tackles for loss. He’s the first UK player with 10 tackles, a half sack, one tackle for loss and an interception since Josh Forrest’s performance against LSU in 2015.

“I felt super comfortable. I communicate. I don’t talk much, but I communicate on the field, but I go out there and go hard,” Square said. “I’m always hungry. I’m always trying to work hard to push everyone around me.”

Another standout was the junior college transfer Brandin Echols. In his first game as a Wildcat, Echols had a tackle and, most-notably, three pass break ups. His three break ups are the most by a UK cornerback since Derrick Baity’s 2017 Music City Bowl performance.

“We knew what plays they wanted to run in the first half, but we just couldn’t get them down. We just had to trust ourselves that we knew what was going to happen and then we started making plays,” Echols said.

The Cats’ defense gave up 116 total yards and limited Toledo to 2-for-8 on third downs in the second half.

“There were some adjustments and things we were doing, some changeups. You know, just executing better in certain situations,” Stoops said.

While the Cats were far from perfect, defensive coordinator Brad White knows that and looks to keep his troops on a straight ship.

“We know that there is a lot for us to clean up. But we will never apologize for a win, and there’s some really good teaching moments from those. We’re going to learn and get better”