Kentucky defense couldn’t pick up offensive slack in loss to Vols


Kentucky Wildcats cornerback Lonnie Johnson Jr. (6) deflecting a pass. University of Kentucky’s football team lost to University of Tennessee, 24-7, at Neyland Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 10, 2018 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Photo by Michael Clubb | Staff

Kentucky football’s inability to be efficient on offense may have been the most obvious problems the Wildcats had in their loss to the Tennessee Volunteers— but the defensive side of the ball showed weaknesses as well, something spectators felt secure about in this Kentucky team all season.

The Cats gave up 24 points and 412 yards against the Volunteers on Saturday, which was the second-most points and yards they’ve allowed all season long. Two of Tennessee’s scoring plays came in the second quarter, one of which was a 39-yard Jarett Guarantano pass to Dominick Wood-Anderson at the very end to send both teams into the half.

“They had us outnumbered. We had three deep and they had about four, five players and they’ve got good, tall receivers and they’re known for them Hail Mary catches,” senior defensive back Mike Edwards said. “It hurt us in the heart going into the half.”

One of the Wildcats’ most experienced defensive backs, Darius West, was forced to sit out the first half due to being called for targeting in last week’s game against Georgia. His lack of presence in Kentucky’s secondary was felt until he was eligible to play again in the second half, when he came out and produced a tackle for loss on the first play.

Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops said he’s not sure if having West in the game would have led to a more positive outcome, but he says it “could have.”

“He came in there and the first play he was in there he made a big tackle for loss,” Stoops said. “You know, he’s a good presence for us, it would’ve affected us some but it is what it is.”

In the second half the Cats allowed just one scoring play, but still had a hard time defending the Tennessee offense. Kentucky gave up five chunk plays in the second half, worth 116 yards. Defensive coordinator Matt House said he is unsure if whether the ineffectiveness on defense was a lack of effort or just an execution problem.

Senior linebacker and defensive end Josh Allen, who totaled six tackles and a sack, said he thinks his unit made the turnovers and plays they needed, but credited Tennessee for making big plays on offense.

“They’re a good team, you know they did something we didn’t expect them to, so we just have to make plays,” Allen said. “They’re on scholarship, they’re an SEC school, they have draft-caliber players, they’re going to make plays. So we can’t stop them every play.”

Players and coaches on both side of the ball are eager to look at the film and re-evaluate their team this week to find out what went wrong and where their effort lacked.

Kentucky returns to Kroger field next Saturday at noon against Middle Tennessee State University.