UK football crippled without safety tackling


Kentucky cornerback Lonnie Johnson & safety Mike Edwards celebrate a broken up pass during the game against Eastern Michigan on Saturday, September 30, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky won 24-20. Photo by Chase Phillips | Staff

Chase Campbell

In UK football’s 42-13 loss Saturday on the road to Georgia, not much went right after the beginning of the game. The turning point could have been the injury to UK’s star safety Mike Edwards, who went down with a hip injury early on in the competition.

Before his injury, the Georgia drive was prolonged by a roughing the punter penalty on UK cornerback Lonnie Johnson, who ran into Georgia punter Cameron Nizialek after the Cats forced an apparent three-and-out on the Bulldogs.

Edwards was hurt with just under six minutes to go in the first quarter, when the Cats led 3-0. After his exit, Georgia scored their first touchdown on a 75-yard drive. Before his injury exit from the game, Edwards was heavily involved in the game, breaking up a critical pass in the first series as well as making several tackles.

Even after the senior safety’s return, the team didn’t ever quite recover from the tackling impact Edwards made. While Edwards still did a good job in coverage, the Bulldogs ran for 383 yards, averaging nearly nine yards per rush even though they struggled to run the ball in the first two series.

Too often, this has been the case for the Cats. Either the tackling load has largely been pushed to the safeties, or it has been used while sacrificing the coverage ability of the team. Edwards leads the team in total tackles on the season with 82, while fellow safety Darius West leads the team in unassisted tackles with 47. There are only four Cats with more total tackles than West and Edwards have unassisted tackles.

Edwards also leads the team in interceptions, having grabbed four of the team’s 11 picks on the season. The workload for Edwards in both tackling and coverage is one of the highest on the team, if not the highest. The absence of Edwards exposed a critical weakness in the Cats, as the Bulldogs ran rampant over UK with its star safety was gone.

The return of All-SEC linebacker Jordan Jones hasn’t influenced the workload of the safeties as much as the team may have hoped, as his 51 total tackles in seven games is still on pace to be lower than the tackling of Edwards, even if Jones had played in all 11 games.

The Cats will continue to struggle stopping the run if West and Edwards can’t come up to tackle every play, as Georgia found out and took advantage of.

UK will look to right the ship next Saturday as the team hosts Louisville.