Youth, inexperience define UK’s defense against UL-Lafayette

By Joshua Huff

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The goal entering this season prior to kickoff was to focus more on the positive than the negative.

With a new stadium, a wealth of upcoming talent and optimism abound, how hard could it possibly be to remain positive? Through the first half, and briefly into the third quarter of UK’s narrow 40-33 win over UL-Lafayette, that positive mindset remained firmly intact.

Then reality struck, and boy did it strike fast.

It struck in the shape of UL-Lafayette’s running back duo: Elijah McGuire and Torrey Pierce. The latter rushed for 110 yards on 10 carries for two touchdowns. Combined, the two rushed for 247 yards.

“I was anxious and excited to watch some young guys play,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said. “There were some moments out there that were difficult to watch.”

This might be a newly shined and buffed UK team, but rub off the wax and what you have is the same old unpredictable football team. Granted, UL-Lafayette is a great team. It’s one of only two teams — the other being Oregon — to have four-straight nine win seasons.

That, however, is beside the point. The point is that UK’s run defense is as bad, if not worse, than last year. The ironic part was UL-Lafayette’s star rusher, McGuire, wasn’t even the leading rusher, despite carrying the ball 17 more times than Pierce.

This was supposed to be a homecoming ushering in a new era of UK football. Experts even went as far as to predict that the Cats would go 8-4 on the season. Those experts failed to witness the confounding UK run defense, a unit that lost its two senior anchors last year to the NFL Draft (Bud Dupree and Za’Darius Smith) and went without the services of injured Ryan Flannigan, and Jason Hatcher, who is serving a two-game suspension.

However, as far as the unpredictability goes, just watch the first play of the game and then fast forward to the third quarter. You will see a vastly different team.

“If you look at it we didn’t execute well in the third quarter,” offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson said. “If you look at the break down of plays we didn’t have a lot of long drives, which is typically the case because they were forcing our hands. They were getting up in our face.”

UK led 33-17 at the end of the third quarter, but Pierce exploited an inexperienced and exhausted Cats defense, which resulted in the Rajin’ Cajuns tying the game up at 33-all with seven-minutes remaining in the game.

“They flipped the script on us,” Stoops said. “That’s what happens. The game’s never going to go exactly as planned. Very rarely does that happen and that’s where you have to learn from that.”

The scary part is UK nearly lost to a nonconference, mid-major team. If UL-Lafayette can amass 247 yards of rushing then just imagine the damage Georgia, Tennessee and Auburn will deal out.

As sports oftentimes go, a win is a win despite all the negativity. The positives for UK outweigh the negatives. Its young players faced adversity from a good team, and prevailed, for tonight at least.


UK is 6-1 all-time against teams from the Sun Belt Conference.

UK has an 85-35-5 all-time record in season openers and a 72-15-4 record in season openers at Commonwealth Stadium.

Four freshmen made their collegiate debuts as starters: RT George Asafo-Adjei, TE C.J. Conrad, DE Denzil Ware and CB Chris Westry.

UK was 3-for-3 in redone attempts and has scored in 12 consecutive red zone possessions.

The Cats hold a 4-1 margin in turnovers.