ELDRIDGE: UK defense knows it has to step up

You've heard all the numbers. Kentucky was at the bottom or close to the bottom of the conference in every statistical category, defensively. Kentucky ranked last in points allowed, passing yards allowed and rushing defense. The lone statistical bright spot, defensively, would be turnover margin. Kentucky finished first in the conference, forcing 15 more turnovers than it gave away.

While that is a major cause for concern, there is quite a bit of optimism coming from the Wildcat camp. Kentucky returns eight of the starters from last year, including it's top five leading tacklers. Kentucky also has 19 of the top 22 players on it's defensive depth chart returning.

"I expect (the defense) to be much improved. If we want to be a factor in the race, in the SEC, if we want to beat teams we haven't beaten in a long time, our defense has to improve as much as our offense did last year," said Rich Brooks.

So what are some of the things that Kentucky can do to improve the much-maligned defense? "We could get off the field on 3rd down," said Brooks. "We gave up way too many yards last year. If we fix that problem, it will reduce the points given up."

Kentucky's young defense showed what it was capable of accomplishing during the final stretch of the season. In games against Tennessee and Clemson, the Wildcats played defense the way they staff had been working on since day one. "Three of our last five games against Georgia, Tennessee and Clemson, in my opinion, we played SEC defense. In many of the other games, we did not," Brooks said.

In the last two games Kentucky held Clemson to 130 yards rushing and Tennessee to 96 yards rushing.

Clemson possessed two of the nations best backs in C.J. Spiller and James Davis. The two combined for more than 2100 yards and 27 touchdowns. Between them they averaged 6.4 yard per carry. In the Music City Bowl, they combined for only 85 yards and no touchdowns.

In the previous game, the Wildcat defense kept Tennessee under 20 points, which only happened to the Vols four times all season. Also, after giving up an average of 184 yards on the ground on the season, the Vols were held to only 96 yards by the UK defense. While the numbers aren't eye popping, they are signs of progress. Now the defense has to step up and continue along that path.

Safety Marcus McClinton believes that the defense has to carry the momentum of the last few games into this season. "We want to play with passion, like a family," said McClinton. "We stopped the run more effectively in the last few games. It was just a necessity," he continued.

"They know that our defense has experience and is playing with passion. They know that we are a threat and we can beat them. They should not underestimate the University of Kentucky," said McClinton. That may sound like cockiness coming from a struggling defense, but McClinton thinks otherwise. "I don't believe that I'm talking smack. I just believe that with what we have accomplished, we can talk with a little more confidence."


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