UK defense is solid

With seven starters gone from its 2002 defense, including first-round NFL draft pick Dewayne Robertson, Kentucky figured this would be a rebuilding year for its stop unit.

Not so. Despite losing its top four tacklers from last fall, the 2003 Wildcat defense is performing better than it did in 2002. Discounting the overtime points surrendered in a 71-63 seven-OT loss to Arkansas, Kentucky has limited its first 11 foes to 23.1 points per game in regulation, down from 25.1 a year ago.

After losing its opener to Louisville by a 40-24 score, Kentucky held its next nine foes below 30 points in regulation -- something which hadn't happened at UK since 1988-89. The streak finally was broken in last Saturday's 30-10 loss at high-scoring Georgia, a team which hung 41 points on Tennessee a month earlier.

''Kentucky has improved tremendously from the beginning of the year on defense,'' said Tennessee head coach Phillip Fulmer, whose team visits the Big Blue Saturday for a 12:30 kickoff. ''You can see them growing and getting better.''

The Wildcats are 4-7 overall and 1-6 in SEC play but they are a few plays from being 6-5 and 3-4.

''They really should've beaten Florida,'' Fulmer said, referring to a game in which Kentucky led until the Gators returned an interception for a touchdown in the final minute. ''And the Arkansas game was a seven-overtime game (that could've gone either way).

''They played Georgia very tough until late in the ballgame.''

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