Cats looking for 'D'

The Kentucky Wildcats' 2005 defense must've adopted the motto "It is better to give than to receive." The Big Blue gave up passing yards, rushing yards, first downs and points like there was no tomorrow. The Cats were generous to a fault … literally.

Kentucky finished dead last among the 12 SEC programs in scoring defense (34.1 points per game), pass defense (243.3 yards per game) and rushing defense (196.3 yards per game). For good measure, the Cats also ranked last in pass defense efficiency and first downs allowed. UK's defensive highlights? Finishing 11th in red-zone defense and sacks.

Clearly, defense was not the Big Blue's strong suit last fall.

"That's one of the areas we have to step up if we expect to win in this league," head coach Rich Brooks said during the recent SEC Media Days. "Our defense has been too porous the last several years."

Although the pass defense allowed more yards last fall, Brooks is more concerned about upgrading the run defense in 2006. He believes that's the first step in returning to respectability.

"I'm very confident our run defense will come out of the Dark Ages and be somewhere below 117 or wherever we were (nationally) the last couple of years," he said. "That's the key for us defensively: We can't let teams come in and just run the ball down our throat."

The Wildcats must replace five starters from their 2005 defense, including both cornerbacks. Even so, Brooks believes the ‘06 stop unit has more talent than its recent predecessors.

"We clearly have more SEC-type players in our front seven," he said. "The tough thing this year is we've got to find two new starting corners. In this league if you don't hold up at your corners you're going to have a hard time holding up anywhere else."

Kentucky's defense didn't hold up much of anyplace in blowout losses to Indiana (38-14), Florida (49-28), South Carolina (44-16), Auburn (49-27) and Georgia (45-13) last fall. If the Wildcats are to be competitive in '06 they must make dramatic improvement across the board.

"The first year we played better defense than we did the last two years because we had more returning talent on defense than we've had the last two years," Brooks said. "The last two years we've been very inexperienced. We started a lot of freshmen. Now those freshmen have played in the same system two years in a row. A lot of underclassmen are more prepared physically to be better players in this league and they have the experience of playing in this league. I feel a lot better about our defense."

The Wildcats have eight starters back on offense, including the SEC's most versatile weapon in tailback Rafael Little. If the defense can just be mediocre, the Cats could claw their way to a 6-6 season.

"I have more confidence going into this season because we're better," Brooks said. "I know we're better. Now we've got to prove it to everybody else. Most fans believe improvement happens in the win column. Do we have to show that? Absolutely, we have to show that."

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