Kentucky defense

The 2008 Kentucky Wildcats were the poster child for the old adage that "It's not how you start; it's how you finish."

The Big Blue was outscored 101-34 in the first quarter last fall but somehow turned the tables and outscored opponents 111-66 in the fourth quarter. The result was a 7-6 record, even though UK fielded one of the SEC's weakest defenses.

The Cats' 2008 stop unit ranked eighth among league teams in scoring defense (21.5 points per game), ninth in rushing defense (139.2 yards per game), ninth in pass defense (193.2 yards per game), 11th in pass efficiency defense and 11th in total defense (332.4 yards per game).

Basically, the only thing the Big Blue defended well last fall was field-goal attempts. Opponents connected on a mere 9 of 23 kicks.

It's difficult to imagine the Wildcat stop unit making a major move upwards in 2009, since it must replace five members of last fall's front seven - leading tackler Braxton Kelley, fellow linebacker Johnny Williams, end Ventrell Jenkins, end Jeremy Jarmon and tackle Myron Pryor. This quintet accounted for 20 of UK's 32 sacks as the Big Blue ranked third among SEC teams in that category a year ago.

The cupboard isn't bare, however. Kentucky has at least one all-star player on each level of its defense. Upfront, Corey Peters (6-3, 295) is a budding standout at tackle after registering 35 stops and 4 sacks last fall. Middle linebacker Micah Johnson (6-2, 256) was a first-team Coaches' All-SEC pick a year ago after recording 93 stops, including 13 tackles for loss). Trevard Lindley (6-0, 190) is being touted as the NCAA's top cornerback, based partly on his 9 career interceptions and 34 career pass breakups (a school record).

Lindley was projected as a top-50 pick in last April's NFL Draft but elected to return for his senior year at UK. He'll spearhead a secondary that also includes veterans Ashton Cobb (37 stops last fall) and Paul Warford (a starter in '07 who missed '08 with a broken collarbone).

Kentucky's special teams could be pretty good. Winston Guy returns after averaging a whopping 29.1 yards on 11 kickoff returns last fall. Randall Cobb averaged 8.4 yards on punt returns in 2008 and should be much better as a sophomore in '09. Tim Masthay and his 45.7-yard punting average are gone but Lones Seiber is back for his fourth year as the No. 1 place-kicker. Seiber is looking to bounce back after making just 11 of 19 field-goal tries last season.

Bottom line: Kentucky has some gaping holes to fill in the front seven. Unless it manages to fill them all, the Big Blue could be in for more defensive difficulties in '09.


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