Published September 1, 2011 - 8:25am
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Tonight, the Kentucky Wildcats will kick off their 2011 season against Western Kentucky in Nashville, TN. Over the last couple of weeks, we have looked a the offensive side of the ball for the Cats, now we are going to take a look at the defense.
After a season ending loss to Tennessee, Head Coach Joker Phillips stirred the pot and brought in Rick Minter to be a co-defensive coordinator along side Steve Brown. The product they put on the field in the BBVA Compass Bowl was less than impressive and left several Kentucky fans worried about the upcoming season. But optimism has swept the commonwealth, thanks to the promise of a new, aggressive multi-scheme defense that has promised more speed and better results on the field.
From a personnel standpoint, the Wildcats are in excellent position. Returning ten starters would help any team. When one of those starters is the Danny Trevathan, who led the SEC in tackles last year, people have reason to get excited. We know what we are getting with Trevathan and so do the other teams that we will take the field against this season. I don’t expect him to have the same number of tackles this year, but he is an all over the field kind of player that will create havoc for opposing offenses.
Beyond Trevathan, no one is really sure what we will see. Minter has promised to use multiple schemes and not be locked into one formation. He has created a “Hybrid” position that will kind of be a linebacker and kind of be a defensive end. Rumors have circulated that senior Winston Guy will move from safety to linebacker, but the most recent depth chart doesn’t indicate that the change has taken place.
Seniors Collins Ukwu and Luke McDermott will welcome Junior Taylor Wyndham and Sophomore Donte Rumph to the starting lineup on the defensive line. The secondary will be about one thing and one thing only: SPEED!
The Wildcat defense has been notorious for forcing a third and long and given up a big play that usually was backbreaker. Minter hopes that by switching up schemes will make it harder for offenses to lock into one particular weakness and help the defense stop the big play and get off the field.
The old adage is that “Defense Wins Championships” and I have noted before that I don’t entirely agree with that, but if Kentucky wants to make strides in what should be a down year for the SEC East, this defensive unit will be what gives them a chance. Kentucky doesn’t have a game in which it should be run off the field. With this defense, they should never be more than a two touchdown underdog. As long as the offense can keep from going 3-and-out and give the defense a breather between series, this team has as much talent as any in the conference. Minter can also roam the sidelines and use his in your face methods to keep the team focused and motivated. This unit may well be the reason that Wildcat fans make plans for a New Year’s Day Bowl somewhere down south.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B
I know it seems like I am always repeating myself and I promise that this is going to be the last time all season I mention Randall Cobb, but let’s face it, the dude was awesome. Randall Burden and Demarco Robinson will handle the punt returns while Guy and Raymond Sanders will run back the kicks. Other than just a little excitement in the air, these guys will more than suffice while replacing Cobb.
The kicking game is one of the best in the league. Senior Ryan Tydlacka averaged 43.8 yards per punt last year and consistently kept the defense in good field position.
Craig McIntosh was 11-for-15 on field goals including a couple of 50 yarders and 34-for-35 on extra points. He will probably split some of the kicking duties with sophomore Joe Mansour. Mansour was highly touted out of high school but had trouble adjusting to the college game. Joker Phillips says that when he kicks a football it sounds like a shotgun being fired but his accuracy left room for improvement. During the Ole Miss game last year it was noted that Mansour led the SEC in touchbacks but he also led the SEC in kicks out of bounds. Hopefully a year of practice and adjustment will lead to better accuracy and more chances and help the Cats pull off a big win when needed.