It’s all about the defense. Mark Stoops was a defensive guy. Given UK’s myriad offensives struggles since 2013, it’s fair to assume that Stoops’ game plan was about the defense. Make opponents plod down the field. Take away the big play, but still sting occasionally with tackles for loss. Outslug the opponent, rinse, repeat and go to bowl games.

Which was why losing Matt House felt like a big deal. Stoops never quite connected with his first UK defensive coordinator, DJ Eliot, and Eliot struggled to craft UK’s defense into an SEC-level group. Even discounting the 2013 season, when Stoops and Eliot inherited sub-SEC talent, UK struggled. In Eliot’s last 3 seasons, UK allowed 31, 27, and 31 points per game, coughing up 407, 394, and 434 yards per game.

But when Stoops brought in Matt House, suddenly things clicked. Maybe that had something to do with guys like Mike Edwards and Josh Allen gaining experience and maturity. Or maybe House had the secret formula. When House helped the 2018 UK defense hold foes to 16.8 points and 338 yards per game en route to a 10-3 season, it felt like the secret formula. And when House headed for the Kansas City Chiefs (where he promptly won a Super Bowl), it felt like Kentucky might fall off.

Enter Brad White. If you’ve paid attention to Liam Coen’s story, you might feel like you’re hearing it again with White’s background. In fact, the two were high school rivals. A New Englander (from Rhode Island), White had coached a few years in college and then worked his way onto Chuck Pagano’s staff with the Indianapolis Colts. While the Colts slowly declined from reaching the AFC Championship game in White’s first year to going 4-12 in his last, White, along with the rest of Pagano’s staff, became expendable. Just in time for Kentucky to swoop in.

In Year 3 of White’s work in Lexington, the sky has definitely not fallen. Kentucky has continued its streak of bowl appearances and has generally continued to be a defensive pest. Even in 2020’s crazy all-SEC season, White held SEC offenses to just under 26 points and 381 yards per game. In 2019, the numbers were 19.3 points and 325 yards per game. So far in 2021, it’s 16.8 points and 284 yards per game. Kentucky has gone 18-11 with White leading the defense, and suddenly it feels like maybe Matt House didn’t take the secret sauce to KC when he left.

In fact, White is conducting an SEC masterclass with his Kentucky defense right now. In Week 4, South Carolina held Kentucky to just 16 points in Columbia. That would spell trouble for most opponents, but not Kentucky. White’s defense held Carolina to 216 total yard, 12 first downs and 10 points. While the offense dealt out a trio of turnovers, White’s Wildcats stood strong, stopping Carolina on a pair of attempted 4th-down conversions that salted away the game.

But Florida would be different? Not much. Yes, UF (we hear you, Dan Mullen) amassed 382 total yards. But Kentucky faced the SEC’s most dangerous big-play offense — UF had 28 plays of 20+ yards in their first 4 games — and shut it down. UF had 1 20-yard play, a 22-yard completion in the first quarter. That was it. And deprived of the big play, a Florida offense that was averaging over 35 points per game took home a 20-13 loss.

White wasn’t surprised.

“There’s a calm that anytime (the defense) gets put in these situations … there’s no anxiety. There’s a high awareness that you have to step up and play,” White said.

Stoops waxed a little more rhapsodic after the game.

“Defensively, back to back as good of performances as we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “A credit to Coach White … the staff, the players.”

White’s no-nonsense demeanor, his careful game planning, and his ability to get results from his players speak well toward his future. When Marquan McCall was hurt early on Saturday, White coaxed an impressive effort from his other interior defensive linemen. When linebacker Jamin Davis became a first-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins, White plugged in transfer Jacquez Jones and freshman Trevin Wallace. Jones broke up the win-clinching pass, and Wallace returned a blocked field goal in the third quarter to give UK a lead it did not relinquish.

Kentucky is going places, and Brad White’s defense is right at the heart of it. Just like Mark Stoops planned.