By LARRY VAUGHT
Not only is Kentucky’s defensive line playing with more confidence, but it is also playing better fundamentally.
“They’re fundamentally better. They’ve been practicing harder with greater sense of urgency in practice and it’s carried over to the games,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said.
The defensive front likely will be tested by Georgia’s offense Saturday night in Commonwealth Stadium.
Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said the loss of some players to graduation along with a few others who left for different reasons made UK have to rebuild the defensive line with younger players.
“They had to get their reps and learn from mistakes. I’m very proud of their effort and where they’ve come. And they’ve gotten a lot better. They played one of their better games, if not their best game on Saturday (at Missouri). We’ve developed some leadership at that position and they’re playing hard and executing their technique and assignment,” Eliot said. “It was a real concern going into this season and I’m pleased with where they are and I’m pleased with their efforts.”
Eliot liked the way UK’s defensive front was knocking Missouri’s offensive linemen back last week and noted a play that Adrien Middleton made on 3rd-and-1 that denied Missouri a first down.
“I think they really played physical. And that came with playing with better technique and better understanding of what we’re doing. Our younger players played more. We also played the most defensive linemen that we played in a game this season (at Missouri),” Eliot said. I think we played eight, eight defensive linemen in that game. So we were able to keep everybody fresh so that they could play harder throughout the game.
“We had more confidence in some of our backups, to put them in the game, which we haven’t had earlier in this season. So, the combination of everybody getting better, playing more physical and playing more defensive linemen contributed to our defensive line playing good.”
One of the linemen making the most progress has been junior college transfer Naquez Pringle. He’s moved ahead of Matt Elam to No. 1 on the depth chart at nose guard.
“I think I really saw him playing better… probably Alabama. I think I really saw him take it to the next level in the Alabama game. I thought he played at a different tempo and a different physicality in that game and then he’s progressed since then,” Eliot said.
Stoops said Pringle played “extremely well” at Missouri and was both physical and disruptive.
“It doesn’t always pop up on the stat chart, but he commanded two guys to block him quite a bit. He was very strong at the point of attack,” Stoops said.
Stoops credits defensive line coach Jimmy Brumbaugh for Pringle’s improvement, noting how the same thing happened with Melvin Lewis.
“That is what we talk about when we develop our players and get them to fundamentally play better and fundamentally play within the scheme and you are starting to see that by him,” Stoops said.