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Knowing Florida is not throwing the football as much this season would have seemed to benefit Kentucky considering the Wildcats went into the season believing the defensive front would be the team’s biggest strength.
However, going into Saturday afternoon’s game at Florida, UK has allowed 188 yards per game rushing — 13th in the Southeastern Conference — and now must face the league’s top rusher in Mike Gillislee. He has run for 346 yards and four touchdowns in three games, including victories at Texas A&M and Tennessee.
“This team is a lot more explosive in terms of speed and power. I watched No. 8 (Trey Burton), who is their wildcat guy and really doesn’t touch the ball a lot. He touched it three times against Tennessee and outran their whole defense for 80 yards on one of the wildcat plays, then about 20-something yards on another play. They got a lot of speed and size,” said Kentucky coach Joker Phillips. “Then on the outside, they’ve got big-time speed. The tailback (Gillislee) has speed. The receivers have speed. They’ve got a lot of speed at every position.”
Phillips admitted his defensive front has not played the way he anticipated. He was counting on tackles Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble along with end Collins Ukwu to anchor a run-stopping defense that has not been able to contain the run. Phillips said he was optimistic based on the way UK stopped Georgia’s running game last season after the Bulldogs shredded Auburn and then played physical to stop Tennessee — UK’s final two games of 2011.
“Not just me, but most people thought it (the defensive front) would be our strength,” Phillips said. “It has not been. It’s hard to say what has been our strength defensively. The thing I do see is improvement since game one and we have to continue to improve.”
Twice last week Western Kentucky scored on 1-yard runs without having the runner touched by a UK defender.
“Very poor defense. Very poor defense,” UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter said as he explained he put the team in the wrong alignment once. “But I was embarrassed by our defense on the goal line. I thought there were some improvements over the course of the game. I don’t look at total yards, even though it wasn’t pretty.
“There were too many three, four, five-yard ugly runs up inside. We’re not getting off blocks and striking, knocking guys back. Then it’s second-and-nine rather than second-and-five. That’s what we have to get better at. Part of it is physical, part of it is our youth on the inside. We have to shake our guys up on the inside sometime.”
Phillips said poor tackling has been a consistent problem.
“We’re not a good tackling team right now. We’re not. A lot of it has to do with youth, but even some of our older guys are not real good tackling guys,” the UK coach said. “So we’ve got to continue to stress it. A lot of it is staying up off the ground. Running your feet and all those things, but take the fundamentals of tackling: wrapping up, running your feet.”