Kentucky football: The Wildcats, last in the SEC against the pass, have questions to answer

We tackle the best question asked by Kentucky fans every day. If you’d like to submit a question, tweet to Kyle Tucker  here and Joe Mussatto here. Look for the “Question of the Day” every Monday through Friday. 

Kentucky is off on Saturday so we wanted to know: “What’s the biggest question heading into the bye week?”

There were plenty of responses on Twitter, including the question we answered Monday: “How can Kentucky get Lynn Bowden more snaps?” Getting healthy was another popular response, but that’s just a matter of time. We’ll have an injury update Tuesday evening after practice.

The Tuesday question of the day was a popular one, and it was asked on Twitter by Mike Romes: “How can they tighten up the secondary?” 

It’s a pertinent question. Kentucky is allowing 289 passing yards per game — last in the SEC and 118th in the nation. The passing defense numbers are a little bit skewed when you consider not every team has defended the same number of passes. Teams are throwing against Kentucky 40 times per game on average — the seventh-highest rate in the nation. Florida and South Carolina have the been only two Kentucky opponents not to attempt at least 40 passes in the game.

But at this point, are Kentucky’s opponents throwing more than they would because the defense has been leaky through the air? Missouri quarterback Drew Lock attempted a season-high 42 passes against Kentucky last Saturday. He passed for 355 yards and 3 touchdowns with completions of 48, 50, 58 and 75 yards.

Kentucky gave up 568 yards to the Tigers, and it was the four deep balls that stood out. Kentucky won 40-34.

“It was a few things,” coach  Mark Stoops said when asked if there was a common theme in the secondary lapses. “They were putting some stress on us, as you could tell. When we were rolling up the corner, that was creating some of the big plays down the middle … And then when we were playing different coverages where we were soft cornered, they ran by us a couple times. So they put that stress on you.”

Stoops continued to explain the coverage schemes that Kentucky was beat on but said he was getting too technical. Either the coverages weren’t sound, or Kentucky’s secondary simply was beaten.

Lock is one of the better quarterbacks in the conference, but the pass defense still has been a problem in Kentucky’s last three games. Eastern Michigan’s Brogan Roback threw for 256 yards against Kentucky; the game against Florida the week prior was notable for Kentucky twice leaving receivers uncovered for touchdowns.

But back to the question of how Kentucky can tighten up the secondary. First, it has to get healthy. At one point against Missouri, the two cornerbacks were junior college transfer Lonnie Johnson and freshman Cedrick Dort. Starters Derrick Baity and Chris Westry have been banged up in the last couple of weeks, and Westry missed much of the Missouri game with a neck injury.

Consider the starting secondary: Baity and Westry at corner, Mike Edwards and Darius West at safety and Kendall Randolph at nickel. Sometimes it’s Edwards at nickel and Jordan Griffin joins the starting group, but that’s a solid secondary. The outside linebacker duo of Josh Allen and Denzil Ware is the defense’s strongest position group, but the defensive backfield is probably the second-best group.

The personnel is the reason for optimism. And don’t discount the importance at the position to Stoops — a coach who cares more about the secondary than any other position. That doesn’t explain the leaks in coverage, and there’s no doubt opponents will continue to attack Kentucky with the pass unless the group improves.

Kentucky has veteran starters lining up in the defensive backfield with younger, but capable, reserves. It’s hard to point to one reason behind the lack of success against the pass, but it’s equally hard not to anticipate improvement. The bye week comes at the perfect time to figure out the problem.

The Wildcats next play at Mississippi State on Oct. 21.

The post Kentucky football: The Wildcats, last in the SEC against the pass, have questions to answer appeared first on SEC Country.

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