LEXINGTON, Ky. — There were 4 seconds left and Vanderbilt needed 14 yards.
The final pass sailed through the back of the end zone on fourth down and Kentucky’s defense sealed the 20-13 win.
“I knew if they were throwing the ball, I knew it was going to be something where we were going to be celebrating,” sophomore cornerback Derrick Baity said.
The same defense that gave up 131 points in its first three games has surrendered just 43 in its past three. It’s gone from downright bad to dependable in a matter of weeks. The offense once had to carry the weight of the defense by putting up big numbers, but it has been a role reversal of late.
Kentucky’s two SEC victories have come despite the offense scoring 17 and 20 points.
“It takes a lot of pressure from us,” quarterback Stephen Johnson said. “We may have a few bad drives, but our defense can hold people to really low scores.”
The words would’ve sounded silly a month and a half ago.
After Florida gashed Kentucky for 45 points in The Swamp, coach Mark Stoops said he would take a “much more involved” role on defense. Improvement wasn’t seen in the New Mexico State game, but it has been visible ever since.
It looked like Stoops’ increased role was taking the legs out from under defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot, but whatever changed is working and Stoops gave all the credit to Eliot.
“I want to be very clear about this: There’s no way we would have this success without coach Eliot putting a lot of this together,” Stoops said. “I really helped eliminate some of that, some of the pressure of calling the game, because we work well together. We always have.”
Eliot sat back in his chair after Saturday’s game with a big smile. Looking for an answer as to what has changed for Kentucky’s defense, Eliot provided none.
“We really haven’t done anything different,” he said. “We were just a young team. We needed reps. We’re running the same defense, we’re coaching the same way. The players never really gave up, that’s the good thing. They bought in and kept fighting.”