LEXINGTON, Ky. — Past their wide-eyed freshman days, a group of sophomores is responsible for Kentucky’s newfound defensive success.
Orchestrating the turnaround are a trio of developing sophomore linebackers: Jordan Jones, Josh Allen and Denzil Ware. Behind them are three sophomore defensive backs making strides: Mike Edwards, Chris Westry and Derrick Baity.
After surrendering at least 40 points in their first three games, the young Wildcats defense is allowing 19 points per game over their last three. Defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot leaned back in a chair after his defense held Vanderbilt to 13 points and said nothing had changed as far as strategy.
“We needed reps,” was all he said.
And although two of the three games in that stretch were against South Carolina and Vanderbilt, the two lowest-scoring teams in the SEC, Kentucky held Alabama to a season-low 34 points. That compared to the 44 points a 4-3 Southern Miss team scored against the Wildcats and the 42 points a 2-4 New Mexico State team posted at Commonwealth Stadium.
The results from the first three games to the last three have shown a world of difference, much like the progression the sophomores have made from their freshman campaigns. Baity played in all 12 games as a freshman last season and started the last four. His development is reflective of his fellow sophomores.
“Last year, I just felt like I was being thrust into the action,” Baity said. “I was kinda hesitant with things that I seen and the game was going too fast for me. That’s just because I was hesitant on moving. But now that I got more reps, I’m trusting my eyes, trusting my technique and it’s slowing down.”
Allen said the same goes for him.
“I have more feel for the game because I’m out there every snap,” the linebacker said. “You know, run plays, pass plays, just being out there. Seeing keys, seeing what I have to do, seeing what I don’t have to do. Last year, I was out there for one play, then I’m out of the game.”
Jones leads the team in tackles and coach Mark Stoops praises him at nearly every news conference. Last week, Eliot tabbed Edwards as arguably the team’s best defensive player. The defensive outlook looks promising for the rest of the season, but the future forecast projects even better.
“I think it’s a little swag come with you like, ‘Oh, this is our class,’” Baity said. “‘Our class is the one that turned it around for everyone.’”