Kentucky's once-maligned defense now being heralded as 'physical' Print
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Wednesday, 17 October 2007 00:43
NCAAF Headline News

 LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) -With the game on the line against a Kentucky defense that ranked next-to-last nationally just a year ago, LSU coach Les Miles decided to run the ball right at the Wildcats.
It worked last year for the Tigers in their 49-0 rout of Kentucky in Baton Rouge. It worked this season against Florida, a team far more noted for its defense.
So in triple-overtime Saturday, then-No. 1 LSU tried to pick up a first down with four straight runs. Kentucky's defense got four straight stops, including a game-saver by Braxton Kelley.
Still, Kentucky players say they don't blame Miles for trying.
``You look at their offensive line,'' linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. ``You look at our defensive line and our linebackers. You would think they could get those two yards.''
If it wasn't known before, that fourth down halt let the secret out: this Kentucky defense isn't the same as last year's. Well, most of the players are the same, but now there are whispers throughout the Southeastern Conference that you could call this crop of Wildcats ``physical.''
Even Arkansas' Darren McFadden, one of the nation's leading rushers, used that term after the Wildcats limited him. So, too, have Miles and other coaches whose teams have been shocked by a Kentucky program that everybody knew had a great offense, but whose defense has become dangerous almost overnight.
``As a defensive player, having somebody call you 'physical,' it means the world to you,'' Kelley said.
No. 8 Kentucky (6-1, 2-1), which hosts defending national champion Florida on Saturday, may not have a defense breaking any records, but it is also not costing the offense games. It currently ranks 60th in yards allowed, but compared to last year, that is a leap over about half of the teams in the country.
``You can't win in this league without being physical,'' coach Rich Brooks said. ``You need speed, you need playmakers, but it's still a by-and-large defensive league.''
Woodyard, who in the past has appeared to be a one-man team, swarming to the ball wherever it is, says now the veterans have confidence in the younger players. As a result, the Wildcats are cutting down on the big plays that he says sunk the defense's national rank a year ago.
``It's the same guys, most of the same stuff we ran last year,'' Woodyard said. ``It's just more confidence and more knowledge of what you have to do.''
Much of the credit has been heaped on Steve Brown, who replaced Mike Archer as the defensive coordinator this year. Brown has simplified the schemes, but otherwise, he chalks up the breakout to experience.
``A year's maturity does wonders,'' Brown said. ``They're actually practicing, focusing harder. They understand the implications that if they practice well, they usually play well.''
Brown's sideline demeanor is far lower key than Archer's was, but his players insist that doesn't means his practices are soft.
``We do a lot of physical stuff,'' safety Marcus McClinton said. ``Rarely do you see us on a Tuesday with just helmets on.''
In many ways, Woodyard and McClinton personify the defense. They're far smaller than most SEC players at their position, but they hit as hard as any of their competitors.
Teammates say that rubs off on them when they face teams like LSU, Florida or Auburn who can scare opposing offenses just by their stature and size.
``They might have the bigger - probably better - players, but we have something most teams don't have,'' defensive tackle Myron Pryor said. ``We have that extra kick.''
 

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