UK ranked 100th in Division I-A in rushing defense last season, allowing nearly 4.7 yards per carry for the season. And that was with Corey Peters in the middle of the defensive front. (Consider this: Two of the biggest plays late in UK’s come-from-behind victory last season were when Peters tipped a pass and Sam Maxwell intercepted it. Maxwell then broke up a late pass when U of L was inside the Wildcat 5-yard line. Both of those players are gone from the UK defense.)
Just as alarming as the overall rushing stat, UK gave up 5.1 yards per carry on first down and another 4.6 on second down. And finally this — on third down with 4 to 6 yards to go, the Wildcats gave up a whopping 8.6 yards per carry. UK opponents ran the ball 39 times on third down last season; 32 of those runs resulted in first downs. (Opponents also converted on 7 of 9 runs on fourth down.)
Couple that with UK’s established difficulty for defending teams that run a spread offense, and it opens a hole of possibility for the University of Louisville in today’s rivalry meeting.
With essentially the same defensive scheme, and the same defensive coordinator, the question for UK will be whether it can fare any better against the run.
U of L was one of the few schools that UK did shut down in the run game this season, but that was against a different offensive scheme.
The Cardinals have a pair of talented running backs in Bilal Powell and Victor Anderson. They have experience up front. They have a quarterback in Adam Froman who is capable of taking off himself.
UK historically has used its nickel package against spread defenses. One major question is how much respect the U of L passing game will be able to command. Defensive end DeQuin Evans’ umbrage notwithstanding, the UK defensive line does not figure to be enough in this effort. The more UK can pay attention to the run in the second level could determine how well they’re able to stuff the Cardinals on the ground.
It’s something UK must do. Because if U of L can establish a ground game, it will have put a big, red check mark on the top line of its checklist for victory.