When Mitch Barnhart, athletic director for the Kentucky Wildcats, went in search of a head coach last fall, he said that one of the things he wanted to do was get a defensive-minded coach. Barnhart saw the success that teams like the Alabama Crimson Tide, the Florida Gators and the LSU Tigers had experienced with defensive-minded head coaches.
Barnhart’s search led him to Mark Stoops, who at the time was the defensive coordinator for the Florida State Seminoles. Stoops had built the FSU defense into one of the nation’s best, and he was eager to take on the challenge of his first head coaching job.
Stoops brought D.J. Eliot with him from Florida State, and Eliot is now the UK defensive coordinator. The continuity between Stoops and Eliot figured to only help Kentucky as they started to rebuild the defense that was awful last season under the previous coaching staff.
Stoops and Eliot inherited what figured to be a pretty strong defensive line, with returnees Donte Rumph and Mister Cobble, as well as converted linebacker Alvin “Bud” Dupree. UK also added Za’Darius Smith to the mix last year, one of the nation’s best junior college defenders.
There were still questions at linebacker and in the defensive backfield, but it appeared that Kentucky’s defense would be improved.
But that was not the case in Saturday’s loss to Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers carved up Kentucky’s defense to the tune of 487 total yards. And it was a balanced effort, as WKU had 216 yards rushing and 271 through the air.
To open the game, Western Kentucky put together a methodical drive that ended with a short touchdown run. It continued from there, as WKU had its way with its mighty Southeastern Conference opponent.
Now, the Kentucky staff needs to make adjustments, and fast. UK hosts Miami (Ohio) this weekend before a stretch of four straight games against teams ranked no worse than No. 12 in the country.
If Stoops and his staff are unable to get the defense straightened out, things could get really ugly in Lexington for the remainder of the season.