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When you look at the effort this group put up in the Kentucky game you realize what they are capable of. The learning curve for this defense has been slow and painful yet they have moments when they may bend but don’t break.
Of course, the best way to break down the grades is to dive into the stats for each defensive group. These really aren’t going to be that bad this week.
Defense begins up front with the line and this has been the one solid part of this defense. Against Kentucky the defensive line stepped up and made some crucial stops in the game. The defensive line was the anchor which slammed the Wildcats on four straight 3 and outs in the second half.
Despite facing a very mobile quarterback Josiah Coatney had 2 sacks in the game while Marquis Haynes and G McDowell combined for 2 more. Coatney also had 2.5 tackles for loss. When this defensive line steps they can play with any offensive line in the SEC. They certainly did with the Wildcats.
Defensive Line Grade, A-
When you begin grading out this group of linebackers you only have to watch one player. DeMarquis Gates continues to show out from his position. In the Kentucky game he had 14 total tackles with 13 of them solo. You can’t take him away from the ball-carrier. As the leading tackler on the team he continues to impress me as one of the most aggressive and consistent defensive players.
Taylor Polk, Willie Hibbler, Donta Evans, Jarrion Street and Mohamed Sonago combined for nine total tackles. When this group begins to play together on a consistent basis they will all see their tackle numbers go off the charts. Until then they have deal with seeing Gates continue to lead the team in tackles.
Linebackers Grade, B
This group of relatively young DBs continue to scare me whenever I see them play. There are instances where we see them continue to give up big plays downfield because of blown coverage. The saving grace for the secondary in the Kentucky game was the fact Mark Stoops had a game-plan to attack the Rebels rush defense. Kentucky did just that.
Of 70 total plays the Wildcats only attempted 25 passes. Of those 25 pass plays there were 4 receptions of 20 or more yards. One went for 46 yards. There are still obvious issues with players out of position and poor downfield tackling. However, overall the secondary did limit Kentucky to only one score thru the air. For this we will give them a fair grade.
Defensive Backs Grade, B-
As the season winds down we are seeing this defense come together. When they finally begin to play together in a cohesive manner we’ll see more play like we saw in the second half Saturday. Because of their second half play against the Wildcats, which definitely looked better, they deserve to get an overall good grade.
Overall Defensive Grade, B+