By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky’s defense certainly passed its test against Missouri and likely future NFL quarterback Drew Lock. The Cats held Missouri without a first down the second half of Saturday’s dramatic 15-14 win and forced eight straight three-and-out by the Missouri offense.
Kentucky’s defense is now tied for first place nationally with Clemson in scoring defense, fifth in passing touchdowns allowed, 10th in total defense and 17th in rushing defense.
Senior linebacker Josh Allen is first national in forced fumbles, second in sacks and fourth in tackles for loss. Allen leads the SEC in all three categories.
The UK defense again faces a big test in Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. game against Georgia on CBS-TV from quarterback Jake Fromm. He was 17-for-24 passing for 240 yards and three touchdowns in last week’s win over Florida. Remember he got Georgia into the national title game last year.
Junior Elijah Holyfield ran for 71 yards on 21 carries against Florida while sophomore D’Andre Swift, the backup running back, had 104 yards on just 12 attempts, including a 33-yard touchdown run.
Georgia also has solid special teams as Rodrigo Blankenship kicked field goals of 19, 21 and 22 yards against Florida (he’s 13-for-15 on field goals this year) and had touchbacks on six of eight kickoffs — he now has 53 touchbacks this season.
Junior Mecole Hardman had 87 all-purpose yards — 10 receiving, 26 punt return yards and 51 kickoff return yards — and also downed a punt on the 1-yard line.
Georgia is averaging 38.6 points per game, second best in the SEC. The Bulldogs also are the No. 2 rushing offense (221.6 yards per game) and No. 6 passing offense (236.1) in the SEC. Kentucky is allowing just 186.8 yards per game passing.
Stoops had to “motivate” his defense at halftime against Missouri after it gave up two first-half touchdowns.
“When things were getting bad, when things were getting tough, we were out there fighting in a good way. The guys were pissed. That’s when I like, I went off on a couple of them. I’m like ‘I don’t care. I don’t care what it’s like. Bow up and go make a play. Go find a way.’ And that’s what we did,” Stoops said.
“I’m really proud of this group and the maturity that they have that you can get in there face, you can challenge them when things look absolutely desperate and they respond.”
Stoops had some terrific players and defenses during his time as defensive coordinator at Florida State. He won’t compare this defense to any other defense he’s coached.
“Again, we can be better. We had a pass interference on third and 10. They kick a field goal there and we jump offsides on fourth and one. That’s the good news. But I’m really proud of what they have been doing,” Stoops said.