Kentucky seeks defensive rebound from 4-game slide
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) The defense that sparked Kentucky's 5-1 start has regressed during a four-game skid that has seen the return of some of the Wildcats' old bad habits.
Missed tackles and assignments along with blown coverages on special teams led to the Wildcats' worst performance in last week's 63-31 loss to Georgia. The Wildcats (5-5, 2-5 Southeastern Conference) allowed 559 yards to the Bulldogs, including 305 yards rushing.
That porous performance wasn't an isolated case during a slide including 542 yards and 45 points allowed to top-ranked Mississippi State and 423 yards in a 41-3 loss at LSU. Kentucky has fallen from seventh to 10th in SEC total defense (390.5 yards per game) in that span against the conference's stronger teams.
The Wildcats must find a solution fast to give their offense a chance on Saturday at Tennessee (4-5, 1-4), a team also enduring defensive issues.
''We've just got to make sure this game, we just stop talking so much about executing and just go out and do it,'' Wildcats senior defensive end Alvin ''Bud'' Dupree said, blaming their skid on failures to concentrate and execute fundamentals.
''If we need to be in one gap, stay in one gap and just make sure that we do it.''
Kentucky junior safety A.J. Stamps said the defense simply ''got too comfortable'' during the strong start. Through five games the Wildcats yielded just 13 first-quarter points and didn't allow a first-half touchdown through four contests for the first time since 1979.
Since then, Stamps said the Wildcats have just lost their focus.
''We've just got to be more consistent throughout the play and throughout the game,'' he said.
Tennessee's defense also seeks to rebound after allowing an average of 36.7 points in its last three contests.
A Volunteers unit that had ranked among FBS leaders in third-down conversion percentage defense much of the season has struggled lately, allowing Alabama to convert 11 of 15 chances and South Carolina 7 of 16. Tennessee has also become vulnerable to big plays, allowing at least two each in its last three games.
''We need to get back to playing our style of defense,'' Vols coach Butch Jones said. ''Third downs, as you all know, we have done very well, and then the last couple weeks we have struggled in that area. So we have to do it again, a good job.''
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops came from Florida State with a strong defensive resume and a desire to change the program's mindset. Things looked good through six games of his second season with the defense allowing just 18.6 points per game.
The Wildcats have now reached the urgent stage, but with one win needed to become bowl eligible for the first time 2011, the coach hopes his team can get back on track. If they show the same defensive intensity as in their 36-30, triple-overtime loss at Florida in September, it can happen.
''I would like to play with the same mentality,'' Stoops said, ''just (would) like to see our guys compete at that level across the board.
''We could all live with the results if we play the very best we can. So that's what we're striving to do.''
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, contributed to this report.