Although the record of the Kentucky Wildcats is not changing all too quickly, sitting at 1-2, the product on the field is. Look to the Western Kentucky game to start. The team that took the field against WKU is the same type of team that tool the field game in and game out with Joker Phillips at the helm. They missed assignments and tackles on defense. On offense, they were constantly dropping passes and running right into tackles instead of avoiding them. The only difference there was the fact that they never quit fighting. So while the first game didn’t seem like much improvement, it was. Last year’s team would not have shown that same fight throughout a game.
Moving on to the second game, against Miami (OH), more improvement was evident. Beating the Redhawks handily was awesome, but the way the team did it was really impressive. The offense racked up 675 total yards, which was good for the third most in school history. Additionally, the defense shut down the Redhawks offense, only allowing 122 total yards. While many will state that this is simply a product of playing Miami (OH), it cannot be overlooked. This Kentucky team could not have come close to those numbers last year, even if it were against bad teams.
This brings us to yesterday’s game against the Louisville Cardinals. Coming in, many were thinking that Heisman Candidate Teddy Bridgewater was going to have a blast with this Kentucky defense. While the Cardinals were able to rack up the yards, going for 492 total, they were held to only 27 points on the day. Even these numbers can be deceiving, as the defense simply got too much to be effective. They came out firing, shutting down Bridgewater and the Louisville offense in the first half. In fact, the Wildcats were only down a score at halftime is testament to that. The man leading the way on the defense is a name that may sound familiar to Wildcat fans, but probably not many others. That man is Za’Darius Smith.
Smith came to Kentucky as a JUCO transfer, stating that he knew he could come in and contribute right away. Just before the season started, he said that he would end the season with 10-12 sacks. For Kentucky fans, this sounded awesome. However, many had their doubts if he could actually pull of double digit sacks. This is something that has not occurred in Lexington for a while now. Smith would have to prove on the field that he could live up to the hype. So far, he has done just that. Through three games, Za’Darius Smith has 4.5 sacks for -35 yards, 14 total tackles, and one quarterback hit. Those 4.5 sacks are good enough to be tied for the most in college football. This, more than anything else, shows the type of player that Stoops is looking to bring in and run his defense. It also shows, or more appropriately reaffirms, that Mark Stoops is a defensive mastermind. As long as he is at Kentucky, the team will improve and be one of the better defenses in college football. Be excited Wildcat fans. It’s going to be a fun time for the Football Cats in the next few years!