Continuing with yesterday's examination of national and conference rankings from last year compared to what we might expect this year, we are going to perform the same exercise on the defense.
Kentucky's defense loses a good number of players from last year's solid defensive squad -- that's the bad news. The good news is that Trevard Lindley and Micah Johnson, just to name two, are back as seniors to lead the squad. The defense features a mix of experience and youth, and nowhere is that more prevalent than on the defensive line. Jeremy Jarmon's unfortunate loss of his final year of eligibility has put UK in a position where they are very inexperienced at the edges, with a redshirt freshman (Collins Ukwu) at one end and JUCO transfer (DeQuin Evans) at the other. Despite the fact that the defensive tackles are experienced, the depth behind them is not.
The linebacking corps, on the other hand, could actually be better than last year's group, and is deep with experience. The defensive backfield is a bit green, but with Lindley back there and rising stars Randall Burden and Winston Guy, the defensive backfield should be as good, if not better than last year.
With all that in mind, here's how I think the defense shakes out:
|2008 Rank||2009 Outlook|
|Scoring defense||35||8||45-55||7||This will probably drop off a little due to youth.|
|Rushing defense||57||9||Mid 60's||7||Same as scoring defense.|
|Passing defense||40||9||35-40||5||I think we have a better secondary, but may not bring as much QB pressure.|
|Total defense||40||11||45-55||7||Not much change.|
|Opponent first downs||13||2||Mid 30's||5||I think we will give up more significantly more first downs due to youth in the line.|
|Fumbles forced||10||1||15-20||3||We should still do well in this stat.|
|Opponent third down conv.||22||6||Mid 30's||8||More first downs allowed = more third down conversions allowed.|
|Opponent red zone conv.||40||5||Mid 30's||4||I think we might be tougher in the red zone this year.|
|Sacks||29||3||40-45||5||The loss of Jarmon and Pryor will hurt this stat a lot.|
|Tackles for loss||25||2||Mid 30's||4||Kind of a trade off here – better Micah, but missing Jeremy.|
|Interceptions||59||7||Teens||1||I think UK might lead the SEC in picks this year.|
In my opinion, the SEC overall will be somewhat weaker than it was last year, primarily due to youth at quarterback. I think that is likely to translate into more picks for UK, especially with Trevard Lindley roaming around in the secondary and the rise of Chandler Burden and Winston Guy. Paul Warford is also extremely capable, and with some of the wounded ducks we are going to see this year, a lot of picks looks very real.
Despite the loss of Pryor and Jarmon, I think the D-line will be solid enough, but we will probably give up more 5-6 yard runs than last year, and therefore more first downs. As the field becomes compressed in the red zone, though, I expect coverage to make it hard to throw, and the linebacking corps' strength to kick in, so I actually look for improvement in that stat. While it may look like we will improve in scoring and rushing D, I don't think that will be so much because UK is better, but more because the conference as a whole is worse.