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Kentucky Football: Breaking Down The Defense Against UTM

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Reviewing the game tape from the first half against UT-Martin.

Andy Lyons

This season I've volunteered to chart Kentucky's football games for SB Nation. On a weekly basis this season I want to share some of the data with ASoB readers. I thought this week I would share what was observed from the defense in the first half against UT-Martin.

Defensively, there were a several things of note from the first half. I'm going to hit the highlights in bullet form below. If you'd like the "stream of consciousness" notes that go into further detail they are further down.

Personnel

  • Kudos to MIKE backer Josh Forrest. He played fairly well for his first game as a starter. He usually took good angles, and showed versatility in pass coverage. Forrest is not the traditional MIKE backer, but he may be a better fit against HUNH offenses. He also did not split reps like Khalid Henderson and Ryan Flannigan did at WILL. I think the coaches wanted him to get plenty of time. He has a high ceiling.
  • Kudos to tackles Mike Douglas and Melvin Lewis. Both got great push against the offensive linemen they were head-up on, and forced UT-Martin to avoid trying to run the ball up the middle at the smaller linebackers.
  • At a certain point, UT-Martin realized they'd have success running the ball to the weak-side behind a jumbo package of an offensive guard and two offensive tackles. Jason Hatcher did okay in these situations, but he's not quite the dependable run stopper yet.
  • Ryan Flannigan did not play the WILL backer position as well as Khalid Henderson. He's still learning, but he often looked lost Saturday. He took more poor angles than good ones, and wasn't able to shed blocks. I'm sure he'll get better. He's also much smaller than I thought he'd be on the field.
  • Fred Tiller looks to be the starting boundary corner, and Cody Quinn looks to be the starting field corner. Both played well, and have come along way since being thrust into starting roles their freshmen seasons.
  • Za'Darius played okay. He still gives up too much when being run blocked. Asking him to two-gap may play a role. Dupree was slightly better against the run, but neither are ever going to be traditional run-stoppers.
  • Tiller's back-up JD Harmon also played pretty well against the run and pass game. Late in the fourth quarter UT-Martin tried to isolate him one-on-one, and he defended the ball well. The future of the secondary is bright with Kendall Randolph and Harmon from what I've seen so far.

Tendencies

  • UK kept things understandably vanilla. In the first half there were 2 blitzes, and I observed only 1 stunts along the defensive line. Alvin Dupree usually aligned on the strong-side when UK was in the 3-4, but he was the left defensive end when the team went 4-3. Za'Darius Smith lined up on the right side regardless of either front.
  • The coaches must think a lot of MIKE backer Josh Forrest. He was even used for Tampa 2 coverage (see below) in one instance. In Cover 1 on occasion he took the inside slot receiver in trips which freed up the safety to play center field. The coaches must really trust his coverage abilities.
  • UK's aligned in a two-gap 3-4 base defense in the majority of "run down" situations. In obvious passing downs, UK would sub nickel back Blake McClain in for defense end/linebacker Jason Hatcher, and align in a shaded 4-3.
  • In obvious passing downs UK's secondary were in Cover 1 most of the time. In running downs they appeared to be in either Cover 1 or Cover 3. Interesting, in one situation UK ran a Tampa 2 coverage which makes sense given Josh Forrest's wheels at MIKE. I don't remember UK doing that at all last year with Avery. Very interesting wrinkle, but it makes sense given Forrest's speed.
  • UK appears comfortable enough with Dupree's coverage abilities to let him line up wide if the offense goes trips. Nice option to have if they don't want him rushing the passer.
  • It appeared that Ashely Lowery and AJ Stamps both took turns playing the lone safety back deep. I need more data, but I think Lowery stays deep when UK goes Cover 1, while Stamps stays deep when UK goes Cover 3. This would allow Stamps to utilize his relative speed as an advantage.
  • The lone definite blitz came from nickel back Blake McClain from the quarterback's blind side. Maybe Stoops thinks McClain has it in him to be his former player at FSU, and nickel back blitzing machine, Lamarcus Joyner. In the second half back-up nickel back Kendall Randolph also blitzed at on at least three occasions. UK fans should see more nickel blitzes this season.


Notes

First series

1st down and 10: 3-4 w/ Dupree strong-side OLB. Smith and Hatcher on weak-side. Fred Tiller is the boundary CB. Two deep safety. Forrest also on strong-side as MIKE. Deception as two deep safety look adjust to one deep as Lowery moves up. Cover 1. Henderson comes from weak-side to make tackle. Good job but would've liked a bit more pop to push ball carrier backwards.
2nd down and 8: 3-4 w/ Dupree to strong-side. Tiller remains boundary CB. D-line men look to be play two-gap. UT-Martin runs a zone blocking scheme. DL squeeze down on their blockers. Forrest doesn't overrun play and comes back to make solid tackle with Bud.
3rd down and 6: 4-3 with Bud on short side of the field. Possibly because of favorable match-up with RS left tackle. McClain has subbed in for Hatcher so now five defensive backs on the field. A stunt between Corey Johnson and Za'Darius Smith almost results in a sack for Johnson. Cover 1. Great coverage and incomplete pass.

Been no blitzes yet.

Second series (UK 7: UTM: 0)

1st and 10: 3-4 w/ Bud to strong-side. DL two gapping again. Melvin Lewis and Mike Douglas got good push. Za'Darius Smith pushed backwards by OT.
2 and 7: 3-4 with Bud to strong-side. Smith has aligned along strong-side both plays this drive but was on weak-side last drive. Off-tackle lead play. Bud Dupree forces contain. Za'Darius Smith takes poor angle and is easily hooked. Fullback blocks Forrest, and Ryan Flannigan never makes it from weak-side and is blocked. 15 yard gain. Forrest needs to get off that block, but that's the play for the WILL backer to make.

1st and 10: 3-4 w/ Bud to strong-side. Smith stays on weak-side. I think Smith will always  on right side, and he and Douglas don't flip for strong or weak-side. Another off-tackle lead play, this time to the weak-side. Hatcher gets sucked in and loses contain. Flannigan is easily blocked by an offensive linemen. Tackle made by Fred Tiller and Forrest coming from opposite side of field after avoiding being blocked by OL.
2 and 4: 3-4. Bud to strong-side and Hatcher to weak-side again. Flannigan still in for Henderson at WILL. I think he and Flannigan are taking turns on defensive series. Looks like Cover 3. UT-Martin again runs off-tackle lead play to the weak-side. They like what they see there. This time Hatcher doesn't get hooked, and keeps contain. Needs to squeeze better though and decrease the size of the hole. Flannigan again gets sucked inside and is taken out of the play. Fullback blocks Tiller who comes off the block and makes the tackle.

1st and 10: 3-4. Bud is out wide over inside receiver as UT-Martin is in trips to wide side of the field. UT-Martin tries inside run, but again Melvin Lewis pushes center into backfield and makes the tackle nearly for a loss. Great play by Lewis.
2nd and 9: 3-4. McClain has come on for Hatcher and UK is in nickel. Bud moves to weak-side.UT-Martin attempts another run to the weak side but now they are running right at Bud. UT-Martin has two OTs to the left side. Perhaps this is why the coaches moved him to weak-side. Smith gets good push on the OT, and Tiller comes up aggressively. Flannigan overpursues a bit, and Forrest again comes from opposite side to make the tackle. Bud needs to do a better job getting off his block there.
3rd and 5: 4-3 nickel personnel. Bud on left side. Appears to be Cover 1. UT-Martin still with two OTs on shallow side with trips to the wide side of the field. Forrest picks up RB running on route out of the backfield. UT-Martin tries to pick Forrest with inside slot receiver but misses. It's a designed play to the RB. Forrest makes solid tackle upon RB receiving it. Great play. UT-Martin tried to isolate the MIKE LB against a RB and tried to pick him. Forrest wasn't having it. So far Forrest is playing very well. On the DL Bud was blatantly held by the OT.
4th and 6: 4-3 w/ nickel package again. Appears to be Cover 1. Pooch punt.

Been no blitzes yet. Only one defensive line stunt observed.

Third series (UK: 14; UTM: 0)

1st and 10: Favre substitutes in for UT-Martin at QB. 3-3-5 look as McClain is in for Hatcher but DL looks to be two-gapping.  Bud still to the strong-side. UT-Martin has four receivers in the game, so that's probably why UK went to its nickel package. Defense in Cover 1. Hand-off to lone RB, and Stamps comes up from safety position to decleat him and earn a tackle for loss.
2nd and 14:  3-3-5 look. UTM is trying to open the offense to prevent from falling behind even further. Nickel package stays on field for UK. Dupree lines up to cover inside receiver on the short side of the field. First time he's aligned there, and looky here: nickel back Blake McClain blitzes from the wide side of the field. Looks like Cover 1. No gain on a screen pass.
3rd and 13: UK's DL now looks shaded in gaps. Dupree joins them on line of scrimmage but is standing up. More of a 4-3 look. UK stays in nickel package. Looks like Cover 1 presnap.  Corey Johnson end at DT. He's played a few passing downs now. Maybe he's a better pass-rusher than run-stopper at this point. Draw play that gets 7 or 8. Good play by Khalid Henderson to get off block and make the tackle. The very interesting thing on this play is MIKE backer Forrest drops back with the two safeties in a Tampa 2 coverage. Very interesting. McClain takes zone responsibility of linebacker. McClain also missed the tackle.
4th and 13: Punt

There's been one blitz by the nickel back. Still 1 DL stunt observed.

Fourth series (UK: 21; UTM: 0)

1st and 10: 3-3-5 w/ Matt Elam and Regie Meant getting first reps. UK in nickel package. Hatcher in for Dupree, and he's aligned on the side w/ the running back. Cover 3. Incomplete pass. Deflection by Tiller.
2nd and 10: 3-3-5 w/ nickel package. Cover 3. Hatcher again aligned on side w/ the RB. This time it's the weak-side. Run up the middle and Elam makes the tackle after shedding his blocker.
3rd and 7: DL looks to be in 4-3 w/ nickel package. Dupree back in and rushing from left side. Two deep safety look. UTM has trips to the wide side of the field. Cover 1 with Forrest asked to cover inside receiver instead of safety...then his man got open. Not bad coverage, but Forrest's technique failed him there I think. He was out of frame for a moment.

1st and 10: UK stays 4-3 w/ nickel package. Fake RB sweep w/ QB keeper to weak-side with pulling guard. Dupree correctly takes on pulling guard while keeping outside shoulder free, and makes tackle. Flannigan again took a poor angle. UTM seems to want to run it to his side.
2nd and 6: 3-4 w/ nickel package. Cover 3. Run up the middle and tackle by Douglas.
3rd and 4: 3-4 w/ nickel package. Cover 1. Blitz by Forrest from the outside. Incomplete screen pass.
4th and 4: 4-3 with nickel. two deep safeties. Cover 1. UTM runs the pick play again and is able to convert. Well-designed play. They figured UK would be in Cover 1 making them vulnerable to the pick. Tackle by Flannigan. Bud was pressuring the QB.

1st and 10: 3-4 w/ nickel package. Bud not aligned to strong-side this time. I think I've noticed this twice now. It seems coaches are willing to move him around, or they fear another run to the weak-side. Cover 3. INT by Stamps. Good pressure by Za'Darius.

1 blitz by nickel and 1 blitz by MIKE. One DL stunt observed.

Fifth series (UK: 28; UTM: 0)

1st and 10: UK in 4-2-5 alignment. Stretch run w/ jumbo package again. Dupree loses contain and gets hooked. Forrest and Henderson both take poor angles. Stamps comes up and delivers another strong hit.
2nd and 5. UTM stays in jumbo package to weak-side. UK in either 3-3-5 or 4-3 Under w/ nickel package. Cover 1. Stamps cheats up to weak-side in case UTM tries to run behind the jumbo again. Run to strong side. Za'Darius is double-teamed. Forrest and Henderson both overrun the play.

1st and 10: 3-3-5 look.Cover 1. UTM runs another pick play which prevents Forrest from covering his man out of the backfield.

1st and 10: 4-2-5 look. Cover 1. Good push by Lewis. Tackle by Lewis and Smith. Forrest again lines up wide to cover inside slot receiver in UTM's trips.
2nd and 7: 4-3. UK anticipates another pick play so plays zone. Looks like Cover 2. Sack by Douglas.
3rd and 18: 4-2-5. Screen pass that none of the defensive line properly reads. JD Harmon comes up and makes a great play.
2 blitzes and one observed stunt.