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Kentucky Football: Avoiding the pass-rush

Kentucky’s pass protection has been key to offensive production this year.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 03 Georgia at Kentucky Photo by Jeffrey Vest/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Passing the midway point of the football season always creates a little tug to do some reflecting on what has happened the first six games and assess implications for the rest of the season. I decided to take a look at game-by-game team statistics for UK’s first six contests see if anything in particular jumped out.

The first thing I noticed is that, from a points allowed perspective, our defense has been pretty consistent through the first half of the season (see the bar chart in Figure 1). While they won’t be mistaken for a steel curtain, they have yet to allow more than 30 points in a game and, if anything, points scored by our opponents are trending downward slightly since SEC play began.

Of course, with the Georgia offense averaging 38.5 points a game, that may change this weekend, but if the current trend continues, we should be able to count on the defense to limit our opponents to 20-something points most games, which gives the offense a reasonable target of scoring 25-30 points for a win.

Figure 1. The Kentucky defense has been relatively consistent in the number of points given up over the course of six games, but the post-Wilson offense gradually degraded game-by-game until the resurgence against Arkansas.

Unfortunately, the UK offense had been on a steady decline before the “pick me up” game against Arkansas. This is relatively easy to explain by the loss of Terry Wilson to injury, followed by the declining health of Sawyer Smith that led up to that inspired performance by Lynn Bowden last week versus the Razorbacks.

I was curious about the kinds of things the Cats had been doing in games where they scored more, so I looked at various Kentucky offensive statistics and opponents’ defensive statistics to see what was associated with higher scoring.

Not surprisingly, there were not many stats that showed a statistically significant relationship since we have a very small sample of six. However, as we see in Figure 2, one stat did stand out: it turns out there is a significance relationship between the number of sacks and quarterback hurries our opponents defense had and UK points scored. In fact, UK scored roughly 3.5 fewer points — or half a touchdown — for each sack or hurry our opponents produced.

Figure 2. UK’s total points per game declines by half a touchdown for every sack and/or quarterback hurry credited to the opposition.

Since the defense has been relatively consistent in terms of points allowed over the first six games, it was even less likely we could find any of our opponents’ offensive stats or UK defensive stats that had a significant relationship to points allowed by our defense. But as we see in Figure 3, our opponents’ average passing yards per play is associated with points scored, accounting for roughly 1.5 additional points for every incremental yard/pass.

Figure 3. Opposition score is related to yards per pass.

If trends for the first half continue, this analysis suggests pass protection on offense should be a point of emphasis; a quarterback that is able to evade oncoming pass rushers will obviously help in that regard. Minimizing the number of yards allowed per pass on defense would seem to be important, too.

Last year, the Cats held Jake Fromm to a respectable 5.7 yards/pass but allowed four sacks in a 33-17 loss to the Georgia Bulldogs. Count on the Dawgs — who currently rank third in the SEC with 8.5 yards/pass and are solidly in the middle of the SEC pack at 15 sacks — to provide their usual extremely challenging test.