Nothing can take away from the offensive showing Kentucky put on in its 45-13 rout of Louisville Saturday afternoon on Senior Day, but a lot is to be said about the performance the Wildcat defense gave in Kroger Field.
“They really have done a remarkable job,” head coach Mark Stoops said. “Coach White, starting with him as the defensive coordinator has really done a good job. First year, calling plays and being a defensive coordinator, he's done a remarkable job.”
Kentucky’s inexperienced defensive unit has held its own this season after losing seven starters from last year and going without starting defensive back Davonte Robinson, who suffered a season-ending injury during the preseason. It held the Cardinals to just 13 points Saturday, their second-fewest in a game all season-- the only other team to hold the Cards to fewer points was Clemson.
The Cats had 71 total tackles, a season-high tying six sacks, a season-high 13 tackles for loss and one interception against the Cardinals. Heading into the game, limiting explosive plays from the UofL offense was a major focus, and UK did just that.
“We simply focused in on what we were coached to do,” senior safety Jordan Griffin said. “Our coaches had a great game plan, like I said previously, and we just went out there and executed. We stayed together and continued to push on, and that was the main focus th entire week and each and every day that’s what we did.”
Griffin, who totaled 25 tackles on the regular season, played in his last game at Kroger Field and had Kentucky’s only interception of the game and second of the year.
“That’s big,” Griffin said of his interception. ”That’s a big way to finish it out here on Kroger Field, knowing this will be my last time being out here. That was definitely a blessing as well, being able to do it for my guys, my family and for my program.”
Griffin, along with defensive coordinator Brad White, noted how important it was for them to eliminate Louisville’s big plays. The Cardinals had two of those big plays—a 33-yard passing play on their very first drive, and a 56-yard rush right before the first half ended, both ending in their only touchdowns. Louisville offensive lineman Mekhi Becton noted how tough it was for his side of the ball to get anything going.
“They were really big up front,” Becton said. “We couldn’t really cut off the backside. I feel like that’s what affected us the most. That nose guard was making a whole lot of trouble this game, I feel like that affected us the most.”
Junior linebacker Jamar ‘Boogie’ Watson had two sacks and six tackles Saturday and says this season turned out “great” for the defense despite the challenges it has faced.
“People had doubted us in the middle of the season so it’s good for us to have the season that we had,” Watson said.
The Wildcats kept every opponent this season below 30 points, making it the first time they've done so since 1979.