LEXINGTON, Ky. (KT) — The Kentucky coaching staff will get its first look at the Wildcats in full game mode for this first time Saturday when the team conducts an intra-squad scrimmage.
Kentucky’s defensive coordinator, Matt House, is anxious to see how his unit fares against the team’s offense, anchored by quarterback Stephen Johnson and running back Benny Snell. A point of emphasis for the defense will be stopping the run.
“We want to continue to see the guys straining for the football and guys having situational football awareness, understanding whether it’s third-and-long, understanding when the ball gets into the strike zone, the red zone and just play football, not just run calls.”
House wants the defensive squad to get away from the “scripted” technique the team employs during practice and focus on making plays.
“(In) a scrimmage, a great thing about it is, you’re playing a whole game,” he said. “In your own mind, you have to put yourself in a situation … ‘hey we just went from normal down to distance and it’s third-and-long without flipping it.’ The kids have got to play situational football and play the game.”
House has been pleased with the progression of sophomore and instate product Kash Daniel, who is expected to contribute even more at one of the linebacker slots this season.
“Mentally he’s a year ahead and you can tell he’s gone through spring ball,” House said. “It’s hard for a freshman (to adjust) during training camp and so much is coming at you so much faster. You can tell he’s a year more mature. (His movements have) improved. He needs to continue to improve.”
The defensive coordinator also likes the way the newcomers have contributed during fall camp and said freshmen in the secondary have “a lot of potential.”
“There’s great competition back there,” House said. “I think they’ve shown up some but they also, as you put in more (schemes) kind of take a step back then take a step forward. Definitely there is some potential there.”
Darius West, who missed all of last season because of an injury, returns for his junior campaign and likely will fill the void vacated by Marcus McWilson.
“He’s flashed some and he’s got some areas where he needs to improve,” House said adding, that West needs to develop more mentally.
Overall, House likes the way the overall unit has progressed during the first two weeks of camp.
“It’s fun to see guys making plays (and) making contested plays, whether it’s offense or defense,” House said.
House, the second defensive coordinator in Mark Stoops’ tenure with the Wildcats, knows what Stoops is looking for on the defensive side of the ball.
“Having been with coach Stoops for a year and knowing his personality and what he envisions defensively, I think it’s transitioned pretty smooth,” House said. “(We work together) a ton, an absolute ton. He’s got a great defensive mind.”
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and twitter @keithtaylor21.