Kentucky Defense Readying for Balanced Clemson Offense

Kentucky Defense Readying for Balanced Clemson Offense

by Tim Letcher

Playing defense against a team that does multiple things well can be difficult. That’s the task that the Kentucky defense will have when facing No. 22 Clemson in the TaxSlayer Gator Bowl on Dec. 29 in Jacksonville.

The Tigers are the definition of balance. They rush for 180 yards per game and pass for 225 yards per contest. They have run the ball 485 times this year and have thrown the ball 433 times.

Clemson has impressed Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White.

“It’s an offense that understands what they want to do. They have really talented running backs. It’s a really good offense. The two running backs are really, really talented players. Their ability to get downhill, their ability in the passing game. The (offensive) linemen work together well. Then they spread the ball out more horizontally, but when they need to, they can push it vertical.”

The two running backs that White spoke about are juniors Phil Mafah and Will Shipley. Mafah has rushed for 894 yards and nine touchdowns this season. He has also caught 19 passes for 105 yards.

Shipley has carried the ball 156 times for 798 yards and five touchdowns. He has caught 29 passes for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

But the offense starts with quarterback Cade Klubnik. He has passed for 2,580 yards and 19 touchdowns and has rushed 110 times for 194 yards and four more scores. White has been impressed with Klubnik’s play.

“The quarterback makes a lot of plays happen with his legs as well,” White said. “I don’t think he gets enough credit for how athletic he is. You seem him pull away from some guys when he’s scrambling. We’ve got to understand pocket control.”

White has also seen Klubnik make plays on third down, something that UK’s defense has seen from other opponents this season.

“He does a good job on third down extending plays,” White said. “We’ve got to do a good job with that. We’ve played some quarterbacks who have made some plays on third down. We’ve got to glean from that and get off (the field).”

White hopes that UK will continue to have the proper mindset heading into the Gator Bowl.

“The mindset will always be here that we’re going to step on the field with the mindset of defending every blade of grass on that field,” White said. “No point is acceptable. Now, are they going to score at times during a season? Absolutely. But it’s never the goal to say that the offense will pick us up. If we could go in there and win by several touchdowns, that would be the goal. We’re fully aware that this is going to be a battle from start to finish so they better be prepared.”

That preparation begins with a plan to defend Clemson’s balanced offense.

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