For the first time since his arrival last season, Mark Stoops fielded a top notch defense. The Wildcats were paced by a bunch of seniors including All-American edge Josh Allen who became the best individual defender in the country. Thanks to these efforts, the Wildcats finished 15th in defensive efficiency per S&P+, ranked 37th in the country in yards per play allowed, and ranked second in the SEC in scoring defense. Kentucky did all of this with just 20 takeaways forced (ranked 57th nationally). That’s really impressive.
Gone are Allen and all of UK’s secondary starters to the NFL. So it’s clear where first year coordinator Brad White is having to rebuild heading into 2019. Leaving the spring session, Kentucky still has major concerns at corner in addition to finding a consistent option to play the edge opposite of Boogie Watson (Florida State transfer Xavier Peters could help in this regard). However, UK looks to be very strong in the belly of the defense. You usually would rather have that opposed to the opposite.
It starts in the middle of the unit with your Mike linebacker and Kentucky has a good one in Kash Daniel. The former blue-chip recruit finally lived up to his recruiting hype last season in his first time starting. The Paintsville native posted 84 tackles and 7.5 tackles for loss in 12 starts. Very solid numbers for any linebacker in their first year starting.
Where Daniel really shined was defending the run. He has some kinks to work out when asked to play in space, but he was excellent when playing downhill. The inside linebacker flashed some really solid instincts shown by his ability to consistently get home on run blitzes and having great timing when shooting gaps. His 9.5 run stuffs (tackles at or behind line of scrimmage on rushes) ranks fourth among all inside linebackers returning to the SEC in 2019. He’s a quality starter and will be a key cog in UK’s run defense.
During the draft season the story of Josh Allen and his development within the Kentucky football program became national news. The former high school receiver went from two-star to top 10 pick after just four years in Lexington. Following the historic year, he collected every individual award you could nab and will go down as one of the greatest to ever wear the blue and white. It will be hard to top his story, but the one of Calvin Taylor, Jr. has put together will be pretty close.
The Georgia native was an unranked recruit out of high school and a late addition to the class of 2015. Recruiting services pegged the 6-foot-9 prospect as an offensive tackle, but the UK staff liked what they saw from Taylor on the defensive side of the football. After two years of development, he finally cracked the rotation in 2017.
That year as a bench piece, Taylor ranked second among all defensive linemen with 22 stops before breaking through as a redshirt junior. This past fall he posted 26 tackles, but became much more effective with his six tackles for loss. But where Taylor really made an impact was in the running game.
The upperclassmen who has played both defensive tackle and defensive end in UK’s 3-4 scheme and recorded 9.5 run stuffs which tied for second on the defense. Obviously, Josh Allen left some big holes after posting 24 run stuffs, but Taylor feels like a guy who be due for a big time senior season. Keep up the development and the versatile defensive lineman who will be a very intriguing 2020 NFL Draft prospect.
Despite recording over 90 tackles and 19 sacks on a very good Cordova High School team in the Memphis area his senior year, Quinton Bohanna was marked a low three-star prospect by the recruiting services. Despite the ranking, Bohanna quickly became one of the most valuable players out of the class of 2017. The nose guard was a full-time starter by the end of his true freshman season and seemed poised for a breakout sophomore year. Unfortunately, an ankle injury suffered against Florida limited him this past season.
Despite the issues, Bohanna flashed during his sophomore season and recorded four tackles for loss to go with 4.5 run stuffs. He will need to prove he can stay healthy and play for a larger sample size, but he has the frame (now over 360 pounds) and ability to make a prominent impact.
Quinton Bohanna, Kash Daniel, and Calvin Taylor, Jr. are set to be key cogs in Kentucky’s defense this fall. New defensive coordinator Brad White needs each to play at a high level. However, they are not the only answers this defense will have. Chris Oats and Joshua Paschal were both blue-chip recruits entering their sophomore season. They could be due for a big leap. T.J. Carter, Phil Hoskins, and Kordell Looney are three defensive linemen who have all played a lot of snaps. Davonte Robinson has all of the tools to become UK’s next draft pick out of the secondary.
The secondary and edge rush is a concern that will not be solved until the real football is played. It is vital that the belly of the defense steps up their game during this transition time. It’s clear that they have the personnel to take advantage. Stop the run and you’ll a great shot at success no matter who you’ll play in the SEC.