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The enormous void Jamin Davis filled and how Kentucky moves forward

UK Athletics

UK Athletics

Jamin Davis’ 2020 campaign is one of the greatest seasons by a modern era Kentucky linebacker. It’s not all about stats either. Davis’ knack for making big plays at opportune moments are responsible for at least two Wildcat wins. He did it all after his teammate was tragically sidelined. As he departs Lexington for the 2021 NFL Draft, it’s time to recognize Davis’ spectacular season and examine what’s next for Jon Sumrall’s inside linebackers.

Stupid Stats

Davis was a slow-cooker. Once he got rolling, nobody was slowing down No. 44. A rotational player in 2019, he got at least six tackles in his final four games of the season, setting up an All-SEC run in 2020.

Davis had double digit tackles in all but three games, highlighted by a career-high 15 vs. Vanderbilt. He averaged just shy of 10 tackles per contest, recording 102 in 11 games to lead the Wildcats in tackling and finish third in the SEC. It’s the most tackles by a Wildcat in a single season since Jordan Jones’ 109 in 2016. Davis is one of five Wildcats with 100+ tackles in the last decade and he reached that mark in fewer games. Two of those former Cats — Danny Trevathan and Avery Williamson — are starting in Wild Card games this weekend.

Game-Changing Plays

If big time players make big time plays in big time games, then we know exactly what Davis is. Struggling to move the ball on Mississippi State’s defense, UK needed Brad White’s crew to make plays to keep the Wildcats in the game. In danger of surrendering a score right before half, a K.J. Costello passed was tipped in the end zone. Davis was in the right place at the right time to pick off the pass and keep points off the scoreboard, leading to the first offensive shut out of Mike Leach’s career.

In what would be his last game as a Wildcat, Davis provided a timely dagger. Leading by just two points with three minutes remaining, NC State needed to go only 40 yards to set up a game-winning field goal attempt. It was the perfect time for Davis to make another big-time play. He picked off Bailey Hockman’s first pass of the drive. The Wolfpack’s hopes were completely crushed one play later when Chris Rodriguez scampered 26 yards for the score.

The play we will most remember Davis by came in Knoxville. Seeking a win at Neyland Stadium for the first time since 1986, Davis brought out the orange boo-birds by intercepting Jarrett Guarantano and returning it 85 yards for a touchdown.

For 22

Davis was not supposed to have a breakout season in 2020. Chris Oats was the Kentucky middle linebacker on track to become an All-SEC performer. When a medical emergency forced the Cincinnati native to be hospitalized, it shook the Wildcats to the core. A psychologically and emotionally devastating tragedy for the team, Davis and the rest of White’s defense rallied behind No. 22.

Depth was a problem for Jon Sumrall’s unit prior to Oats’ absence. Strained even thinner, Davis rose to the occasion, far exceeding all expectations. To play as well as Davis did in 2020 — 102 tackles, 4 for loss, 1.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble and 3 interceptions — while under enormous pressure amid the incredibly challenging circumstances, this writer cannot eloquently state the impact Davis had on the Wildcats’ defense.

Next Man Up

Replicating similar production in 2021 would’ve been a tall task. You cannot blame Davis for going to the NFL Draft at his peak, likely finding a landing spot on day two of the NFL Draft. Best of luck to the star linebacker.

Moving forward in Lexington, Sumrall is in familiar territory. Kentucky lost its best defensive playmaker for the 2021 season. Can Sumrall prepare another player for a breakout season?

Former JUCO linebacker Marquez Bembry will be the first called to action to fill Davis’ enormous shoes. Limited by injuries through two seasons in Lexington, he had a few great moments in a reserve role this fall, recording a career-high 10 tackles against Vanderbilt.

Bembry will line up next to DeAndre Square, a three-year starter returning after another solid season, while Jared Casey provides relief, potentially at both inside linebacker positions. The former four-star recruit from Louisville has potential that’s ready to be unlocked. D’Eryk Jackson played in a limited capacity, holding his own as a true freshman. Still, Sumrall is low on numbers. Expect UK to actively pursue a linebacker in the transfer portal to provide much-needed depth in Davis’ absence.

(Photo by Sam Greenwood/Getty Images)

Article written by Nick Roush

"Look upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole." @RoushKSR