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Kentucky Football

Kentucky Football Season Grades: Defense

January 9, 2019
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Following Kentucky Football’s memorable 2018 season that saw the Cats knock off the likes of Florida, Penn State, Mississippi State, and Louisville, we handed out grades for the offensive position groups earlier in the week. The results were mixed for a unit that did enough to get the job done all year but now it’s time to look at the group that made this season special. Kentucky fielded one of the top scoring and overall defenses in the country in 2018, largely in part to the fact that they had the National Defensive Player of the Year. But Josh Allen didn’t do it alone, so here are the marks for a historic defense.

Defensive Line- B+

Given where this group came from, this grade could arguably be an A. The defensive line has been the Achilles heel of Kentucky’s defense for many seasons, but you have to give Derrick LeBlanc credit for coaching up these guys. Remarkably, after losing Josh Paschal before the season, the line improved across the board. Gap integrity and pass rush were both noticeably better than in previous years. Calvin Taylor made huge strides this season.

Kentucky finally has enough defensive line depth to rotate and keep guys fresh. That also showed when the line didn’t look gassed in the fourth quarter. The Cats will miss the steady play of Adrian Middleton, but this unit could be poised for another step forward with the return of Paschal next season.

Outside Linebackers – A+

What else could you grade it? Josh Allen may be the best defensive player, if not the best football player, to come through here for a long time. Allen was disruptive in all phases of the game for the entire season, often taking over games late when teams had to throw the ball. He was able to break several Kentucky records and brought home just about every defensive award available to him.

On the other side, Boogie Watson had a nice sophomore year for himself. While being the player most often removed in sub packages, Watson was often around the ball when you watched the film and was second on the team in sacks. Senior Kengera Daniel made the decision after four games to redshirt in order to preserve a year of eligibility and compete for the starting job in 2019. Redshirt freshman Jordan Wright got a lot valuable experience backing up Allen and will compete with Daniel this season.

Inside Linebackers-B+

Jordan Jones and Kash Daniel couldn’t seem like more opposite people, but on the field, they combined to form a very effective and cohesive unit. Each made big plays in big moments as the leaders of the defense in 2018. Jones was his typical havoc causing self, albeit without the antics that had plagued him in previous seasons. Daniel was the heart of the defense, a guy who didn’t get enough credit for the plays he made this season. Neither were without warts. As the year went on, Jones seemed to regress a bit and go back to his old freelancing bad habits, sometimes opening huge running lanes when he guessed wrong. Kash was a liability in pass coverage more often than not. Though he did seem to master the delayed blitz on passing plays.

True freshmen Deandre Square and Chris Oats proved impossible to keep off the field and both played significant minutes in big games for Kentucky this season. Each even drew a start at some point. Kentucky seems to have the middle of the defense locked up for the foreseeable future.

Defensive Backs A-

Kentucky had five seniors playing in the secondary in 2018. It should come as no surprise that the Cats played well against the pass (an improved pass rush didn’t hurt). All of the seniors had their big moments for Kentucky this season, especially Darius West, who made his presence known several times in the earlier part of the season. West sent the Texas A&M game to overtime with his fumble return for a touchdown late against the Aggies. Derrick Baity was consistently rated highly by Pro Football Focus and had opponents afraid to test him.

Kentucky was also able to find time for several young players at safety, with Davonte Robinson playing significant minutes and making some important plays. Tyrell Ajian also saw snaps when the game was on the line. A key to 2019 will be the play of Jordan Griffin, the versatile defensive back didn’t play much after a couple of injuries this season but has proven capable in the past.

Punter/KickOff- A

Kentucky may just stick with the Aussie punters from now on. With Max Duffy following up Mathew Panton kicking end-over-end rugby punts for Kentucky, it’s starting to look like Mark Stoops may have found a new preference.

Grant McKinnis deserves a lot of credit. After losing the punting job (twice), McKinnis managed to keep his head up and found a way to contribute to the team by booming kickoffs out of the end zone or for touchbacks consistently all year long.

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Kentucky Football Season Grades: Defense

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