UK Football

What should you expect from the University of Kentucky’s defense in 2019?

Why does UK linebacker Kash Daniel love football?

At Media Day on Friday, August 2, 2019, Kentucky senior Kash Daniel talked about why he loves football. After finishing 10-3 last season, the Wildcats open the 2019 season on Aug. 31 against Toledo at Kroger Field.
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At Media Day on Friday, August 2, 2019, Kentucky senior Kash Daniel talked about why he loves football. After finishing 10-3 last season, the Wildcats open the 2019 season on Aug. 31 against Toledo at Kroger Field.

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A breakdown of the Kentucky football team’s defense heading into the 2019 season.

Coordinator: Brad White, second season at Kentucky and his first season as defensive coordinator after succeeding Matt House, who left for the NFL. White coached six years with the Indianapolis Colts before coming to UK last year.

Position coaches: Steve Clinkscale, defensive backs; Dean Hood, special teams coordinator/defensive backs; Derrick LeBlanc, defensive line; Jon Sumrall, inside linebackers; Brad White, outside linebackers; Louie Matsakis and Joe Scola, quality control assistants; Brayden Berezowitz and Cameron Davis, graduate assistants; Bryan Berezowitz, student assistant.

Scheme: Multiple.

Last season: Kentucky ranked fourth among SEC teams in total yards allowed (333.2 per game), behind Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama, and second among conference teams at 16.8 ppg, behind only Mississippi State. Nationally, the Cats ranked 21st overall in total yards (Mississippi State was No. 1 overall and the only SEC team in the top 10) and sixth nationally in points per game behind Clemson, MSU, Fresno State, Appalachian State and Washington.

Returning starters (including specialists): Blake Best, long snapper; Quinton Bohanna, nose guard; Kash Daniel, middle linebacker; Max Duffy, punter; Calvin Taylor, defensive end; Jamar “Boogie” Watson, strongside linebacker.

What to watch: The defense lost as many starters — seven — as the offense, but brings back key experience through the interior. Emotional juggernaut Kash Daniel leads an inside linebacking corps that accounted for 146 total tackles last season (Daniel had 84 of them, 42 solo); the group also recorded 14 tackles for loss in 2018. Outside backers Josh Paschal, Boogie Watson and Jordan Wright will have to step up in the absence of Josh Allen and Jordan Jones but should be capable of shouldering that burden, especially with newly-minted DC Brad White — who’s credited with Allen’s ascension — still in charge of their development. UK is as experienced up front as it could hope; it boasts three seniors in T.J. Carter, Phil Hoskins and Calvin Taylor, each of whom has seen ample playing time in the last two seasons and who’ve collectively made 26 starts.

Question marks: Will one man break out as a sack machine or will defensive stats pile up by committee in 2019? Can Cedrick Dort Jr., the only returning cornerback with on-field experience, be a big playmaker as a redshirt sophomore? The same should be asked of junior Jordan Griffin, the only safety with significant playing time under his belt. Will true freshmen like Jared Casey, K.D. McDaniel and J.J. Weaver help the linebackers right away or is there time for them to develop off the field? How big will the impact be of junior-college transfers Brandin Echols and Quandre Mosley for a secondary that lost two NFL Draft picks, a post-draft signee and Darius West, whose 86 tackles last year were two away from matching Josh Allen?

Outlook: It’s hard to expect UK to match what it did defensively last year but those anticipating a total collapse might be disappointed. Strengths at the base and in the middle should help ease along the secondary. The difference between a so-so bowl game and something more “special” hinges on the rapid development of that unit, however, as it will get face time with several of the SEC’s top quarterbacks in 2019.

Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.