Kentucky’s quarterback sack production was down in 2020. UK totaled 14 sacks in an abbreviated eleven-game season. Its 1.36 sacks per game was much lower than its 2.54 average from 2019 and 2.92 in 2018. So, where did the Wildcats’ sack production come from and which players return for the 2021 season?
Linebackers produced the most QB sacks a year ago. This group accumulated 10.5 sacks during the 2020 season. Outside linebacker Boogie Watson racked up five which was good enough to lead the team. Following Watson was fellow outside linebacker Jordan Wright’s 3.5. Washington Football Team’s Jamin Davis contributed 1.5 from the inside while Freshman All-SEC outside backer JJ Weaver chipped in 0.5.
Wildcat defensive linemen were the other contributors to the total. Coach Anwar Stewart’s group was led by a defensive end Josh Paschal and defensive tackle Phil Hoskin each registering one sack last season. Nose tackle Marquan McCall aided with 0.5 and freshman Justin Rogers recorded one QB sack. No defensive backs recorded a sack during the 2020 season.
The leading candidate to lead UK’s resurgence in QB sacks is outside linebacker Jordan Wright. Wright has played in 33 career games as a Wildcat. His 2020 season served as a breakout performance after the 6’5, 233-pound junior accumulated 45 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 3.5 QB sacks, 4 pass breakups, 2 QB hurries, 3 forced fumbles, 2 fumble recoveries, and an interception. UK will need Wright to lead its fight in disrupting opposing quarterbacks in 2021.
Joining Wright will be long-time contributor/starter Josh Paschal. The 6’3, 278-pound defensive end started his career as an outside linebacker before transitioning to a hand in the dirt defensive end. Paschal started ten games a year ago and finished the season with 32 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 QB sack, 1 QB hurry, and 1 interception. He’s racked up 21.5 tackles for loss and 8 QB sacks during his stay in Lexington. Coaches were extremely high on Paschal’s performance during spring practice. The undeniable team leader will be counted on to increase his QB sack production in the Cats’ upcoming season.
Outside linebacker JJ Weaver earned Freshman All-SEC accolades following a year that the Louisville product produced 33 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 QB sack, 2 QB hurries, and 1 pass breakup. Weaver earned SEC Freshman of the Week honors after totaling a career-high six tackles in Kentucky’s 34-7 win at Tennessee. He unfortunately suffered a torn ACL against Florida and missed the remainder of the season. His recovery and availability will be a significant happening for Brad White’s defense.
What Does All This Mean?
Phil Hoskins, Jamin Davis, and Boogie Watson are now in the National Football League. That means that half of UK’s QB sack production will be missing for the 2021 season. UK’s leading returner in the sack category is outside linebacker Jordan Wright. Wright will be called upon to increase production and be a team leader in getting after opposing quarterbacks.
JJ Weaver’s availability is huge. Weaver is a rising star in the Southeastern Conference. Defensive end Josh Paschal is a team leader and a fan favorite. Coaches were extremely high on Paschal’s spring performance which bodes well for the Wildcat pass rush in 2021.
Wright, Weaver, and Paschal will require help in harassing signal callers. Defensive linemen Isaiah Gibson, Octavious Oxendine and others will need to take a step forward in 2021. Same can be said of the inside linebacker and secondary positions during occasional stunts or blitzes. UK’s up the middle push should be solid with nose tackles Marquan McCall and Justin Rogers.
2020 was the year of the turnover. Will 2021 see a return in a higher number of quarterback sacks? We’ll see.
Hurry up, football season.