Having difference-makers on the defensive line has been a staple for Kentucky Football under Mark Stoops and staff. Josh Allen, Bud Dupree, Za'Darius Smith, Quinton Bohnanna, Calvin Taylor are all names who come to mind when thinking of some of the best players to play on the Wildcat defense in the last decade- and with the exception of Bud and Z being here during the formative stages of the rebuild- the success has translated.
In 2020, however, the Kentucky defensive front took a step back from the usual Kentucky standard. The Wildcats only got home for 15 sacks in 2020 -averaging under 1.3 sacks a game- which is nearly half of the production the defensive line produced in Brad White's first season in 2019 that saw 33 total sacks with a 2.5 average.
So at Media Day on Friday, it appeared Brad White wanted an emphasis on the D-line, a D-Line that can hopefully cause some havoc plays in 2021. An emphasis on some difference-makers.
"I think we've got those," Brad White said on Friday. "We've got some candidates, obviously we've all know what Josh Paschal
can do. And, you know, before the injury halfway through the Mississippi State game, if you look at the Auburn and Ole miss and halfway through Mississippi state, he was playing as well as any defensive lineman in the SEC.
And he is right now, he's playing at a level- his body, his conditioning, his focus- right now is at an elite level. And we need him to perform at that elite level.
And we will not shy away with those expectations for him. And he won't shy away either."
Josh Paschal enters a senior season as the heart and soul of the Kentucky defense. After an immediate impact in his first game against Southern Miss in 2017, through the resiliency, he's showed through his four years at UK, and of course his intangible traits, Josh Paschal is set to be a star for the Kentucky defense in 2021. Paschal comes in after a season that saw him get 30 pressure plays on quarterbacks last season, including four sacks. with another year under his belt and a full training camp that has also seen growth from the younger faces on the Kentucky front-seven, it would be a safe bet to say Paschal is going to take one of those Josh Allen-Calin Taylor-Jamin Davis type leaps in 2021.
Another difference-maker candidate according to Brad White is another senior, Bully McCall.
"Marquan McCall has played significant snaps and played as a true freshman," White emphasized. And now he's in year four here. He understands this is his time. And his body is in as good a shape as he's been since I've been here and he's been here, we sort of came in together. So he's ready to take that step.
And we've talked about it before, through my time here, when you were strong down the middle in a 3-4 defense, you know when we talk about nose guard inside linebacker safety, you've got a chance to be a really good football team and you got a chance to dominate."
McCall graded out with a 66.4 according to PFF in 2020 as the relief to Quinton Bohanna, but now in his own significant role, he has an opportunity to make a big impact as the next great Kentucky interior D-lineman under Mark Stoops. Another plus to this line is the amount of depth the defensive line has. Guys like Justin Rodgers, Octavious Oxendine, Tre'Vonn Rybka, all can be ready to fill in and play meaningful snaps that could help in their own development after they missed out on a full camp last year- something that cheated the development of some high-level D-linemen for Brad White.
"So I'm looking forward to that freshman class of defensive lineman coming into this camp," White said. "Showing something (in camp) because now is their time. They can't just say, oh, I'm a redshirt freshman. We talk about depth. Yeah, we've got bodies, but we need guys to elevate."
"If we can continue to do that and add some of those difference-making plays, we know we understand that we need to affect the quarterback more often this year. You don't have to tell me, you don't have to tell our guys, they understand the issues."
Havoc plays on a bend-but-don't-break defense that led the SEC in turnovers last year. The clear prototype for the defense Brad White wants to bring to Kroger Field this fall.