By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky didn’t get a commitment from five-star defensive lineman Damon Payne of Michigan Sunday. Instead, the nation’s No. 1 defensive tackle and 14th best overall prospect in the 2021 recruiting class picked Alabama.
But for Kentucky to have been considered the second choice ahead of Michigan State, Arizona State, USC and other still shows just how significant Kentucky’s recruiting in Michigan has become due in large part to secondary coach Steve Clinkscale who helped add five-star defensive lineman Justin Rogers to UK’s freshman class.
Another Michigan standout, offensive lineman Rayshaun Benny, has Kentucky high on his potential college list along with LSU, Penn State, Michigan, Tennessee, Arkansas and Arizona State.
It doesn’t hurt UK’s recruiting when the Cats get praise like they just did from Saturday Down South, a sports blog covering SEC football. The site just rated Kentucky’s defense as the third best going into the 2020 season behind only No. 1 Georgia and Alabama.
Saturday Down South writer Connor O’Gara wrote this about UK’s defense”
“Kentucky at No. 3. Think that’s crazy? It’s not. The casual fan might have missed last year when Kentucky finished No. 4 in the SEC and No. 14 nationally in scoring. That was after it entered the season ranked No. 127 in percentage of returning defensive production. This year, the Cats are No. 27 in that department. Of the top 15 defenses from 2019, only 11 rank in the top 50 in terms of percentage of returning defensive production. The Cats will have to find new leadership, but man, they return a lot.
“The No. 2 pass defense in America returns nearly all of its key contributors on the back end, and it’ll get a boost from LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph, who sat in 2019 because of NCAA transfer rules. Boogie Watson, Joshua Paschal, DeAndre Square and Quinton Bohanna are all back for a front 7 that played a key part in last year’s midseason turnaround. If you’re sleeping on Mark Stoops’ defense (again), consider this your warning to wake up.
“Just so we’re clear, I try to avoid too much end-of-season projecting with this. I’d rather talk about what we’ve seen from a defense, and what we should expect from the jump. You’ll see me frequently reference Bill Connelly’s annual ranking of percentage of returning production, which is usually a good indicator of a potential roadblock is in the way (unless you’re Kentucky and you have the No. 14 defense after entering the season ranked No. 127 in percentage of returning defensive production).”