Kentucky's All-Decade Team: Josh Allen leads dominant defense
Editor’s note: Saturday Down South has selected an all-decade offensive and defensive team for all 14 SEC programs.
Since the late 1990s, Kentucky had been an offensively noted team. Rich Brooks fielded a decent defense or two, but for the most part, Kentucky had to try to bomb opponents into submission. That all changed with the hiring of Mark Stoops after the 2012 season.
Fresh off leading Kentucky to its 4th consecutive bowl appearance, Stoops has made good on his pedigree as a defensive wiz, and this squad of the best Kentucky defenders of the past decade is heavy on his players. We’ve elected to list this team in a 4-3-4 alignment, even though Kentucky often favors a 3-4-4 or a 3-3-5.
DE: Alvin “Bud” Dupree (2011-14)
Dupree was recruiting by Kentucky as a tight end, but a few weeks into his freshman year, he realized that he could play early and often at defensive end. Dupree actually filled a hybrid role, not unlike Josh Allen in later years. Still, he seemed most at home as a defensive end, and we’ve categorized him accordingly.
Dupree racked up 23.5 sacks, good for 3rd on UK’s all-time list. He’ll perhaps be best remembered for his deflection and pick-6 to beat South Carolina in 2014, sealing one of Stoops’ first significant wins in Lexington. Speedy and undersized, Dupree was a versatile athlete who impressed fans in a hurry.
DT: Cory Johnson (2014-15)
Johnson was a JUCO transfer who once had 20 tackles in a single game from his defensive tackle spot. He sufficiently impressed onlookers that he was awarded 2nd-team All-SEC status in 2015. After playing little in 2014, he had 67 tackles in the 2015 season. He also had a 77-yard touchdown return of a fumble.
Johnson might be best remembered for his oversized personality. Nicknamed “Poop” after a particularly memorable press conference quip about his weight-loss strategies, Johnson brought a joie de vivre not often seen in SEC football.
DT: Calvin Taylor (2016-19)
Taylor is listed as an end by Kentucky, but given his 6-9, 310-pound size, there’s no doubt he can play inside. A deeply under-the-radar recruit, Taylor progressed from playing in 1 game as a freshman (1 tackle) to starting 1 game as a sophomore (22 tackles, 1 sack) to starting 9 games as a junior (26 tackles, 6 tackles for loss) to being among the SEC’s sack leaders as a senior (33 tackles, 7.5 sacks).
Taylor is surprisingly agile for his size and seems to improve in virtually every game he plays. His transformation from unknown into big-time player is typical of the Stoops recruiting magic.
DE: Za’Darius Smith (2013-14)
Smith was another JUCO signee, and one who brought an impressive work ethic to Stoops’ first 2 Kentucky teams. The defensive fronts for those teams certainly benefited from Smith’s imposing size and ability to get to opposing quarterbacks. Smith had 120 tackles in 2 years, including 14 tackles for loss and 10.5 sacks.
At 6 foot 6 and more than 260 pounds, Smith was one of the first Stoops players who could pass the eye test as an SEC-level athlete. Unfailingly positive, he gave Kentucky positive momentum that the Wildcats built from in finding future pass rushers.
Backups: Denzil Ware, T.J. Carter, Donte Rumph, Josh Paschal. Ware was an outstanding pass rusher but left UK before his senior season. Rumph and Carter were players who developed into outstanding interior linemen, and Paschal has rebounded from cancer to show incredible size and speed.
OLB: Josh Allen (2015-18)
Allen improved from an unheralded recruit with no other FBS offers to the Bronko Nagurski Award winner as the nation’s top defensive player in 2018. His 2018 stats — 88 tackles, 21.5 tackles for loss, 17 sacks, 5 fumbles forced, 4 passes broken up — look like something out of a video game. Allen was at the heart of Kentucky’s best season in more than 4 decades.
Allen’s versatility amazed teammates and opponents alike. He was a blindingly fast pass rusher, but he improved into a solid run stopper and a threat in pass coverage. By his sophomore season, Allen was a mainstay in the Kentucky defense, but in his senior year, he was virtually unblockable and was Kentucky’s first defensive consensus All-American since Art Still in 1977.
MLB: Avery Williamson (2010-13)
Williamson was a slightly undersized Tennessee high school product who developed first into a solid contributor at middle linebacker in 2011, and then into a star for his last 2 seasons at UK. Those seasons were both 2-10 campaigns, but Williamson played like Kentucky went 10-2 each year. He had 296 career tackles, with 237 of them coming in those brutal seasons of transition from Joker Phillips to Stoops.
Williamson led Kentucky in tackles in both his junior and senior seasons and parlayed his solid run-stopping into a solid NFL career. Williamson played sparingly in a bowl his freshman year, but while Kentucky never returned in his last 3 years, it certainly wasn’t Williamson’s fault.
OLB: Danny Trevathan (2010-11)
Trevathan was an undersized linebacker, but he was also a tackling machine, with 287 stops in his junior and senior seasons (his first 2 years were in the previous decade). Trevathan finished his UK career 10th on the school’s all-time tackle list, and he played a key part in earning UK’s 5th consecutive bowl bid in 2010.
A high-motor player who was more like an undersized safety than a traditional linebacker, Trevathan could do anything, from rushing the passer to dropping into coverage. He was perhaps at his best cleaning up running plays, and he was one of the most sure-handed tacklers in recent memory.
Backups: Josh Forrest, Kash Daniel, Jordan Jones, DeAndre Square. Forrest was nearly the middle backer selection, and Daniel had a season worthy of being picked in 2018. Jones was an outstanding but volatile outside linebacker, and Square might surpass Trevathan at the rate he is improving.
CB: Derrick Baity (2015-18)
Baity took over as a starter late in his freshman season. He started all but 1 game thereafter and steadily improved throughout his UK career. Baity finished with 148 tackles, 6 interceptions and 25 pass breakups. By his senior season, Baity was the acknowledged main cover guy in a deep and talented UK secondary. As such, opponents rarely threw his way.
Baity was also remarkably consistent, breaking up 7, 9 and 7 passes in his final three seasons at UK. At 6 foot 3, he is something of a prototype for the rangy, physical cornerbacks that Stoops prefers to utilize.
CB: Lonnie Johnson (2017-18)
A JUCO transfer, Johnson rarely faced enough passes to pick up particularly big stats. He started 18 games in 2017 and 2018, totaling 64 tackles and 9 pass breakups. Only in his final game, the Citrus Bowl, did Johnson grab his first UK interception. But Johnson was another tall cornerback (6-3) who was capable of playing tight coverage in the secondary and allowing UK’s defensive front to shut down opposing offenses. As a player who was once something of an afterthought in terms of an NFL future, it surprised many observers when Johnson was taken in the 2nd round of the draft, ahead of Mike Edwards and several of his other talented teammates.
S: Mike Edwards (2015-18)
After battling injuries as a freshman, Edwards was a key cog in helping UK earn 3 consecutive bowl berths. Edwards ended up with 318 tackles at UK, and his 10 interceptions (including 2 pick-6s) ties him for 4th place on UK’s all-time list.
A top-level athlete from near Cincinnati, Edwards was the kind of player who demonstrated Stoops’s improved cache in recruiting circles. While his early career was threatened by injuries, once Edwards was healthy and on the field, he wreaked havoc.
S: Winston Guy (2010-11)
Guy played his last 2 seasons at the beginning of the decade, and the wily old veteran won 2nd-team All-SEC honors in 2011. He had 297 tackles for his career, with 226 of those stops coming in the 2010s. Guy was athletic enough that he returned kicks as a freshman. He grew into a safety who could run with receivers and lay some hits, as well.
Guy had 5 interceptions combined in 2010 and 2011. He had 14 tackles for loss from the safety spot in 2011, and he averaged more than 25 yards per kickoff return for his UK career. One of the more significant recruits of the later years of the Rich Brooks era, Guy brought impressive intensity to the first 2 seasons of Phillips’ brief tenure.
Backups: Darius West, A.J. Stamps, Marcus McWilson, Brandin Echols. West and McWilson were multi-year players who became outstanding veteran leaders. Stamps was a JUCO guy who helped some thin UK teams, and Echols emerged as UK’s best cover guy in a surprisingly good 2019 secondary.
Punter: Max Duffy (2018-)
Duffy might be the most popular punter in America, and his SEC-leading stats make him a no-brainer pick here.
Backup: Landon Foster. Foster was a 4-year starter who got plenty of practice for some poor UK teams.
Punt returner: Lynn Bowden, Randall Cobb
Again, why mess with what works?