Last week we discussed the UK offense’s deepest position groups which included guard, tight end, and running back. We now shift the focus to the Wildcat defense. Kentucky must replace six starters going into the 2021 season. Attrition impacted the Cats in multiple spots along the defensive line, cornerback, and linebacker. However, the safety/nickel position group returns all its starters and key contributors. Yusuf Corker leads a group of Wildcats that have significantly contributed to the SEC’s back-to-back, top ranked pass defense.
Let’s take a look:
Yusuf Corker is a 6’0, 200-pound All SEC safety who has been a mainstay in the secondary for Mark Stoops. Corker has played in 37 games with 24 consecutive starts. Highly active vs. the run, Corker has accumulated 159 tackles in three seasons. He finished 2020 with 77 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, 2 interceptions, 2 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble. 2019 saw the McDonough, Georgia native lead the team with 74 stops. Corker was named All Conference by PFF and Phil Steele.
Known as an extremely hard working player, Corker has taken more of a leader role going into his senior season. His value to the Wildcat defense can’t be overstated. The senior’s presence and impact on the third level brings on an increased level of confidence in Kentucky’s pass defense.
Tyrell Ajian has played in 36 career games as a Kentucky Wildcat. The 6’0, 190-pound safety from Mansfield, Ohio started 10 games a year ago and finished the season with 48 tackles, 1 interception, 1 forced fumble, 1 pass breakup, and blocked 1 kick. The strong safety has played in 36 games and started 12. Ajian’s diverse skill set and playmaking ability allows Brad White to be creative with his defensive play calling.
Much like with Yusuf Corker, Ajian is a veteran playmaker that has played a great deal of college football. Experience can’t be taught. Brad White having two senior starters at safety can only be considered as a major plus.
Davonte Robinson returned to UK for an additional year of eligibility. The Lexington, Kentucky native has played in 37 games with 8 starts. Robinson missed the 2019 season with a quadriceps injury but returned in 2020 to play a significant role in the Wildcat secondary. The 6’2, 213-pound starting nickel is best known for recovering a Feleipe Franks fumble after he was sacked by Josh Allen and returned the football 30-yards for a touchdown to seal the Wildcat’s win over Florida in 2018.
Robinson will be playing his sixth year of college football in 2021. The senior has seen it all and possesses the preferred measurables to be the Wildcat’s designated medium defender.
Quandre Mosely is a versatile defensive back that has played the vast majority of his UK career at safety. Mosely joined Davonte Robinson by announcing his return for an additional season in Lexington. He’s played in 23 career games with 2 starts. Mosely played cornerback against North Carolina State out of necessity in the Gator Bowl. That position change could prove to be permanent. But, he can play all five spots in the secondary. His veteran approach and the ability to play multiple positions designate a high value for the Wildcats.
Vito Tisdale played as a true freshman in 2020. Tisdale quickly garnered a reputation as being a big hitter in 10 games. He racked up 20 tackles for the season including 6 stops in a win over NC State in the Gator Bowl. Tisdale brings depth to the group but also offers a physical presence in UK’s medium packages. He also has the skill to cover opposing slot receivers.
What Does All This Mean?
I rated three offensive position groups for the UK offense as possessing quality depth going into the 2021 season. Remember, we are not analyzing projection in this two-part post. We are taking a look at proven production. The Wildcat defense was hit much harder by attrition and sports just one group that could be classified as having quality depth.
While depth is an issue at other spots on the Wildcat defense, Kentucky is absolutely loaded at safety and nickel. The veteran laden position group is the strength of Brad White’s defense. Having game-changers at the defense’s back end allows a coordinator to become more forceful against the run and additionally creative via the blitz or coverage against the pass. Yusuf Corker is the best safety in the Southeastern Conference. Robinson and Ajian have played a great deal of meaningful snaps and bring a veteran presence for what could be a youthful defense. Tisdale’s hitting prowess is being compared to former Wildcat tough guy Melvin Johnson. That’s quite a compliment for the sophomore from Bowling Green. Quandre Mosely can play all five secondary positions. His diversity is a much-needed trait that can act as a depth-chart multiplier.
UK lost starters at defensive tackle, nose tackle, inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and both cornerbacks. However, the safety/nickel position group brings back a wealth of experience and playmaking ability. Corker, Robinson, and Ajian combine for 42 career starts and have made multiple game-changing plays. If you enjoy safety play, 2021 could be a joy to watch.