Just warning you, this is a bit of a long one, sorry!
My idea would only really be plausible if the underground was made significantly deeper, which is possible, but I imagine it would be pretty difficult to implement. I know that there are mods such as Cubic Chunks that can achieve this but either way, I think it should be done.
My idea is that as you go deeper into the underground, about half way to bedrock, over the course of maybe 15 blocks or so on the y-axis, stone transitions into Hardened Stone, which would have a darker texture than stone, be slower to mine (but not too much slower) and have a higher blast resistance etc. This would represent the earth becoming denser due to pressure and heat. In the 'Transition Zone' There would be no caves or structures, and there would be loads of small lava pockets. This, along with the tougher stone, would make the Deep Underground less accessible early-game.
On top of this, caves and structures would be significantly less common in the Deep Underground, making fewer spawnable spaces for monsters, (essentially increasing mob spawn rates), and lava pools would be more frequent. Hardened stone would drop nothing if mined with a wooden pickaxe - as well as taking ages to break - but otherwise would drop Hardened Stone (or Hardened Cobblestone, idk)
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