By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s receiving weekly Southeastern Conference awards and national attention. He’s climbing the NFL mock draft charts.
Senior linebacker Josh Allen also has helped Kentucky get off to a 5-0 start while increasing his quarterback sack career total to 20 1/2 with plenty more likely to come.
“We were all doing our jobs. It wasn’t just one guy doing this. I commend the whole defense,” Allen said after the 24-10 win over South Carolina last week. “We knew we had to step up and make big plays and it happened. I just executed and did my job.
“Once we got our defense going, that was all she wrote. We (the defense) like the game in our hands. We know when we are out there nobody can score on us. I love these guys. I love to play with them every Saturday. I love to play with them every day. There’s just no stopping us now.”
He might be right.
For the fourth straight SEC game this year, Kentucky will be an underdog at Texas A&M Saturday night. The first three times — at Florida and home games with Mississippi State and South Carolina — the Cats won each time. Not only did they win, but they won each game but a double digit margin.
Allen leads the SEC in sacks with six and tackles for loss with 10.5. Safety Darius West is tops in the SEC in passes defended with seven. Kentucky is also third nationally in scoring defense.
Allen embarrassed the Mississippi State offensive line when it chose not to double team him. South Carolina tried to spread the field often to make Allen play more in space and then often double teamed him yet he still had eight tackles, three sacks, four tackles for loss and a forced fumble. In the last two games he has 14 tackles, four sacks, six tackles for loss, two quarterback hurries, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
He needs six sacks to become UK’s all-time leader (Oliver Barnett has 26) and three to tie Bud Dupree for second with 23.5.
“I love when teams have to game plan against me. I feel like that is respect and I feel like if they don’t show respect to me I have to take it out on them,” Allen said.
He’s doing that and more. He’s dominating, something few defensive players can do. Early in my career covering UK sports I got to watch All-American defensive end Art Still do that for Kentucky in 1976 and 1977. Allen is doing the same type of things now. Remember at Florida when he knocked down a two-point conversion pass when the Gators were trying to rally and then forced a fumble that turned into a UK touchdown on the game’s final play. That’s the kind of clutch plays Still used to make — and UK did go 10-1 in 1977.
Allen thought about leaving UK for the NFL instead of playing his senior season. He opted to come back because he expected UK’s defense to be better and thought the Cats could make their mark in the SEC this year.
“We have a team full of veterans on defense. We are supposed to play like this,” Allen said. “It is not spectacular. It is normal to us. It’s business. Defensively we are just controlling everything and I am loving it.
“I came back because we had something special here. I feel like we can really make a run for everybody. We feel like nobody can beat us. Just get on this train and roll it until we get to the top.”
That train rolls into Texas A&M Saturday night on ESPN. Texas A&M is coming off a so-so win over Arkansas.
Texas A&M has two losses but they are to Clemson and Alabama, two teams considered likely college football playoff participants.
“I have never played there. I want to see what it is about,” Allen said. “But we are going down on a business trip. We know it will be loud and jumping but we have a team full of veterans and we’re ready for that.”
Coach Mark Stoops said Allen put a lot of thought into coming back to UK even though the coach didn’t want to divulge all that went into the process.
“He most definitely would be on an NFL roster this year. But he decided to come back and make a difference for the rest of his life. He’s playing some incredible football. Really, I know statements get blown up and get headlines so you have to be careful not to get crazy with it, but he is playing some outstanding football, as good as I’ve seen,” Stoops said.
As good as Stoops, the former defensive coordinator at then national power Florida State, has seen?
“With all the things that he does and how versatile he is and how hard he’s playing and how dynamic he is. With his pass rushes and doing good in coverage, he’s just doing a lot of things good,” Stoops said.
Stoops confirmed that teams are doing multiple things to try and slow Allen down with little success so far. Kentucky also uses his versatility to disguise its defense at times.
“But most of the time, we like to let him go,” Stoops said.
With all Allen is doing, letting “him go” has to be the easiest coaching decision Stoops has made this season.