UK Football

Could Josh Allen be Kentucky’s next ‘bad dude’ on defense?

The sack he didn’t get of an Eastern Michigan quarterback in the end zone last weekend is still eating at Josh Allen.

“Aww, man, it hurts,” he said on Wednesday with a sly smile about the one that got away. “But I gotta make up for it.”

Allen, Kentucky’s junior defensive end, has done plenty in his first five games so far this season. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound junior is tied for fourth in the nation in total sacks with 5.5 so far, second in the Southeastern Conference.

The goal is to be the guy who leads the nation in sacks by the end of the season, he said.

“I’m at a good pace right now,” said Allen, who also has 30 tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss and a team-best three quarterback hurries. “I’ve just got to finish strong in the next six games or seven games we play. I’ll try to get a couple this game, try to get more than what I have.”

Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops dodges a bit when asked if Allen is having a Bud Dupree type of season, if Allen is rising to the level of the UK defensive end who was picked in the first round of the NFL Draft in 2015.

“I don’t know,” Stoops said. “It’s hard for me to make that comparison right now. Bud was a bad dude.”

So is Allen a “bad dude?” (A compliment, by the way, in Stoops circles.)

“He’s a bad dude sometimes,” Stoops said laughing. “I’m teasing, Josh. Josh has played really good.”

When pressed a day later about Allen’s potential to be a first-round NFL Draft pick, for him to be Kentucky’s next Bud Dupree, Stoops is less evasive.

“As a true sophomore, Josh was far and away better at some things than Bud did at that time,” Stoops told the Herald-Leader. “Some things, but not others. Bud was physically big and strong, and Josh will get there, but Josh has instincts on his feet that Bud never had at this age.”

That’s a lot of praise for the junior on the cusp of becoming a household name in the SEC.

“Bud’s a heck of a player,” Allen said when asked about comparisons to the now Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker. “He did a lot here and he’s doing a lot in the NFL. I’m honored to be compared with him, but I feel like we’re two different players who play two different ways.”

Allen has a different kind of goal in mind: “I’m trying to make my own legacy here so people can compare me to people.”

In that way, Allen is well on his way.

Those instincts Stoops talked about really set him apart from other players at his position, said UK senior offensive lineman Nick Haynes, who tries to offer tips from the other side of the ball to sack hunters on UK’s defense.

Allen has a “quick first step, but also the intelligence to know that this guy is off balance and I can sneak back inside and get a sack or this guy isn’t on the same level as me, so I’ll try to get by him and get a sack,” Haynes explained.

“He’s smart and his IQ is growing that he knows how to get to the quarterback.”

Allen’s quick first step has been causing problems for offensive tackles all season. He’s had a sack in each of the last five games.

Missouri will try to end that streak on Saturday at Kroger Field. The Tigers are tied for No. 10 nationally in taking care of quarterback Drew Lock, giving up only four sacks on the season.

They have given up only 14 tackles for loss, which is third-best nationally and second best in the league.

Cats coaches have gotten good at putting Allen at different positions, which makes it tougher on an offensive line, Stoops said.

“He’s played some positions where the offensive line can’t get real comfortable with what he’s doing,” Stoops said.

Allen is fast and versatile, but he’s also willing to work at it with film study and extra work.

“It’s God given and he’s matching it in effort,” outside linebackers coach Dean Hood said of the junior.

“He has a great first step that’s causing problems for people. He’s smart and he understands the game and situations in the game. It makes him tough to stop.”

Jennifer Smith: 859-231-3241, @jenheraldleader

Herald-Leader columnist John Clay contributed to this report.

Next game

Missouri at Kentucky

7:30 p.m. Saturday (SEC)

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