Mark Story

Why Josh Allen’s stellar 2018 season is actually being underappreciated

Kentucky football’s Josh Allen closes out a chapter

Kentucky senior outside linebacker Josh Allen talks to the media after making 15 tackles, including two sacks, in the 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee at Kroger Field on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Allen became the school's career sacks leader.
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Kentucky senior outside linebacker Josh Allen talks to the media after making 15 tackles, including two sacks, in the 34-23 win over Middle Tennessee at Kroger Field on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018. Allen became the school's career sacks leader.

Josh Allen has been SEC Defensive Player of the Week four times this season and the Lott IMPACT National Player of the Week three times.

The Kentucky Wildcats senior outside linebacker is a finalist for the Bednarik Award recognizing the nation’s top defender; the Butkus Award which goes to the nation’s top linebacker; and the Bronco Nagurski Trophy which signifies the national defensive player of the year.

The University of Kentucky football team celebrates a 34-23 victory over Middle Tennessee State at Kroger Field on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018.

In UK’s 34-23 victory over Middle Tennessee State last Saturday, Allen set Kentucky school records for career (27.5) and single-season (13) quarterback sacks.

Yet, with all that, the body of work produced by Allen, a 6-foot-5, 260-pound product of Montclair, N.J., this year may actually be underappreciated.

The reason why is what I think of as “The Randall Cobb Factor.”

During Cobb’s three-year (2008-10) UK career, the wide receiver/Wildcat formation quarterback had a consistent and uncanny knack for imposing his will in game-deciding moments. Five times as a Kentucky Wildcat, Cobb scored a game-winning touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Cobb’s late scores beat Arkansas (2008), Louisville, Auburn and Georgia (all 2009) and South Carolina (2010).

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Kentucky wideout Randall Cobb making the game-winning catch in UK’s 31-27 victory over archrival Louisville in 2009 at Commonwealth Stadium. Lexington Herald-Leader file photo

This season, Allen has shown a similar ability, albeit as a defender, for coming through at the exact moment when the outcome of a contest seems on the line.

As Kentucky (8-3, 5-3 SEC) prepares to close out its 2018 regular season with a Thanksgiving weekend visit to archrvial Louisville (2-9, 0-8 ACC), UK backers should feel keenly thankful for Josh Allen’s penchant for big plays

Of UK’s eight victories, a late-game quarterback sack by Allen was instrumental in five of them.

Florida. Seeking to end a 31-game losing streak against the No. 25 Gators, Kentucky was clinging to a 21-16 lead inside the final minute.

On the game’s final play, Allen came off the edge and got to Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks, stripping the ball. That yielded a Davonte Robinson scoop-and-score that clinched one of the sweetest UK football victories ever.

Mississippi State. With UK holding a 14-7 advantage on No. 14 Mississippi State inside the final 10 minutes, MSU QB Nick Fitzgerald dropped to pass on second-and-8 from the Kentucky 49.

Instead, Allen sacked him for minus-6 yards. That put Fitzgerald in a third-and-14 hole on the ensuing play, and the State quarterback threw a pick that set UK up for a TD in what became a 28-7 win.

South Carolina. The Gamecocks trailed 24-10 late, but backup quarterback Michael Scarnecchia had South Carolina facing a third-and-7 at the UK 44.

Allen roared off the edge around left tackle and sacked the Gamecocks QB. The hit forced a fumble that USC recovered for an 8-yard loss that essentially sealed a Kentucky win.

Vanderbilt. Vandy had the ball at its own 46, down 14-7 with just more than a minute left. Commodores quarterback Kyle Shurmur dropped to pass on second-and-10 only to have Allen loop around the left tackle and knock the ball free.

UK safety Mike Edwards fell on the fumble with 1:04 left in the game, securing a Wildcats victory.

Middle Tennessee State. With MTSU down 31-23 but riding a wave of momentum, Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill retreated to pass on fourth-and-1 from the UK 32-yard line.

Allen came around the left tackle and sacked Stockstill for a 7-yard loss. The ball turned over on downs with 9:32 left. Subsequently, UK drove to the game-clinching field goal in a 34-23 win.

In the context of a defender as a “clutch player,” mull these numbers: Of Allen’s 13 sacks this season, 11 have come in the second half. Eight have been in the fourth quarter. The five mentioned above were, arguably, “the clinching play” in Kentucky victories.

After UK’s win over Middle Tennessee, I asked Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops — who was defensive coordinator at Arizona in 2007 when Antoine Cason won the Jim Thorpe Award as the nation’s premier defensive back — if he’d ever had a player produce a better individual season than Allen has in 2018.

“I can’t say that I have,” Stoops said. “... Just the way (Allen) impacts the game being a big guy, he’s really remarkable”

What’s been most remarkable about Allen’s 2018 is how many times he’s “come through” for Kentucky when games seemed to hang in the balance.

That’s why, in future years, UK defenders with the knack for making plays when the Cats need them most will be said to have “The Josh Allen Factor.”

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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University of Kentucky senior football players were honored on Kroger Field before their game Saturday against Middle Tennessee on November 17, 2018.

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