When it comes to the list of all-time sack specialists at the University of Kentucky, it’s good to be the king. And for the Kentucky Wildcats, it’s even better that the king was crowned Saturday afternoon at Kroger Field.
Josh Allen highlighted a seven-sack onslaught as the Cats fought off Middle Tennessee and insanely accurate quarterback Brent Stockstill, 34-23.
The first of two Allen sacks, the one that pushed him to the top, couldn’t have come at a better – and more dramatic – time.
Kentucky had gambled. Facing fourth-and-one at its own 41 with 11:34 left in the game, Mark Stoops elected to go for it. But MTSU turned back QB Terry Wilson’s quarterback sneak attempt, stuffing him for no gain. Down 31-23, the Blue Raiders went to work.
Stockstill, who finished 30-of-33 for 293 yards and three TDs, soon had his team at the Kentucky 32 facing third-and-one. A rushing play went nowhere, thanks to a stop by senior safety Darius West.
Fourth-and-one, now, and Stockstill dropped to throw. Sprinting off the edge came Allen, slamming into Stockstill, burying him and the Blue Raider drive.
That sack made Allen UK’s all-time sack king as he slipped past Oliver Barnett by one half-sack, at 26.5. Then he did it again on Middle’s next drive, bumping his single-season total to 13 and sliding past Dennis Johnson for the new, single-season record.
Nobody in UK history has ever sacked like Josh Allen.
“People don’t understand how hard that kid works,” said middle linebacker Kash Daniel, a man who can appreciate a good defensive play. “That guy literally has a family to provide for and he’s out here playing his you-know-what off and to see him break that record was unbelievable.”
Daniel was referring to Allen’s son, born last off-season. The younger Allen was one of the reasons Josh gave for returning to UK for his senior season. He wanted to put himself in the best position possible heading into the NFL Draft, all the better to support a young family. Mission accomplished.
“I’m extremely happy,” Allen said. “I can remember every day just going through whether I should come back or leave. Deciding to come back, I knew I had something special this year. We have a special team and I knew we were going to do special things. I worked extremely hard for moments like this.”
There came a point where it seemed Allen might not get a shot at those moments. MTSU was keeping the Cats off-balance with a combination of short, quick passes and slashing runs.
“The way their run game was, we were stacking them some and couldn't get him coming off the edges as much as we would like to,” Stoops said. “It was even aggravating to me. I was like, ‘Hey, let's get Josh going here.’ But he's just, he doesn't even think about it. He wanted the record, but not at the expense of our defense and what we're doing and game planning.”
It was also the first time in weeks that the Wildcats had been able to play with a lead. Both Tennessee and Georgia had jumped out on Kentucky, which meant neither the Vols nor the Dawgs had to face obvious drop-back passing situations. And the Wildcats didn’t lead at Missouri, incredibly, until all 60 minutes had drained off the clock.
But with MTSU desperately trying to make up the one-TD deficit with the clock running low, Allen and his teammates took dead aim at Stockstill.
“I can’t thank the defensive linemen enough for doing their jobs and allowing me to have unique opportunities to make plays like that,” Allen said. “I commend everybody in the secondary.”
The Kentucky DBs provided coverage sticky enough that Stockstill had to hold onto the football long enough for Allen and his D-line buddies to converge on him. They sacked him a total of seven times.
And it was a UK defensive back, senior safety Mike Edwards, who provided the Wildcats’ first score of the day, a pick-six only 90 seconds into the game. It was part of a scoring burst that saw the Cats ease off to a 24-7 lead, only to see the Blue Raiders make a game of it.
Allen helped put it away, Kentucky ringing up regular-season victory number eight for the first time since 1984. And the Wildcats can make it nine next Saturday against arch-rival Louisville. But that game will happen at the other end of I-64.
This one came at Kroger Field, Allen and 15 other seniors bidding farewell to what’s been their home for the past four seasons.
“I know a chapter has to end,” he said. “I’m ready to move on and go from there, but just to be out there one last time and go all the way was just unbelievable.”
It was one for the books.