By LARRY VAUGHT
He’s a consensus All-American, multiple winner of national defensive player of the year awards and a likely top 10 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft.
That’s why it’s no surprise that Penn State’s players already know so much about Kentucky senior linebacker Josh Allen going into the Citrus Bowl matchup Jan. 1 in Orlando
“Josh Allen’s a great player. They’ve got great linebackers. The defensive front likes to hold up blocks. A lot of the linebackers get reads. Josh Allen will do what he wants to do,” Penn State junior offensive lineman Connor McGovern said.
Penn State running back Miles Sanders, another junior, says it’s easy to understand what Allen has received so many postseason honors.
“You turn on film and you kind of see him automatically with the game record in his eyes. He’s a great player. It’s going to be a good challenge for us,” Sanders said.
The Penn State running back says playing against Allen makes anyone want to play harder.
“You play your heart out. You can’t fear no man, in my eyes. He’s the same player – he’s a player too. He’s playing the game for a reason, we’ve all got reasons to play,” Sanders said.
Nothing wrong with Sanders feeling that way. Kentucky star running back Benny Snell certainly wouldn’t back down from facing a star defender. And make no mistake about it, Allen has become the star defender that opponents know plenty about.
“They’re definitely real challenging on defense. They’ve got a dude – Josh Allen, I believe he was the SEC Defensive Player of the Year – real talented,” Penn Sate senior Nick Scott said. “I know our offensive players only look at that as a challenge and are excited about the opportunity to play against a guy on the defense with so much notoriety.”
Sanders knows the reputation Southeastern Conference teams have for being so good on defense, but he says Penn State faces solid Big Ten defenses, too. However, he admitted going against a defense led by Allen is exciting.
Penn State coach James Franklin joked he had sent a Twitter direct message to Allen suggesting he might want to “save” himself for the draft and skip the bowl game.
“But obviously that didn’t work,” Franklin said.
Allen has 28.5 career sacks, including 14 this year. He has 11 career forced fumbles to tie the school record held by Danny Trevathan. He leads the team with 84 tackles and leads the SEC in sacks, tackles for loss (18.5) and forced fumbles (5). He’s won three national defensive player of the year awards.
“I think the biggest thing is his length and his athleticism and how twitchy he is,” Penn State coach James Franklin, the former head coach at Vanderbilt, said. “Obviously when you’re considered the best defensive player in college football, the way he’s been able to impact the game in so many different ways, that’s probably what’s been so impressive. How twitchy he is, how productive he is, his length.”
Franklin said at 260 pounds, Allen is just what NFL teams are looking for.
He kind of fits the model,” Franklin said. “I think, like anything, you’re always looking for the biggest, the strongest, the most athletic guys that you can use in a variety of different ways. I think he’s a really good example of that.”
Franklin says it will be a “chess match” for the Penn State offense to figure how to neutralize Allen in the Citrus Bowl. They’re trying defensively to put him in situations to make plays, and we’re trying to do the same thing formationally. How can we do things formationally to limit his impact?” Franklin said. “Same thing from a scheme standpoint. Obviously, we better have an awareness of where he is on every single play. That’s the chess match constantly. What can we do with some motions, things like that, to limit his impact?”
Based on how no team has really been able to do that this year, Franklin better do a lot of figuring between now and Jan. 1.