Josh Allen has been strengthening his draft stock all year.
No, not that Josh Allen — the rookie Buffalo Bills quarterback — Kentucky’s outside linebacker, Josh Allen.
The 6-foot-5, 260-pound pass-rusher has dominated just about every defense he’s faced this year. His eight sacks and 12.5 tackles for loss rank seventh and ninth in the country, respectively. On top of that, he’s forced three fumbles this year — only four players top that.
CBS Sports has the Green Bay Packers selecting Allen 23rd overall in their latest 2019 NFL mock draft. If it weren’t for the deepest pass-rushing class in years, Allen would likely see his name called in the Top 10 come April of 2019.
Allen has racked up five sacks in his past three games, and the Missouri offensive line will have its hands full all game long. Giving Drew Lock time in the pocket and keeping him upright are indicative of how he plays, and it’ll be especially important Saturday, as Kentucky’s run defense is among the best in the country.
The Wildcats rank second in the SEC in both rushing and total defense, as well as third in passing defense. They allow just 301.9 yards of offense per game (12th in FBS) — 112 on the ground (17th in FBS) and 189.9 through the air (31st in FBS).
But what sticks out most is their sheer dominance in locking down opposing offenses. Kentucky’s defense has let up just 12.9 points per game (2nd in FBS) and 11 touchdowns (4th in FBS) through seven games.
They do so by stuffing up the gaps on runs exceptionally well and making quarterbacks uncomfortable and therefore, less efficient.
The Wildcats have allowed just 3.44 yards per carry through its first seven games. Not only have the Wildcats given opposing running backs fits, but quarterbacks haven’t fared well, either. They’ve allowed an average passer efficiency rating of just 105.53 (12th in FBS) and a completion percentage of 53.3, while allowing just six passing touchdowns all year.
While all that certainly doesn’t bode well for Missouri, it gets worse.
Kentucky has the No. 3 red-zone defense in football, allowing just six touchdowns in 17 trips (35.3 percent). Only three teams have played less times in the red zone, and nobody has given up less rushing scores in the red zone than Kentucky’s three.
Missouri has one of the better offenses in the country, but its kryptonite lies in the red zone. The Tigers have the 54th-ranked red zone offense, scoring a touchdowns just 57.1 percent of the time.
They seem to kick field goals in crucial moments far too often as well. Missouri’s losses against Georgia and South Carolina could be blamed on the Tigers’ ineffectiveness in the red zone. Missouri easily could have put the game away early against the Gamecocks by turning field goals into touchdowns, and Georgia gave the Tigers chances to come back at certain points, but not converting deep in the Bulldogs’ territory kept the comeback from happening.
So, how can Missouri put up points against Kentucky? By relying on the offensive line to win the battle in the trenches.
One of the Tigers’ biggest strengths offensively is a talented, experienced line. When Lock has time to throw the ball and isn’t running all over the place, he’s as good as they come. Missouri’s passing game is at its best when they can throw the ball down the field and take the top off defenses.
That big-play potential opens up holes for the running backs and shorter routes over the middle of the field. When Lock is rushed, that big-play potential is diminished greatly, and Missouri is forced to play a dink-and-dunk offense — something they don’t excel at.
If the Tigers’ big boys win that battle up front by establishing the run and giving Lock time back in the pocket, it could be another huge day for the Missouri offense.
That’s a big if, though.