Oliver Barnett is a competitor.
He always has been. It’s how he ended up playing in the NFL, and it’s how he ended up with Kentucky’s all-time sacks record, which he set in 1989.
So forgive Barnett if he’s a little bit torn about UK senior Josh Allen being just two quarterback sacks away from topping the record of 26 set by Barnett.
“I go back and forth. I want him to get it, but I also kind of like people saying, ‘Hey, you’re the record holder,’” Barnett laughed.
Every once in a while, Barnett catches himself saying “block him” under his breath when he sees Allen break free in one of those predictable pass situations that have helped him gain a Southeastern Conference-best 10 sacks this season.
“But I’m more excited that he’s back there making the tackle and it’s been great because he’s causing turnovers, too,” Barnett quickly added.
Watching Allen on the cusp of breaking his all-time sacks record at Kentucky has been a little extra special this season, too, because Barnett’s son is on Kentucky’s team.
“I’m a little disappointed it’s not him going for the record,” Barnett said of his son, Elijah, a former standout defensive end at Henry Clay, who walked on with the Cats.
“Him and Josh are really good friends. They came in together.”
The elder Barnett, who went in the third round of the 1990 NFL Draft to the Atlanta Falcons and played for the Buffalo Bills and the San Francisco 49ers during his career, has discussed the record with Allen.
“I’ve talked to him and even tried to give him some pointers,” Barnett said, “but he’s doing good on his own.”
Allen said the former UK great that he’s chasing has been great when they’ve discussed it.
“I’m real thankful that you’ve got that record, but I’ve just got to get it,” Allen said he told Barnett. “He was so supportive of me wanting to break it.”
The senior had two sacks each against Vanderbilt and Missouri, but didn’t get one against Georgia last weekend. The record could fall at Tennessee on Saturday, though.
The Volunteers have given up 18 sacks this season and 74 tackles for loss. The tackles for loss are the most in the conference and 11 more than the next-worst team. Only five other teams nationally have allowed more tackles behind the line of scrimmage than Tennessee.
While Allen is pursuing the sacks record, he’s also getting closer to breaking the tackles-for-loss one, too. Allen has 34 tackles for loss, which is second on UK’s career list.
He needs four more to best Bud Dupree, Vincent Burns and Marlon McCree, who are tied at the top with 37.
Allen leads the league and is in the top 10 nationally in tackles for loss with 14.5 this season.
Against a different Tennessee offensive scheme last year, Kentucky recorded seven sacks, including half of one for Allen.
He needs just two on Saturday, but it’s not something he’s thought too much about while prepping for the Volunteers this week.
“That’s not on my mind right now,” said Allen, who has gotten nine of his 10 sacks this season in the second half, including six in the fourth quarter. “On my mind is to get 10 wins, especially to get that eighth win this week.
“If I don’t get a sack the rest of the season, as long as we keep winning, I’m fine with that. I’m going to do my part, do my job.”
Oliver Barnett’s weekend plans are still in flux. As a walk-on, Elijah doesn’t travel with UK for road games, but the father and son have discussed making a trip to Knoxville. Barnett works for Fayette County Public Schools helping special education students develop employment skills so they can transition from school to jobs after they graduate.
It would be an extra odd situation if Allen breaks the record with Barnett in the stands and helps UK top the Volunteers in Knoxville for the first time since 1984.
Barnett, 52, just happened to be on his recruiting visit to Tennessee in 1984 when the Vols last lost to Kentucky there.
It’s been a long time.
And the fall of his record has been a long time coming.
“Records are meant to be broken,” Barnett said. “That just means the next guy who comes along is going to be even better than (Allen) at getting sacks and that’s a positive for UK football.”
No. 11 Kentucky at Tennessee
When: 3:30 p.m.
TV: SEC Network