ATHENS — Off the field, there aren’t many better talkers on Georgia’s roster than Asher Allen.
Whether it’s blaming the secondary’s lack of interceptions on some cursed energy drinks or advocating for the use of tear-away jerseys to help referees keep tabs on overaggressive wide receivers, Allen rarely misses a chance to offer a witty, yet poignant, quote.
It’s not without a healthy dose of irony then that it’s Allen who has been perhaps the quietest member of Georgia’s defense on the field this season. During the best of times for the embattled defense, Allen’s numbers have hardly stood out. During the low points that have nagged at the team, particularly during the final month of the season, Allen remained a steady if unspectacular influence.
After 12 games, Allen hasn’t earned the notoriety that might be expected to accompany a future NFL cornerback, nor has he taken much heat for the collapse of a defense that finished the regular season ninth in the SEC in pass defense.
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“If you watch film, it’s been a really good year as far as being able to manage my side, being able to take a player out and make it 10 against 10,” Allen said. “That’s what I really try to do every week. But obviously not having any interceptions, things like that, that’s what marks a corner is how many picks he can get.”
Last season — his sophomore campaign and his first as a starter — Allen was among the best defensive backs in the SEC. He finished the season with 64 tackles, two sacks and three interceptions and appeared poised for an even better season as a junior.
This year, Allen’s numbers have declined across the board. He has just 44 tackles and has yet to record a sack or an interception.
Of course, there are reasons for the drop off that go beyond the box score. His breakthrough performance a year ago earned Allen a healthy dose of respect from opposing quarterbacks who have consistently attacked the other side of the field in the passing game.
Perhaps even more importantly, Allen has played the latter half of the season with a broken hand that defensive coordinator Willie Martinez said has changed the schemes the Bulldogs have been able to run and taken away Allen’s biggest asset — his physical style.
“Not being able to catch a ball, not being able to grab and tackle,” Martinez said. “He’ll have full use of it in the bowl game, but that’s pretty hard to do and also play.”
Allen isn’t interested in excuses. Regardless of the root causes, the final results tell as much of the story as he cares to hear.
His team lost three games. The Bulldogs won’t be playing for a national title, failing even to win their own division. The defense’s shortcomings — and by association, Allen’s shortcomings — have been major reasons why the team fell short of its goals.
“I’ve had my chances, and obviously I should have gotten those,” Allen said. “Not being thrown at that much, you’ve got to take advantage of the times when you can get something. I need to go after them a little more aggressively.”
While Allen isn’t satisfied with his performance this year, his coach said the junior has been a key part of the success the defense has had this year.
While Georgia’s pass rush has struggled and its highly touted middle linebacker spent much of the season injured, Allen has been one of the strengths of the defense, Martinez said.
“He may not show the stats, but he’s a guy that we ask a lot of in the scheme, and he’s got to come through,” Martinez said. “He’s been solid, even if you don’t hear his name as much.”
Where Allen’s name might be heard in a few months is at the NFL draft.
Although Allen still has another year of eligibility remaining at Georgia, experts have him pegged as a second- or third-round pick should he leave school early, and that’s a decision he has yet to make.
“You never know,” Allen said. “I’m just trying to make a wise decision. But as far as looking forward to next year, I won’t even think about it until after the game.”
The game in question is the Capital One Bowl — Georgia’s final game of the season, Allen’s final chance to record his first interception of the year and possibly the final time he will suit up in a Bulldogs uniform.
Allen insists, however, he hasn’t given that possibility much thought. He said he takes the same approach to every game — that it could be his final one. The fact that this one truly could be won’t change anything.
“If you get too caught up in things like that, it takes you away from the game,” Allen said. “I’ll just worry about (the NFL) later. It ain’t going anywhere.”
What is on Allen’s mind as Georgia prepares for its date with Michigan State on Jan. 1 is that zero on the stat sheet. Whether or not he’s leaving Georgia, he doesn’t want to finish a season without an interception.
After all, he can do all the talking he wants, but that number speaks volumes.
“If teams are going to avoid me, I’ve got to go get them,” Allen said. “(In the bowl game) I’m going to be going for the ball like no other.”