By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
December 30, 2009
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Josh Taylor and Boogie Allen have a lot more in common than they probably ever realized.
Both are from Florida and were not real high on the recruiting lists of the Florida schools (Allen said he did get some interest from Florida). Both play defense. Both came into this year hoping to earn playing time instead of expecting it.
And both have been thrust into starting roles against Florida State in this year’s Konica Minolta Gator Bowl. Regular bandit safety Nate Sowers and regular defensive tackle Scooter Berry will not be available for Friday’s game.
Sowers’ replacement Allen has appeared in 44 career games at bandit and spur safety, getting his most substantial playing time last year as a junior when he produced 49 tackles, 3 ½ tackles for losses and a sack.
This season Allen appeared in 11 of 12 games, making starts against Liberty, East Carolina, USF and Louisville.
“I’ve played before so it’s nothing new to me,” said Allen of his starting role. “It’s just switching over from bandit to safety. I’ve played spur before, too.”
Boogie’s most significant action came in the loss at USF when he was in on 59 plays, registering four tackles and a tackle for a loss against the Bulls.
The West Virginia secondary had trouble containing USF quarterback B.J. Daniels, who passed for 232 yards and three touchdowns. Daniels also ran for 104 yards for 336 yards of offense.
“We pretty much didn’t do a good job containing Daniels, so hopefully we can go out and contain this athletic quarterback,” said Allen.
There are a lot of similarities between B.J. Daniels and E.J. Manuel. Both are extremely athletic and dangerous outside the pocket. Both have good arms and the ability to extend plays. Allen said it will be very important for West Virginia to try and confuse Manuel, making just his fourth career start on Friday.
“Disguising against a young quarterback is always a big key and that’s pretty much all that we are working on right now - getting our chemistry and knowing when to show blitzes and when not to show blitzes,” Allen said. “Hopefully we can mess him up.”
Berry’s replacement Taylor also saw significant action against USF, collecting a pair of tackles and a six-yard sack.
Unlike Allen, who turned down other schools to attend West Virginia, Taylor practically sought out the Mountaineers. The redshirt sophomore came to Morgantown without a scholarship and eventually worked his way into the defensive line rotation last spring.
He came into this season a likely candidate for playing time, but even he didn’t expect to see this much playing time.
“It’s been real crazy,” Taylor admitted.
Taylor was in on 385 snaps this year, including a season-high 65 in the Connecticut win. Then an injured back limited his effectiveness for the remainder of the season. Taylor missed the Louisville game and saw spot duty down the stretch against Cincinnati, Pitt and Rutgers.
“My back was real messed up,” said Taylor. “It took me a little bit to get it back but I’m feeling real good right now.”
With Sowers and Berry out, depth at both defensive line and secondary will be affected, meaning Allen and Taylor will likely be required to play more snaps than usual. Both say they are up to the challenge.
“We’re still trying to get a good rotation going and I think we should be able to do well with it,” Taylor said.
Allen says there is plenty of versatility in the West Virginia secondary.
“If a spur goes down then we may have to bring Sidney (Glover) to spur and move Rob Sands into bandit,” Allen said. “That’s why we have to learn all of the safety positions at the beginning of the season.”
Both Allen and Taylor said they will be playing in front of a lot of friends and family on Friday.
“I have like 12 to 16 at the game right now,” said Allen. “Most of my family doesn’t fly and they pretty much didn’t make the games up at West Virginia – other than the South Florida games we played down here – so it’s going to be big for me.”
The same goes for Taylor.
“We’ve had a couple of big games in big stadiums and I’m really excited to play Florida State and Bobby Bowden,” Taylor said. “He’s a real good coach and they are a real good team. I’m really excited to get out there and do what I have to do.”
“We worked on team situations and had a very good mental practice,” said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. “This is a typical Thursday practice for us.”
After some lifting by the travel squad, the team was scheduled to visit the Jacksonville Zoo later this afternoon.
On Thursday, both teams will be in downtown Jacksonville for a press conference and then on to the Gator Bowl Hall of Fame Luncheon at the Jacksonville Hyatt Regency Hotel.
Both teams will have walkthroughs at Jacksonville Municipal Stadium after the luncheon.
Meanwhile, the Winn-Dixie Hometown Gator Bowl Parade will take place at 3 p.m. with Florida State coach Bobby Bowden serving as the grand marshal.
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