Arkansas QB Brandon Allen must play better in crunch time
FAYETTEVILLE – All the huffing and puffing, all the guessing and conjecture, really doesn’t matter. The Arkansas football season comes down to one position and one position only.
Yes, on the most extreme circumstances other positions will matter. If, for example, all three starting linebackers are lost to injury or suspension or a meteorite, the season won’t actually hinge on this spot.
But in every realistic scenario the Razorbacks season will be determined by Brandon Allen.
The first person to figure out where he belongs in the hierarchy of SEC quarterbacks deserves praise. The rest of us have no clue.
Allen isn’t first. That’s a given. Dak Prescott at Mississippi State is the clear top player there. Allen isn’t last either. To avoid naming names, let’s just say worst-quarterback-in-the-conference types don’t throw 20 touchdowns to five interceptions.
Anywhere else in the spectrum? Possible. Allen isn’t likely the No. 13 quarterback in a league of 14 teams. He very well could be No. 7 or 8, though. Or No. 2. His coach, at Sunday’s Media Day, laid it out as simple as he could.
Allen has to be a crunch-time player if Arkansas is to reach its apex.
“I think if Brandon Allen is going to take the step he has to be big in big moments,” Bielema said. “So fourth quarters, the moments where we really need a fifth-year senior to shine through on the road in big ball games.”
Those fourth quarters were the biggest stumbling block last year. It wasn’t just on the quarterback, but with the position comes the scrutiny.
Take last year against Mississippi State, for example. The teams were tied upon the Razorbacks’ first drive of the fourth quarter. Allen went 0 for 2. Mississippi State scored on its first drive of the quarter and went ahead by seven points. That left Allen 13 minutes, 21 seconds to make a comeback. Not a monumental comeback. Just a touchdown.
He went 7 of 15 for 111 yards. No touchdown. And a game-clinching – for the Bulldogs – interception with 15 seconds left.
It was apropos. Allen marched Arkansas down the field, from its own 18 with 2:29 left to the Mississippi State 16 with less than 30 seconds remaining. But that one play, like Bielema said, was lacking. Instead it was a pick-off and the then-No. 1-ranked team in the country survived.
Overall, Bielema was on point. Allen’s numbers took a nosedive in the final 15 minutes of games last season.
Three of his five interceptions came in the fourth quarter. His completion percentage was at 43 percent (it was 56 percent overall). His quarterback rating was 86.56 versus 129.19 over all quarters and overtime. And his completions of more than 15 yards – just nine. He had at least 16 in every other quarter but the fourth.
So Allen didn’t garner much attention in Hoover, Alabama, last month when it was time to pick the preseason All-SEC teams. Bielema said in the spring his fifth-year senior, for his money, could be the second-best quarterback in the league. And he didn’t mean come December. There is a real belief with the amount of weapons returning, a clean bill of health and new offensive coordinator Dan Enos, that Allen can reach that No. 2 slot.
As for everyone outside the Natural State, they’ll wait on those fourth-quarter numbers to improve first.