How concerned should Arkansas fans be about Austin Allen?
It was ugly. Simple as that.
Watching Austin Allen play football on Saturday against TCU was not fun for Arkansas fans, or really anyone who wasn’t rooting for TCU.
For most of the afternoon, Allen didn’t look like the guy many believed was the SEC’s best quarterback entering 2017. He didn’t play like the fifth-year senior who swore off silly mistakes in the offseason.
Instead, Allen delivered his worst performance from an accuracy standpoint (39 percent), and his only game with fewer passing yards (138 yards) was the 2017 opener.
Not all of that was Allen’s fault, which many were quick to point out. He didn’t have many open receivers and the ground game couldn’t do anything.
For some, Allen wasn’t to blame for Arkansas’ three-touchdown loss against TCU. The aforementioned factors weighed heavily on his performance and would’ve prevented anyone from succeeding. I can see the logic in that. But others might be legitimately worried about their signal-caller. Quite frankly, I can’t blame them, either.
So what level of concern is appropriate?
Well, there should at least be some concern.
No, one game doesn’t define a season. But let’s not pretend like Allen lit up the world in the season opener against Florida A&M. Even though the run game was clearly the focus, 135 yards with one touchdown pass and an interception isn’t exactly the type of production the Razorbacks were hoping to get out of Allen.
I went into the TCU game saying that while Allen’s season debut wasn’t very impressive, it was also possible that Arkansas didn’t pull out the full arsenal for Florida A&M.
But against a ranked TCU squad at home, you better believe Arkansas’ full arsenal was out. The problem was that it wasn’t loaded with much. On seemingly every replay the CBS crew showed, it looked like Allen’s receivers were covered. That certainly played a part in his 9-of-23 accuracy.
Allen can’t control when his pass-catchers drift to the back of the end zone and negate what should’ve been an easy touchdown. He also can’t control his receivers ability to, as he would say, “run the route!”
Still, let’s not give Allen a free pass. He missed plenty of throws that he shouldn’t have. In the third quarter, he had a touchdown pass on a throw to Deon Stewart after he actually ran a nice route. Allen got a pass interference call, but it should’ve been six and he knew it.
There were other times in which Allen either made a throw his receiver had no chance to catch, or he didn’t find his check down. Clearly, he wasn’t in rhythm. For a guy who’s used to throwing the ball 30-35 times in a game, it looked like Allen was out of sync in every way.
Let’s not forget that the Razorbacks’ inexperience on the outside was a legitimate preseason concern. SEC Network analyst Greg McElroy left Allen out of his preseason ranking of the conference’s top three quarterbacks because of what was around Allen.
“You can’t play quarterback by yourself. Right now, we don’t know enough about their wide receiver corps,” McElroy said on the air. “I feel good about (Jared) Cornelius, he’s solid, but he’s never been a (No. 1 receiver). I think they lost a lot of key personnel off the offense in terms of firepower, and I’m still not sold on their offensive line.”
The offensive line has been better so far, but the receivers have been concerning, exactly as McElroy suggested. Arkansas was essentially without its top seven pass-catchers from last year in the first part of 2017. Cornelius spent fall camp dealing with a back injury, and based on his two receptions for eight yards so far, it’s clear he’s not ready to take on that No. 1 roll yet despite what he said before the TCU game about being 100 percent.
JUCO transfer Jonathan Nance is Arkansas’ leading receiver with 100 yards, and half of those came on the 49-yard touchdown that saw TCU’s coverage completely break down on a play-action pass.
The troubling thing right now is that Arkansas’ passing game is entirely dependent on defensive breakdowns to score. Allen doesn’t trust his young wideouts to make 50-50 plays.
Even worse is the fact that he’s trying to do more scrambling of his own. The offensive line might be improved, but that won’t matter a lot if Allen is taking unnecessary shots trying to keep plays alive until someone can get open. As tough as he is, Allen is in jeopardy of getting beat up just like last year if that doesn’t change.
There’s no guarantee that anything will change around Allen. Cornelius could get his explosiveness back, which would help, but Arkansas still has an unproven group of pass-catchers and the running game is a major question mark. There’s also the issue of solidifying the left tackle spot, and you know, Allen being better.
We won’t get to see Allen have a bounce-back performance against some FCS school this weekend. Instead, we’ll wait until Sept. 23 for the Texas A&M showdown at Jerry World to see if he and the Razorbacks’ offense made some necessary adjustments.
They have to. Whether Allen is the main person to blame or not, he knows he has to make the best of his circumstances.
If he doesn’t, it won’t be very fun to watch him or Arkansas in 2017.