State of the Hogs: Backup Plan

Quarterback AJ Derby wasn't the problem in Piscataway. Arkansas didn't do enough in other areas to close out victory.

The life of a quarterback isn't always fun. Yes, the quarterback gets the girl. He's big man on campus.

I can remember Quinn Grovey telling me how his life changed just before his first spring at Arkansas when he was deemed "the next great thing" in the newspapers. Of course, the predictions were accurate, unlike AJ Derby's passing arm, as any fan can tell you today.

If you are not the next great thing, or the first time a flaw is noticed, you are roasted by an entire state. And everyone has flaws.

Right now, Derby's every move is criticized. After the 28-24 loss to Rutgers, Derby's throwing motion is bad, his footwork suspect and someone told me his ability to throw the deep pass is about the same as mine.

It is time to move on to Austin Allen, a true freshman still in a redshirt, right? Never mind that when Brandon Allen returns, his younger brother would then be back on the bench with a full season gone.

The question I hear hourly is how can a backup not be ready to play? Why does the offense have to be limited when a quarterback goes down?

Some pointed to the way the Arkansas offense clicked with Tyler Wilson four years ago at Auburn when Ryan Mallett was knocked out of the game. Wilson did look marvelous, for about two quarters.

It was an incredible thing to watch Wilson find Jarius Wright and Greg Childs for big play after big play as Arkansas matched Cam Newton touchdown for touchdown. But Wilson had been on campus longer than Ryan Mallett and been groomed in Bobby Petrino's offense for two springs. He was a third-year sophomore, playing in his ninth Division I game.

Then, the inevitable happened. Wilson, threw two interceptions and the game quickly turned into a rout.

But Derby didn't have the luxury of stepping into an offense loaded with talent at wide receiver. He wasn't turning and handing off on the wide receiver sweep to Joe Adams. It was Keon Hatcher. And Derby hasn't been on campus for three seasons. He arrived in January.

Expecting a backup quarterback to play at the same level as the starter overlooks the fundamental issue. The backup isn't as good as the starter or he'd likely be the starter, right?

One of the issues is just the state of the quarterback position at Arkansas. It's a new system, with new coaches and with inexperienced quarterbacks.

Brandon Allen got around 80 percent of the snaps in preseason camp. That means Derby got most of the rest and Austin Allen, the designated third QB, got almost nothing. Anyone who is ready to move to Austin Allen probably doesn't know what it feels like as a coach to switch to a quarterback with almost no practice snaps.

I've heard plenty blame Derby for the loss to Rutgers in the last three days. I don't get that. Derby did enough to help his team to a 24-7 lead. Yes, Tevin Mitchel scored one of the UA touchdowns on a pick six. Jonathan Williams tossed a halfback pass to Hunter Henry for another touchdown. Yes, Sam Irwin-Hill produced another big play with a pass to Alan D'Appollonio on a fake punt.

I get all of that. But it was what Derby didn't do that helped his team maximize its opportunities. His team didn't have a turnover. There was a penalty on third-and-1 when center Travis Swanson and Derby balked.

Derby's play was a plus, not a negative in his first start. Backup quarterbacks going on the road for the first time have done far worse.

The offensive line is going through growing pains, too. They are in game four with a new system, too. Grady Ollison, Brey Cook and Mitch Smothers are at new positions and new blocking schemes.

Arkansas did not block the Rutgers front Saturday in Piscataway, N.J. As line coach Sam Pittman, one of the nation's best (and that comes from Nick Saban), said Sunday night, it was a disappointing performance. Pittman said he wanted better blocking and wanted it to be "on the other side of the line."

So what does that mean? Rutgers used speed and quickness to get off the ball faster than the Hogs. Many times when the Hogs did engage, it was more in a catching mode instead of a downhill, across-the-line of scrimmage mode. Pittman said Rutgers "two-gapped" the Hogs, meaning they overloaded gaps confusing the assignments for the blockers.

It reminds me of the things Mike Summers, Petrino's first line coach at Arkansas, talked about as he was installing his blocking schemes. It's a teaching process when you change systems.

It makes playing quarterback a challenge when the blocking isn't great. No, blaming the backup quarterback for that one is out of line. I give AJ Derby credit for being good enough that the Hogs should have won at Piscataway.

Hawgs Daily Top Stories