State of the Hogs: Life on the Road

Brandon Allen is learning about playing quarterback in the SEC. Life isn't always easy in tough venues, especially against speedy defenses.

There was a reason to call Matt Jones, Joe Ferguson and Fred Marshall in August to ask about the life of a sophomore quarterback in the SEC.

All of those legendary UA quarterbacks expected Brandon Allen to face difficulty as he learned the ropes in a new system, as installed by offensive coordinator Jim Chaney. In fact, Jones said the transition in systems would be a big hurdle for Allen.

But nowhere in that column was there any mention of what it would be like for Allen if he sprained a shoulder in the season's third game. We'll just say, all bets are off when a young quarterback is also battling an injury to his throwing shoulder.

Allen did better with that shoulder against Texas A&M than he did at Florida. I asked another former Arkansas quarterback for an explanation.

"It's speed of the game," said Jason Allen, Arkansas' first SEC quarterback in 1992. "For a young quarterback playing his first SEC road game against Florida's speed, that's a whole different level. It's easier at home, though."

Speed of the game is the reason true freshmen have a difficult time adjusting to Division I football. Jason Allen, no relation to Brandon, said he was stunned the first time he stepped under center with the first team.

"I was behind Quinn Grovey and Peanut Adams as a true freshman, my redshirt year," said Jason Allen, an Edmond, Okla., product. "I don't know what point it was during the fall, but (quarterbacks coach) Jack Crowe called me to step in with the ones. I don't remember why, but I do remember what happened. It wasn't like anything I'd ever experienced. It was all so fast.

"I think Mark Henry was the center, Derek Russell was at wide receiver. I took seven or eight snaps and was glad when Coach Crowe took me out. I know when I did finally play the next year, it was well into the season when the speed of the game settled out for me.

"I remember one other thing that redshirt freshman year, just trying to call the play in the huddle. It's not easy to remember all of the wording of a play for a college play, so much more difficult than high school. Sometimes you feel like you've done something just to get the huddle right."

Allen said he chuckled when some suggested that the Hogs go with Austin Allen a couple of weeks back when Brandon was injured.

"It's just not that easy for a freshman quarterback," Allen said. "No one really understands. A high school defense isn't nearly as complicated as what they are running in the SEC."

The adjustments are subtle, but quick as a game progresses. Chaney gave a good explanation of what he was trying to do with Brandon Allen in preseason.

"It's not so much that I'm teaching him plays," Chaney said. "You don't have to run a lot of plays, but I want him to know how to execute all of them against about 40 defensive calls. That's what takes time."

Allen said it's like going from a two-line highway to the Interstate. And, when SEC play rolls around, it's more like the German autobahn where there are no speed limit restrictions in the rural areas. Florida was flying at Allen way over 100 mph like on the autobahn, or so it appeared.

Barry Lunney, now the UA tight ends coach, was a true freshman that first year for the Hogs in the SEC. He would take over as starter by the Tennessee game, a huge upset. Allen had lost a step after an ACL knee surgery and his passing wasn't as strong as he struggled pushing off of the repaired knee.

Lunney also remembers his first games to play as an SEC quarterback. The road games were tough.

"You go in those stadiums and you can't hear and it does bother you in communication," Lunney said. "It's impressive when you go in those 90,000-seat stadiums like Florida and it was really loud there Saturday night. You do get used to it, but it takes a few games. That and the speed of the game are adjustments for a young quarterback."

Whether it's crowd noise or the speed of the opposing defense, it doesn't take much for it to all fall apart for a young quarterback. There was a key play against Florida, at the 2:47 mark of the first half. The Hogs got the ball at the Florida 46, trailing, 10-7. Allen missed an open Kiero Small on first down. Small had running room, perhaps as much as 15 to 20 yards. Alex Collins was held to 1 yard on second down, Allen missed Javontee Herndon on third-and-9, then the Hogs punted the ball away.

The game was over before Arkansas got another real chance. The Gators got a break when officials correctly called fair catch interference (by rule, a muff has to go to the ground before the punting team can recover) at the 10-yard line. The Gators covered the distance with 20 seconds to spare in the first half, then took the second half kickoff for another touchdown to lead 24-7.

Arkansas cashed a 15-yard punt for its only points of the second half, a 30-yard Zach Hocker field goal. But the Hogs started inside their own 10-yard line on their other third-quarter possessions, the first at the 3-yard line when freshman Korliss Marshall stepped out of bounds on a kickoff. There were other UA mistakes in the kicking game. Herndon called a fair catch at the 8-yard line with the Gators out of their lanes. Herndon was also offsides on an onside kick.

There are positives in many areas, including offense where true freshmen Denver Kirkland, Dan Skipper, Collins and Henry are playing because of ability, not so much voids. Senior Jarrett Lake appears to be a short-term answer at middle linebacker. D. J. Dean and Marshall, likely to return to safety after this season, will eventually provide speed and physicality to the secondary.

That won't show up against South Carolina this week. Dean, who has been working inside at nickel back, may work himself into the mix at cornerback with Will Hines injured.

Can the Hogs beat the Gamecocks? My summer thought still holds true that this is the best week for an upset in the four-game gauntlet of SEC preseason top 10 teams. And, yes, it would be an upset. Carolina's major advantage is experience at quarterback, but this might be the week that Jadeveon Clowney goes for a statement game.

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