Saturday will mark the third start against Alabama in the 18-game starting career of Arkansas redshirt junior quarterback Brandon Allen and neither of the first two went very well.
Allen was forced into action as a redshirt freshman when Tyler Wilson was injured and was also the starter in last year's game in Tuscaloosa – both 52-0 blowouts.
But Razorback head coach Bret Bielema believes that not only is Allen – who was 10-of-18 passing for 60 yards in his college debut against Alabama - now more prepared to play against the No. 7 Crimson Tide, but he has better weapons around him.
“I know this, I wasn't here for the first one, but I was a part of the second,” Bielema said on Wednesday's SEC Teleconference. “I know going into that game that nobody prepared harder or more efficiently and was ready to take that challenge, but obviously as the game played out in front of us, he wasn't ready for it.
“The Brandon Allen that you are going to see this year is much more experienced,” Bielema added. “He has physically grown, mentally grown and I think he has a better understanding of what we are asking him to do in all phases of the game, including leadership.
“Quarterback play is based a lot on what you do, but also what is going on around you,” Bielema continued. “I think our supporting cast to him is that much better. I like where he is at and I am excited to see where he goes on Saturday.”
Las Vegas oddsmakers seem to agree with the Crimson Tide favored by only eight points this weekend.
Arkansas will be facing Alabama after coming off a much-needed bye week that happened after a heartbreaking 35-28 overtime loss to Texas A&M.
“We took advantage of the bye week and did a lot of development with our younger players on the two-deep, guys that haven't played a lot of football through the first five games and I got some time on the recruiting trail,” Bielema said.
“A lot of our guys got healthy and we also tried to remove the sting of the A&M loss and the fourth quarter and learn from it, embrace it and make it the best that you can,” Bielema added.
“We also were able to put in additional prep on Alabama, a very good football team that obviously lost a heartbreaker on the road,” Bielema continued.
Indeed Alabama – who has lost consecutive SEC games since 2007 - comes into this contest off a 23-17 loss at Ole Miss.
"Alabama is who they are,” Bielema said. “They're very, very well-documented on their success. They're extremely well-coached. Nick (Saban) has proven to be one of the premier coaches in our profession, not just currently, but over the test of time. They have a roster that is full of outstanding football players that do what they ask them to do and are very physically gifted.”
Bielema, whose program is riding a 14-game league losing streak that dates back to 2012, will be looking to deliver Arkansas' first win over Alabama since 2007.
"To make that turnaround takes a lot of hard work and a lot of effort," Bielema said. "It takes something to finally tip you over that edge, to finally get you past the point to know that this is obviously going to happen not only this time but many times in the future.
"It's a combination of both what Alabama does but more importantly what I can control what Arkansas does,” Bielema said. “That's the part that makes it a daily grind and a lot of fun."
Bielema, who didn't divulge who his field goal kicker will be this weekend, praised Alabama senior quarterback Blake Sims for waiting his time and finally getting his opportunity.
"The thing that jumps out at you, I think, is that you just watch him, you watch the players around him, and everything that he brings you can tell that the players like him," Bielema said. "I think when you’ve got a QB that your players can rally around that’s a tremendous thing – and being a senior who’s worked his way and earned the opportunity that he’s gotten, you can tell that big-time.
“I think they’ve done some very, very good things,” Bielema added. “They’ve moved him around, they’ve done certain things in the red zone that apparently fit into what he does best because they’ve been very successful. I think it’s exciting to watch a kid that paid his dues and has gotten his opportunity to be the starting quarterback at Alabama, and I think he’s going to do everything he can to show his best on Saturday."
Bielema Believes Allen's Ready for Alabama
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