Friday Grid Update, 12.19

It's been almost three weeks, but Brandon Allen is still getting questions about the injury that bothered him against Missouri. He's answered them the same way for two weeks.

Brandon Allen has big plans over the next week, perhaps a grand Christmas event at his house for his teammates. He'd rather discuss that than answer the same questions about the injury that bothered him against Missouri.

"I'm fine, 100 percent," Allen said, the same thing he said last week when he met with reporters as the Arkansas football team prepares for the Texas Bowl and the Texas Longhorns. The Hogs and Longhorns meet at 8 p.m. Dec. 29 in Houston.

Allen said he's finished with the rehab from an oblique strain in the lower back that was sustained against Ole Miss and reduced his effectiveness as the Missouri game progressed.

"I've done the rehab and I feel good," Allen said. "I had a good rehab. I am throwing 100 percent. It's all good now."

The Hogs will stay in town instead of breaking up for Christmas. There are bowling trips and other activities planned. Allen said he'd like to take his buddies to his house in east Fayetteville.

"I think I'll try to take them all over," he said. "They can't go home. And, I think we'll get everyone there since they are my extended family. I've got to talk to my parents about that. But that's what I want to do."

The Hogs depart for Houston in one week, Friday Dec. 26. They are zeroed in on Texas prep.

"We have really gotten into it the last few days," said Martrell Spaight, senior linebacker. "We've watched a lot of tape and we'll watch more. We are working full go on Texas right now. We've got our game plan in place and our focus is hard on Texas."

Allen said the same thing.

"We've spent a lot of time on the Texas defense," Allen said. "We know they are big and physical and have speed, just like an SEC defense."

One of the big focus points is locating Texas defensive tackle Malcom Brown.

"They can be disruptive with their defensive line, especially Brown," Allen said. "He's a big force. We have to know where he is. They'll move him and spike him. He's a great player, but they have big, good players everywhere else, too.

"Our job is going to be to block them, open holes for our running backs. We think we can do that. We do expect them to load the box to stop the run and that means we have to find the matchups in the passing game. It's to our advantage and we want those one-on-one matchups whether it's with our wide receivers or our tight ends.

"We've had good work against Texas schemes and we've had good progress and intensity. Our bowl practices have been very intense."

One of the major developments in bowl camp has been the loss of safety Rohan Gaines, suspended for the game. It pushes Josh Liddell to first team at strong safety. It's not an entirely new position since Gaines missed time because of a targeting penalty. Liddell had to finish the LSU game and play the entire first half of the Ole Miss game.

"It's the next-man-up mentality," Liddell said. "I don't really feel any pressure since our coaches stress that the backup prepares like he's going to start. So it's no different when you do start.

"It is an exciting time for me, though. It means a lot for me to try to help the team. That's what it is all about."

Liddell said he knows the challenge in the bowl game is the same for both defenses.

"This game will be about the run game," he said. "We want to run the ball on them. They want to run the ball on us. Both teams are going to try to establish the run first. So it's on the defense to handle that challenge."

Liddell grew up in Pine Bluff and knew some about the old Arkansas-Texas rivalry.

"I'm trying to learn more about it," he said. "It's a big time game and we want to represent our state. I know Texas has a great tradition. They have a powerful team and we have to be ready."

Liddell gave a lot of credit for his solid play at the end of the year to senior safety Alan Turner, the leader of the secondary.

"Alan has played so much and he knows the ropes," Liddell said. "I listen to him. He gets up lined up correctly."

Turnr has been proud of Liddell's performance.

“I feel like Josh has improved each day," Turner said. "Day in and day out. I feel like he’s a good student of the game and that helped him a lot. He’s a good athlete. Just him becoming better as a student really helped him be in the right position and he knows the calls. I feel real confident with josh out there."

Turner said the sudden elevation to starting position in the regular season looked easy with the way Liddell performed, but is hardly that.

“It’s not easy," Turner said. "But our mentality is the next guy in mentality. We don’t want to take a step down from there. The next guy in, he’s prepared and it showed with Josh coming in and stepping in. he did a good job.

“I’m real confident in Josh. It showed in the games he did come in. The defense didn’t let down. We just kept playing real well with him in there. And it showed.” Turner said the Texas offense reminds him some of LSU in the way they look to run the power game.

“I feel like they do kind of have some similarities like LSU. But they’re kind of unique in themselves. They try to give you some different looks. The looks they do give you they’re good at executing them.”

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