State of the Hogs: Brandon Allen Makes THE Play

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen outduels Chad Kelly with THE play of his Arkansas career in a 53-52 overtime thriller in Oxford. Allen made THE play in a game of big plays with a winning two-point run as the Hogs beat No. 18 Ole Miss, 53-52.

OXFORD, Miss. -- Matt Jones left Vaught-Hemingway with the reputation as a baller as a true freshman. It took Brandon Allen late into his fifth season to do the same. But it was still beautiful stuff when Allen got an overtime victory lap in the same stadium Saturday night.

A few weeks ago, Allen was the guy who couldn't make THE play in the critical spot. Now, he's done in one overtime what  Jones took seven extra periods to achieve, win a 53-52 epic in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Allen crashed into the end zone on a two-point run after getting second life on a face mask call -- one that even Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze saw -- to earn him a place in Arkansas folklore with a special offensive duel against spectacular Chad Kelly, the Rebel quarterback with the baller reputation.

The rap against Allen until two weeks ago against Auburn was that he didn't make the big play. Oh, how that has changed in just 14 days. He made almost all of the plays against the Rebels, completing 33 of 45 passes for 442 yards and six touchdowns, the last number for a school record. But the biggest was the two-point play that doesn't show up in the record books.

On a called quarterback run, Allen made a hard cut around his right end and extended the ball with his right arm across the goal line in a memorable collision. Allen was prone in the end zone for several minutes while the bells quit ringing in the head. He eventually was lifted by his teammates for a ride around the field -- not that the fifth-year senior enjoyed it.

"I wanted down," he said. "It was too high."

Allen said he was fully aware of the ride, although there was a time as teammates celebrated around him that he wasn't having much fun.

"I've had my bell rung before," he said. "I'm fine. I answered all of the questions right (in concussion protocol checks)."

He was clear how it ranks in his personal highlights. As he was contemplating the answer just after talking about hearing the bells, I thought of his old coach Bobby Petrino and his famous line about ringing the bell, it comes when you hit your "best performance to date."

Allen finally said, "It ranks close to the top."

Allen wouldn't downplay the longer OT victory over Auburn in Fayetteville. He called that a momentum builder. No doubt, it provided confidence for the offensive explosion that was needed to match Kelly, the SEC's top passer.

Bobby Allen, Brandon's father, saw one similar aspect. A member of coach Bret Bielema's administrative staff, dad ended up with Brandon's helmet in the post-game celebration just like after the Auburn game.

"I don't mind this," Bobby said. "If that's my job now, I don't mind. I'll get his helmet off the field every week if they need me to add that as part of my job description. I can handle it."

Brandon said, "I guess that's right, he ended up with it again. I really didn't know what happened to it. He's shoulder (recently surgically repaired) is strong enough to carry that, but not much more."

Teammates were singing Allen's praises. One of the biggest heroes on the night tried to deflect credit to Allen. Tight end Hunter Henry, credited for the brainy lateral to help erase a fourth-and-25 to keep overtime hopes alive, said he believes that the bashing about the quarterback are now ancient history. There was mention by players of Allen's truck being egged and torched after tough losses when he was perceived to have played poorly -- even when there was nothing around him as far as playmakers.

"His back has been against the wall," Henry said. "People complain and it's made him mentally and physically tough.

"He's just a tough dude. It's been a long three years and a lot of times things went the other way for him and our team. But you saw him stick his nose in there to win the game. I'm so proud to catch passes for him. You should have seen him this week. He was just awesome in practice and that's exactly the way he played tonight.

"A lot of people dog him. I'm close to him and I've seen it. The thing about it, he just blocks it out. He does not hear or feel the noise. But you see what he is. The proof is in the pudding. You saw it. Everyone saw it. He was just crazy good out there."

There were plenty of other heroes. Drew Morgan, with nine catches for 122 yards and three touchdowns, outdueled great Ole Miss wideout Laquon Treadwell, the SEC's top receiver. Morgan didn't practice Tuesday or Wednesday because of what he called "a shoulder irritation." He joined Dominique Reed, Heny and Jared Cornelius with big games as pass catchers.

Many in the Arkansas interview room were talking about finally getting a good bounce. Bielema mentioned the lack of big breaks over the last three years. Morgan was asked if it was karma.

"I don't believe in karma," Morgan said. "I don't believe in luck. I believe in God."

There was talk of an answered prayer. But it is true that several teams in the SEC have had answered prayers. One of the big ones in the Ole Miss season was a touchdown heave out of pressure Kelly when Alabama defenders spun him around on what looked to be a probable sack.

Morgan didn't think Hunter's play was anything other than brilliance by a smart player.

"I have been around a lot of great plays in my football days and a lot of smart plays, but I've never seen anything that smart," Morgan said. "No one in the huddle said throw it back if you don't get the first down. Hunter came up with that all by himself."

There were many other heroes, including a big play from an unlikely defensive end, redshirt sophomore Karl Roesler. Many of the Louisville, Ky., reserve's more heralded  defensive ends room on chances to make plays on Kelly or other Ole Miss backs. But on a third-and-1 at the Ole Miss 38 in the final minute of the third quarter, Roesler shot the gap and hit Akeem Judd in the backfield and linebacker Brooks Ellis helped finish off the play for no gain. It forced a punt and gave the offense a boost.

"It was a tie game and they got a stop, Karl and Brooks," Morgan said. "We saw that and it lifted us. We said, 'Let's go get this done.' We had been playing a lot of catch up and that was a turning point. Then we got more turning points, the play by Hunter, the run by Alex Collins and then the two-point play."

Morgan said the Hogs had the Ole Miss defensive backs on their heels all throughout the game.

"They were going backwards and we didn't think they could cover us," he said. "Watching film, we didn't think they could. They weren't very big, not like those 6-2 guys we saw at Alabama. We thought we could make plays and we did. We knew they weren't going to press us and we knew we were going to be open.

"We are getting some guys back and we have more playmakers now. We've got a lot of guys who are making plays all over the field."

Allen said it was a blast.

"Yeah, kinda fun," he said. "We had the feeling on the sideline that we could do whatever it took. It was a really fun game."

The only time Allen had any doubts was the sack on the first try at the two-point play. But he was pretty sure it was going to draw a flag on the tackle.

"He had my face mask pretty good," Allen said. "I really thought I was going to spin away from him, but he got my face mask and tugged it pretty good. I was looking right at the official and thought he would call it."

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze had a good look, too.

"I haven't seen the film yet, but there was a face mask call that seemed like it was the right call," Freeze said. "It was a very difficult way to end the game. It doesn't surprise me though."

Earlier Freeze said, "Our plan was obviously not very good. Their quarterback played at an extremely high level. We struggled in every one-on-one situation we had ... and the number of big plays we gave up was very disheartening."

There was an even better "official" reaction to Allen's play from the Oxford police. A clever staffer tweeted during the game, "Asking us to kick the Arkansas QB out of the stadium is not a legit reason to dial 911."

Bielema was as excited as Freeze was disheartened. He was so excited that he blew the exit line at the interviews. Asked to look ahead to LSU, instead of saying he was just ready to "hop" on the plane for home to celebrate a grand victory, there was a mention of his wife instead of the plane. His wife Jen was in the room and laughed, as did everyone else.

It could have been oh so different if Alex Collins hadn't scooped up the lateral after it was slightly deflected by 6-10 Dan Skipper, bouncing perfectly off the field turf to the running back.

"I saw Hunter get wrapped up and think the game's over," Collins said. "Next thing I know, I see the ball flying through the sky. My first thought was let's try to make something happen out of this. I just ran for my life out there to try to get the first down."

Collins didn't think he had made it to the first down sticks and tossed the ball in the air as he went down. Reed was following the play and instantly covered the ball.

"I saw the stakes and knew it was good for the first down," Reed said. "I know Alex didn't think so. So all I had to do was fall on the ball."

Bielema was already thinking about a two-point conversion to break the tie as Collins ran for the goal line. He told offensive coordinator Dan Enos to get a play ready when the overtime came around.

"When we scored with 53 seconds in the fourth quarter, I wanted to go for it then," Bielema said. "But I didn't want to put that on our guys before that series. I said before we started overtime, be prepared to go for the two point conversion. During the long delay after that play, I told the players if we make this touchdown, stay on the field and go for it."

Bielema bubbled about Allen's play.

"A lot of guys have talked about him and some of you guys have written about him, but I can't say enough about our quarterback, he is an example of a gladiator," Bielema said. "He made some adjusted throws and was accurate all day.

"The first two-point play was a pass route and it was covered. The second one was a called quarterback run. We couldn't call it from the 3-yard line, but we could from the one-and-a-half yard line (after the face mask penalty).

"The other play, that's called Hunter Henry divine intervention, do or die and then there was a line of blocking. I thought Alex was going to score. We got a ball to bounce the right way. We haven't gotten many for two years and nine games."

Then, it was time for Brandon Allen to earn himself a big spot in Arkansas football history with a game winner. I was thinking about the way his coach described the victory over Texas in the bowl game with the now famous "boderline erotic" line. After Bielema bumbled his thoughts about hopping on the plane, borderline erotic finally seems just right.

Outside the interview room, Bielema said, “I can’t believe what I just said.” It was a night for a lot of unbelievable stuff.


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