There's been a lot said and written about Brandon Allen's performance against Ole Miss. It's appropriate. It's one of the all-time best by an Arkansas football player, perhaps the best. I couldn't think of a better one and neither could Butch Davis, a Razorback grad in the stands to watch the 53-52 Arkansas victory.
I've been asked to rank it among the many individual performances by a Razorback. First, there are some qualifiers that make it special. First, it was on the road against a quality SEC opponent. The Rebels were ranked No. 18 and were sitting pretty, trying to win their last three games to go to Atlanta for the SEC title game for the first time.
The Rebels were healthy and had a stockpile of mental ammunition after the Hogs pulled a 30-0 surprise last year in Fayetteville. Even Chad Kelly, the fine Mississippi quarterback, bought in to the revenge theme and he wasn't even on the team last year. That's how complete the pay-back motivation permeated the Ole Miss team.
Lastly, the Hogs needed every last inch the senior quarterback could provide. Allen's 33 of 45 for 442 passing yards was required to best Kelly's 24 of 34 for 368, along with 110 rushing yards.
Davis, color analyst for ESPN, attended the game. His son is a redshirt sophomore on the Ole Miss squad. Davis said his ESPN contract gives him one weekend a month off and he generally uses it to visit Oxford where he ends up cooking on Sunday night. He was reached by telephone Tuesday.
“My son will bring four or five of his teammates over and we'll cook,” he said. “So I was there. I will say that I thought it was a great game by two very fine quarterbacks. Between the two of them, they may have set defensive football back 100 years.
“I really was trying to think of a better game by an Arkansas quarterback. I couldn't come up with one. I am aware of many of the good quarterbacks to play there, including Joe Ferguson, Bill Montgomery, Quinn Grovey, Clint Stoerner, Matt Jones, Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson.”
Davis was wowed by Allen. The former NFL and college coach has seen Kelly before and said it was his best game, but not as good as Allen.
“Brandon was spectacular,” Davis said. “It was a great game plan and perfect execution. The whole thing with what Arkansas did was brilliant and it started with Brandon.
“I assume that Ole Miss thought the Arkansas blueprint was to bludgeon them with the run game, maybe 40 times between the tackles. Because that's what they lined up to stop. Arkansas was just semi effective with the run game, but Ole Miss had zero answers for that passing game.
“I say that because after maybe the first series, Arkansas moved the launch point for Brandon and it was different for about every play. The pass rush never caught up and the coverage couldn't handle what Arkansas was doing. They hit them underneath and then because of the time they gained in moving the launch point with the bootlegs and waggles, the deep crossing routes were open and I mean open.
“And, if they weren't open, Brandon would throw them open. He did that time after time. Rarely was he in the same place and that kept the Ole Miss rush off balance. He found those second tier guys with some great throws.”
So what are we measuring Allen's performance against in Arkansas football history? I can give you some games with just pure numbers that top Allen's personal stat line. But you have to throw in his team's incredible total offense number of 605, achieved against a Mississippi defense considered at least decent. Again, the Hogs needed every single yard, every point in the overtime victory.
I go back to some of the great days by a bunch of Razorbacks and they came in relatively easy victories. There was not near the drama as was the case in Oxford.
For example, Darren McFadden's best game was in a double digit victories. He made 321 yards rushing in a 48-36 victory over South Carolina in 2007. This is lost on some, but McFadden scored only one rushing touchdown that day. I tend to rate Dickey Morton's 271 yards at Baylor in 1973 higher because Hogs needed all of them in a 13-7 victory. Morton scored both UA Tds.
One of the most incredible games I can remember was Quinn Grovey's shootout with Houston's Andre Ware in 1989. Grovey piled up 256 passing, 79 rushing and five TDs in a 45-39 victory in Little Rock. The Hogs made 647 in total offense that night.
Tyler Wilson and Ryan Mallett both had some incredible passing days. Wilson's best performance was in rallying the Hogs to a 42-38 victory over Texas A&M. Wilson re-wrote the UA passing record books with 30 of 51 for 510 yards and three TDs. My favorite Mallett game was a come-from-behind winner at Georgia that came down to the wire. Mallett was 21 of 33 for 380 with three TDs. Again, it was quality of the opponent and the setting that makes those two neat.
Some complain that star defensive efforts are not considered in this list. I'll give you a few. Ronnie Caveness, All-America linebacker, made 29 and 25 tackles in back-to-back Texas games, the latter
But not one of these includes the elite performance ending with a winning play and a collision at the goal line and the star laying prone in the end zone with doctors racing to his side. None. That's the remarkable part of Allen's finish at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
It was a wild scene. The Rebels really didn't know how to handle it. They thought they had won it twice before, except for the play Brandon Allen, Hunter Henry, Dan Skipper, Alex Collins, Drew Morgan and Dominique Reed combined on to erase fourth-and-25 to keep the overtime alive. Then, the Hogs got another life when Marques Haynes tackled Allen by the face mask to give the Hogs a second chance at the winning two-point play.
Allen cashed that chance with a quarterback keeper around his right side, blasting into Trae Elston at the goal line, extending his arm into the end zone.
I stood only a few feet away. I was trying to take notes on what was happening. The first thing I wrote down, there were bottles, cups and other objects being hurled into the end zone by Ole Miss fans. That was the bad stuff, then the good began to happen.
Several of Allen's teammates rushed to him, but didn't pile on. They knew he was injured. They had seen what happened to Rawleigh Williams two weeks earlier and feared for Allen's health.
Eventually, as Allen was helped to his feet by doctors sure he was okay, the Ole Miss quarterback, on his way off the field, took a detour and patted Allen on his left shoulder pad. It was an amazing move by one spent gladiator applauding another's better performance. I will always give Kelly credit for that move.
I did hear a few Ole Miss fans yell “nice game” to Allen as he headed off the field about 15 minutes later after getting a victory lap on the shoulders of Mitchell Loewen and Deatrich Wise, two of the defensive linemen who struggled to get Kelly to the ground. Wise had the lone sack on the day. There were six whiffs when pass rushers came free.
Allen did it all in this game. He threw wonderful tight spirals into tight coverage. Floated perfect passes into the flats for tight ends running free. He bought time, often to his left, to give receivers time to make one more move not in the pattern, each time finding them with a little different throw.
There were brainy checks that allowed Collins to dance through the Rebels when they backed into coverage. Collins made 108 yards on 17 tough carries, plus there was the 31 yards that goes down as receiving yards on the pass back from Henry for the play no one will ever forget. It's been called Swine Intervention, Henry's Heave, Hail Henry and other cute names. My daughter Becca even suggested background music for the season highlight video that will surely end with that play. She said, “Play Carrie Underwood, Jesus Take the Wheel.”
I've got another take on why all of this happened. It's the combination of so many things, but surely the mesh of what new offensive coordinator Dan Enos began last winter when Bret Bielema made the amazing hire of the then head coach at Central Michigan. I give Bielema as much credit for plucking Enos out of the Mid-American Conference as last year when he made Robb Smith his defensive coordinator. Yes, Enos has taken the wheel and steered the Hogs through the SEC road mine fields with victories at Tennessee and Ole Miss. Could he get a third at LSU. It can happen.
It's been an interesting ride with Enos. He immediately began the task of blending his passing game system, with new terminology, to what line coach Sam Pittman, with a different set of calls, was using up front. There was a learning curve for the quarterbacks and receivers as they learned new routes, new concepts and with quite a few option routes and double moves not present the previous two seasons.
The passing game got so much attention in the offseason, spring and August that the running game was out of kilter to start the season. It didn't help that Jonathan Williams was lost in the first scrimmage. But it was clear that something wasn't right with the running in both the Texas-El Paso and Toledo games to start the season.
There was no mesh up front. There was chaos in the way the Hogs were trying to incorporate pulling plays with a rebuilt line, with Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper both playing tackle and Frank Ragnow sliding from center to guard.
Bielema got that fixed, urging Enos to concentrate on the power running that had made the play action passing so tough for the Hogs the previous two seasons. It was that rebirth in the running game against Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Tennessee that proved the difference against Ole Miss.
Well, that might seem like a bit of a stretch, since the Hogs made but 163 yards on the ground against the Rebels. But it was the fakes to Collins that made the linebackers bite and put Jeremy Sprinkle and Henry open in the flats on the bootleg passes by Allen. When the linebackers followed the tight ends, Allen went to the next man down the field, sometimes Dominique Reed, Jared Cornelius or Drew Morgan. It was beautiful stuff, the complete execution of the total Enos package.
Imagine the defensive coordinator trying to decide where to focus coverage. Few have two quality corners and seldom do they have three. Allen has gone to having one go-to man in Keon Hatcher to three, four and five in on the same play, counting tight ends. And, there are a few screens to really discombobulate the idea of a blitz.
Still, it starts with the run. Collins can confound run fits because he can make the free man miss. He did several times when the Rebels did get some penetration. Ole Miss changed its scheme for the Hogs, moving a defensive end to middle linebacker to put one more heavy in the box. But he was never able to make the transition from run to pass on Allen's smooth fakes to Collins then a quick move outside.
I also give Bielema credit for keeping Michael Smith, criticized the last two years when the Hogs struggled to field competent wide receivers. Bielema knew there hadn't been much to work with for Smith, an old friend from their Kansas State days. Smith has gotten great performances from his group in the last three weeks with the emergence of Morgan and Reed, along with the return of Cornelius. There could be a little more depth this week with Cody Hollister coming back after a broken foot has healed.
There needs to be a little more defense if the Hogs are to win a night game at Baton Rouge this week. LSU is better on defense than Ole Miss. The Hogs aren't likely to get into the 50s again this week after three straight weeks with at least half a hundred on the scoreboard.
No, they'll have to figure out a way to force Brandon Harris to pass, as Alabama did by stuffing Leonard Fournette. The Hogs were the last to do that, in a 17-0 victory in Fayetteville last year to begin a stretch of five SEC victories in eight tries. They'll have to find their ability to tackle for that to happen. The Hogs did alright against Derrick Henry in Tuscaloosa, so there is hope.
I can't figure out why the Hogs have missed so many tackles, especially in sack situations. Sometimes they over ran Kelly. Sometimes, he just appeared too strong for an off balance reach. The rushers have to be more on balance when they arrive at the quarterback. I think some of it was wanting the sack too badly.
This defensive line has some ability. I like the big-play potential with Jeremiah Ledbetter, Tevin Beanum and Wise. But the defender who made the biggest play Saturday wasn't even on the depth chart. Karl Roesler, not among the top 10 defensive linemen, made a third-and-inches stuff in the third quarter to force one of three Ole Miss punts.
Davis thinks it will be another fun game. He's seen LSU play. Obviously, he likes Fournette, but doesn't think the Tigers have the balance that Arkansas will take to Baton Rouge.
“Schematically, I think the Arkansas offense gives them a good chance,” Davis said. “They can play keep away from Fournette like they did with Kelly.
“What LSU has to worry about is letting Alabama beat them twice. And, I like the formula Arkansas has found on offense. What Arkansas has to do on defense is make sure they contain Brandon Harris, the LSU quarterback. He's not capable of doing what Kelly did as far as those scrambles, but they've got to finish some plays.”