It was hard not to watch Missouri on Friday and see where Arkansas was three and four years ago. The Tigers were without their top quarterback. Freshman Drew Lock was unable to handle the basic things that are required to make plays against an SEC team.
It's simple stuff like recognizing fronts and knowing which routes would come open. Delivering the ball on time and moving the chains.
It's the things that Brandon Allen does for the Arkansas offense as taught by new offensive coordinator Dan Enos. It's the kind of stuff that's required to be successful in the SEC. And, it's things that I think Austin Allen can do for Arkansas next year with a year under Enos. And, along with emergence of the wide receivers, it is one of the big reasons the Hogs went 7-5 and 5-3 in the SEC. It's just the eighth winning record for the Hogs since joining the league in 1992.
Austin Allen will be a fourth-year junior when he most likely becomes the starter for the Arkansas offense next season. He'll have to beat out some youngsters in the spring, but one of the reasons I think it will be Austin Allen is watching Lock struggle on Saturday. Rafe Peavy, Ty Storey and Ricky Town are still learning all of the subtle areas of a pro offense.
I watched Brandon Allen execute the calls at the line of scrimmage to get the Missouri slanting front blocked right time after time in Arkansas' 28-3 victory Friday. It was simple stuff, but it's so difficult to execute correctly.
It can be all the difference in a game. It was against the Tigers. Rarely did Missouri get Arkansas blocked correctly in the same game and it doomed the chances for Lock to be successful. It's as simple sometimes as counting the defenders in the box, right and left. It's as simple as noticing an over shift here or there by the front, getting that communicated to the center and passed down from guard to tackle.
Alex Collins was the main benefactor in all of that against the Tigers. It was so smooth. Allen executed it seamlessly. He'd turn to Collins and identify the mike linebacker, then again if Missouri's front shifted. There were some beautiful plays in that progression, including a set with two tight ends in the backfield in front of Collins in the deep I-formation. I don't really know what to call that set. Maybe a diamond or a triangle.
All I know is that it worked to keep the Missouri ends from crashing in on Collins as he picked a hole between the tackles. Credit Enos for a masterful plan and for Allen in getting it right play after play.
Allen told me after the game that he called the run play at the line at least 50 percent of the time against the Tigers.
"We called the play both right and left in the huddle and then I'd check it at the line," Allen said. "It might have been 50 percent, maybe 60 percent of the time."
There are a few run tags, too. That's a running play with a pass attached. Allen said the conditions didn't allow for those checks so much this week like the previous week against Mississippi State when he went for more passes because of the blitzes.
I wanted to know if Allen might have checked to a quarterback keeper to convert a critical third-and-3 in the second quarter to keep alive the touchdown drive to make it 21-3.
"No that was a called quarterback run from Coach Enos," Allen said. "I have never changed a called run for me. If I hear that, I'm going to take that play."
Allen was eight of nine passing on the three touchdown drives that led to a 21-3 halftime lead. He did not attempt a pass in the 34-yard drive in the third quarter that put the game away. Well, I didn't have any doubts at any point in the second half.
Allen said he had no doubts during the week the Hogs would play well, just as they have almost every week since the bye.
"It was just a normal week for us," he said. "We were upset we lost and we looked at the tape. But we put it behind us, like normal. You have to. You have to prepare the same no matter what happens."
Obviously, that's Allen's strength. He's been solid emotionally no matter if fans or media were ripping on him because of a poor play here or there.
"It's just incredible," Sebastian Tretola said. "He's the same guy every day. Just a rock. That's why he's a captain. You can count on him to practice well and play well."
Bielema campaigned for Allen in the post-game media briefing.
"I'll be very disappointed if he's not All-SEC first team," Bielema said. "He's just been so good for us in all areas. He's just such a good kid. Those of you in the media who interview him know it. He's been treated harshly by some and so many kids would fire back. He never did. I love him.
"People said bench him, then last week they said I didn't throw him enough. I called this week to get him invited to some kind of a senior bowl. I think he will and I think the scouts will like him. I think he'll be drafted and make a team."
Collins was terrific all season. With Allen getting him the right side of the line for his runs, Collins did the work behind that veteran offensive line that seemed to get better each week after the Toledo game. They ran for over 200 yards in six SEC games and that's one more than its total from the previous three years combined.
But it was about the threat of the pass. With playmakers on the outside and Allen hitting them for around 65 percent, safeties were unsure on how to play the Hogs. Outside linebackers had a devil of a time dealing with tight ends Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle. And, when they covered those two, there was gutsy Drew Morgan dancing open at the next level.
I never knew who the third-down option was going to be this season and that's a change from last year when it was generally Henry. This team could erase third-and-12 with a flick of Allen's wrist. And, Allen did one thing much better than in the past, he stepped up in the pocket for big plays. Always in the past, he was floating wide or towards his own goal line. That was Enos teaching him better pocket presence.
That kind of coaching is going to serve Austin Allen well. Teammates say Austin throws the best deep ball on the team. He's added 10 yards on his overall length and his arm keeps getting stronger. He's been a solid performer in practice all season drawing compliments from wide receivers and coaches.
A quarterback with receivers is an awesome thing to see. Austin will have playmakers like Dominique Reed, Jared Cornelius and Morgan as proven playmakers. It's apparent that Keon Hatcher plans to return after getting a medical redshirt as a redo for his senior year. There is help on the way with Henry likely gone to the NFL. Will Gragg, C.J. O'Grady and Austin Cantrell have been solid players in the redshirt developement program at tight end. Also, Deon Stewart and La'Michael Pettway will help at wide receiver.
The line will have to be rebuilt. I think Denver Kirkland will return. He's got a shoulder that has been less than perfect all season. He'll be much better next year and his draft status will soar. Frank Ragnow will move to center to replace Mitch Smothers. Perhaps Brian Wallace steps in at tackle and Dan Skipper slides back to guard, or vice versa. I'm guessing a big guard from the JC ranks gets a chance at guard, too. Ragnow was terrific down the stretch and may emerge as an All-SEC player next year after an inconsistent start of the season.
Running back is a question mark. Jonathan Williams seems headed to the NFL. There were some questions about that on Monday when Bielema seemed to suggest the injured senior could return. It may well come down to how that repaired foot feels in mid January. Collins is likely gone, but said there are questions in his mind. What I'll say, he loves it in Fayetteville. No one has lived the college life better than the man they call AC. It may just be that he wants another year in the Ozarks.
Defense needs an upgrade in all areas. The pass rush needs a boost of speed. McTelvin Agim and Jamario Bell are just what the doctor would prescribe. I think Austin Capps has speed to help up front, too. Redshirt T.J. Smith is going to help at tackle, too. Agim and Bell are quick and strike like a water moccasin. Agim will be in the end rotation early and is a future NFL pass rusher. His presence will help the likes of Deatrich Wise and Jeremiah Ledbetter. There is nothing like competition to lift play. Wise was good the last six weeks when he got seven of his eight sacks.
Linebacker play was spotty, mainly because the best sidekick to Brooks Ellis was a true freshman with no linebacker experience. Dre Greenlaw made some plays, but was lost at times.
The depth could come from Kendrick Jackson, loaned to the offense for one year with no proven blockers at fullback. He'll be back on defense for bowl prep. Dwayne Eugene will continue to develop after missing three weeks with a broken wrist. There are solid linebackers on the commitment list in De'John Harris, Jordan Carmouche and Alexy Jean-Baptiste.
There needs to be some more speed found to help in the secondary. There wasn't enough depth at cornerback and injuries to DJ Dean and Cornelius Floyd ruined that group down the stretch. Thought to be a strength in preseason when Bielema said his corners could play with anyone in the nation, it was clear to see that the UA brain trust didn't believe in them enough to play press.
Safety play was spotty, too. Tackling was often an issue. Rohan Gaines graduates, but Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez return. Both need to make big jumps. Willie Sykes and Nate Dalton are freshmen who could help here. But it's clear the Hogs missed graduated Alan Turner as much as they did Martrell Spaight, Trey Flowers, Tevin Mitchel and Darius Philon. All of those last four got shots in the NFL. But Turner had led the Hogs in tackles the previous two seasons before finishing second to Spaight last year.
The 2015 defense just never came together. The Hogs could not stop the three good spread teams on the schedule -- Texas Tech, Ole Miss and Mississippi State. And, they had a tough time against Tennessee-Martin, too. There were some highlights, like some fight for almost three quarters against Alabama, a great second half at Tennessee and decent play against LSU and Missouri.
See, it all comes down to quarterback play. Tennessee was decent at quarterback with Josh Dobbs. The others were void at quarterback, including Alabama.
So it's the same for spread teams as in a pro offense. The quarterback makes things go. It's the difference so much of the time.
I'm sure that a good portion of the bowl practices will be devoted to quarterback development. Enos has seen a lot of Austin Allen, since the backup does get a good number of reps in practice. He'll want to look more at Peavy, Storey and Town in scrimmage situations. And, perhaps he'll want to see a lot of Town. He traveled and kept charts on the sideline, getting involved in sideline communication. That tells me he's coveted, just in case anyone wondered. He's got a strong, live arm. He's the wild card in the quarterback drama.
But I don't worry as much about this position as I did a few years back. Bielema has steadily added quarterbacks and has another committed in 6-7 Cole Kelley.
Bielema is going to keep adding quarterbacks. No one ever wants to be like Missouri was last Friday. I remember those days, like going to Rutgers with only A.J. Derby as an option.
Thankfully, that's not where Arkansas is right now. I like the quarterback prospects for several years. Lock may be a good player in time at Missouri. But he was a freshman outclassed by a wonderful senior making all of the right moves in the huddle at the line and with the football on Friday.
Now it's time to wait on the bowl selections, set for next weekend. Let me say, the Liberty Bowl is a likely destination for the Hogs. I think big brother will do well enough to get Austin Allen some snaps, if the defense can get enough stops.