What impeccable timing for Pearls to laud the heady guidance of Brandon Allen last week. The SI Cover Jinx ain't got nothin' on me.
Allen tumbled into the end zone seemingly without incident Saturday, scoring the first TD of what wound up being a weird and uneven 24-3 Hog win over hapless Southern Mississippi. When he trotted off the field, arm dangling a little and a slight wince on his face, it was readily discernible that this "deep shoulder bruise" wasn't the kind of injury that could be shaken off.
Allen stood on the sidelines with his arm in a sling for the next 3 1/2 quarters. Transfer A.J. Derby finished out the win, and it was obvious that neither Bret Bielema nor Jim Chaney seemed inclined to keep the playbook splayed open for the kid. He got a little confidence from completing two short third-quarter throws, but mostly Derby's arm was employed to hand off to Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams, both of whom crossed the 100-yard mark again. If anything, Arkansas is sticking to this method of ball control with phenomenal results given the inexperience of those being entrusted with it.
And yet, reality sets in. The Hogs' combined margin of victory is an impressive 89-38...against three largely unimpressive foes. Allen was progressing beautifully and gaining swagger, only to ding himself in a most improbable manner. The forthcoming murderball schedule is so daunting that even optimal health at every position was going to be essential just for competition's sake. Now that the Hogs face a game or two with Allen gone or limited at best, the bleakness of the forecast doubles.
Derby was only allowed to throw six times against a porous Southern Miss D, which is less of an indictment of the young man's skills and more of a safety measure afforded by having an opponent in the midst of a school-worst losing skid. The Golden Eagles may have brighter days ahead under Todd Monken, but at present they are in such a shabby state that wasting playcalling creativity against them is, well, wasteful. Why should Chaney show any cards in a game like this?
This is the facet of football that our fans often fail to grasp. At the risk of being elementary in the analysis, how satisfied would you be if the Razorbacks chucked 50 passes and rolled up that many points against Samford or Southern Miss? If you can win by being vanilla, you absolutely should. It may not generate SportsCenter footage to do things that way, but at this juncture, a team in mid-makeover like Arkansas simply won't nudge its way into prominence. It will take a fairly massive tremor in October for that to occur.
There's no stated timetable on Allen's absence or return to action right now, and the coy act in Fayetteville suggests that it'll be Derby taking snaps against Rutgers this weekend in a road rematch that takes on far more curiosity and importance now. It isn't simply the fact that Arkansas feels like it laid down last year in a 35-26 loss to the Scarlet Knights, but more of a sense that Rutgers has a great obstacle of its own that probably carries more impact on the team than Allen's presumed absence would. The Knights' seasoned signal caller, Gary Nova, tossed five TDs in the win last September, but is also ailing after getting a concussion against Eastern Michigan. Arkansas leans so hard on Collins and Williams that it still has strengths to assert if Derby is left to game-manage up in Piscataway. That said, it's also a reasonable expectation that Hunter Henry and Jeremy Sprinkle will be more involved this weekend; nothing helps a nervous thrower quite like a pair of large and reliable targets in the middle of the field.
This will be a monumental test without Allen, but let's not mince words: It was going to be tough regardless. The Knights are a respectable program with a burgeoning tradition. You can deride East Coast football all you want, but Greg Schiano pushed this program to new heights and Kyle Flood seems well equipped to keep it there. The Hogs can't assume anything and wouldn't have, given their own known flaws, but if Allen is unable to wing it then they'll likely enter this one with a plus sign on the Vegas line.