FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — The most popular player on a losing football team is the backup quarterback. The sentiment has been true since football began. It remains true for 2017 Arkansas.
Popularity, however, is irrelevant to quality. In fact, popularity sometimes has an inverse relationship with quality, at least, when it comes to sports. For some reason, against all logic, there exists this notion with quarterbacks, if one isn’t working, the other will.
“It can’t be any worse.”
Oh, it can be worse.
The Arkansas coaching staff may be faced with such a question — which quarterback to start? — Saturday against Alabama. Regular starter Austin Allen is nursing an injured throwing shoulder and is termed day-to-day. He hurt it early in the Razorbacks’ 48-22 loss to South Carolina last week, a game in which he played poorly.
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No one knew until Tuesday, when Allen was available for media interviews, at what point the shoulder was injured. Most thought it must have been late in the game, just before the fourth quarter, because that’s when Allen was pulled for redshirt freshman Cole Kelley. Turns out, Allen said, it was in the first quarter. He played through pain for the rest of the game until things got out of hand.
Kelley, in Allen’s stead, went 8 of 13 for 140 yards with a touchdown and an interception (a pick-6). Offensive coordinator Dan Enos called Kelley’s play “flawless” outside the interception.
So, with Allen’s less-than-stellar numbers this year (11th in the SEC in completion percentage, 11th in yards passing, 13th in touchdown-to-interception ratio, 11th in passer rating) and Arkansas’ 2-3 start, fans are clamoring for Kid Kelley — even if Allen is healthy enough to go against Alabama. Time to see what Kelley can do, they say.
Nope. Wrong move. For several reasons.
You really want ‘the future’ to go get smoked against Alabama?
One of the arguments for Arkansas rolling out Kelley instead of Allen is a presumption that Allen will get lit up against the toughest defense in the country.
Let me get this straight, then: You want, instead, to play a redshirt freshman with zero career starts and throw him to the wolves? Like, “Here you go, kid. Let’s see what you got.”
I don’t understand that. It’s would be a shame to get Allen’s body beaten down further (which, it probably would), but it would be OK for it to happen to the 6-foot-7, 260-pound Kelley just because he’s bigger? If Kelley gets sacked 6 times, which is a real possibility with this offensive line, his confidence and his body are going to be shattered. Never mind the knockdowns he will suffer after he’s thrown the ball. Never mind the designed quarterback runs which will leave him open to defenders coming at full speed.
If the Razorbacks want to get Kelley experience for the future, this isn’t the game in which to do it. The idea that Kelley should start instead of Allen is ludicrous.
Austin Allen earned it
I’ve been saying Arkansas would have been 5-7 in 2016 without Allen at the helm. He was the best passer in the SEC last year. He was a preseason All-SEC quarterback. Allen’s history of success combined with inexperience behind him means he should play, if healthy.
On Tuesday, Allen laughed at the notion of not playing. He deserves to start if he wants it.
Most important: Austin Allen gives Arkansas the best chance to win
Will Arkansas beat Alabama with Kelley at quarterback Saturday? No.
Will Arkansas beat Alabama with Allen at quarterback Saturday? Highly unlikely.
That’s not a knock on Kelley, who looks the part of future starter. Eighteen career passes, though, does not inspire confidence. Remember when Allen was the No. 2 to his brother, Brandon, and Brandon went down injured a time or two? Austin was considered by many to be more talented, and coach Bret Bielema and the offensive staff groomed him carefully. It was the smart move. As a sophomore, Austin Allen wasn’t going to go out there and beat anyone with his arm.
As a junior, Austin Allen did. After he gained experience and took some lumps, he was ready.
Maybe the fans saying Kelley should start actually want Bielema gone. Maybe they prefer to see this season be flushed. Preserving Arkansas football for the long run is more important — so wipe this slate clean and restart next year. If Kelley is the future, why not make him the present?
If that happens, it’s a disservice to the quarterback who has kept Arkansas afloat through the roughest waters in the Bielema era.
The post Don’t be ridiculous: Austin Allen should start for Arkansas at Alabama appeared first on SEC Country.