Doc Harper: Brandon Allen Skepticism Warranted, But Don’t Write Him Off


Doc Harper Bio PageIt never fails.

The mere mention of Brandon Allen’s name brings out visceral reactions from many Razorback fans. Regardless of his stats or specific plays this spring, plenty of fans seem to think they saw all they needed to see last season. They become the 21st century version of Randy Quaid’s character in Major League II, filling the Internet and talk radio with the same type of venom once reserved for Rick “Mild Vile Wild Thing” Vaughn.

I’m not here to say all of it’s unwarranted. Nobody has to remind me what happened last fall. I was there with everybody else. I vividly remember the pick-sixes and the 13:10 touchdown:interception ratio and the sub 50% completion percentage. Every completion felt like it was a struggle and nothing came easily.

Nobody can be blamed for not being sold on Allen as the future quarterback of the Razorbacks. But the flip side to that is it’s also irrational to dismiss the notion that he could improve from last fall.

I’m also not here to say he will be better. Until he displays it on the field in a game this fall, there will continue to be worry in the back (or possibly the front, or completely all over) of Hog fans’ heads.

But I will say this: I think he can be better.

The team is certainly working on it. Out of about 200 plays over the first two spring scrimmages – which includes plays for backups – 45 of those plays have been passing attempts for Allen (and a few more were called passing plays that resulted in sacks or quarterback runs). And the chunk of plays for him grew in the second scrimmage as the depth chart sorted itself out. He’s thrown far more good passes than bad in those practices, and further, the passing doesn’t feel forced as it did last year. It feels much more natural.

It also seems fairly certain Allen will have a much better arsenal of receivers to work with. One of the constants we’ve seen throughout spring practice is praise for new freshman Jared Cornelius and juco transfer Cody Hollister. After seeing them in scrimmages, it’s easy to see why. And the most highly touted receiver Arkansas signed, JoJo Robinson, isn’t even on campus yet. Between those newcomers, the return of senior Demetrius Wilson, and the added year of experience for Keon Hatcher and D’Arthur Cowan, the Razorbacks should be much better at the receiver position this fall.

Now, I’ve never been one to justify all of Allen’s struggles last fall as a consequence of substandard receivers or the result of a lingering shoulder injury. That was certainly part of it, but Allen also made his share of bad decisions and throws.

And despite how well he’s throwing in practice, we won’t have a real answer for the latter issue until the lights come on Labor Day weekend at Auburn. Allen, as you may recall, also threw pretty well in practice last season, and praise of it landed in my 2013 Festivus Grievances column, so I’m certainly not willing to declare him vastly improved just yet. The Razorback defense, as I’m sure you all tearily remember, has as much to prove on the field as Allen does, so any big numbers produced against them will only garner further skepticism.

Brandon Allen Skepticism WarrantedBut all the quarterbacks are practicing against that defense, and Allen has proved he’s, as of now, the best quarterback on the roster. That could change sometime between August and the end of the season, but that’s how things stand now. There seems to be some sort of conspiracy theory among some who think Allen can’t possibly be the best Arkansas has to offer that Bielema isn’t giving Rafe Peavey, Austin Allen, or Damon Mitchell a fair chance, just as he must not have given Brandon Mitchell a fair chance last year. This is completely not true. In the first two scrimmages, the backups have actually combined for more pass attempts than Allen. A big part of the reason Brandon Allen received most of the reps in the most recent scrimmage is because he was having the most success moving the offense down the field and getting 1st downs. The longer you stay on the field, the higher your stats climb, and the more success you’re likely to have. You know, just like in a real game.

As for Brandon Mitchell, for those still upset about him not getting the starter’s job last year, it seems like a good time to remind everyone he went 0-6 as a starter after returning from injury at NC State. His touchdown:interception ratio was 7:6. He didn’t get the shaft. He simply wasn’t that good.

Likewise, Brandon Allen is simply better right now than Austin Allen and Peavey. Brandon may not be All-SEC, but he’s the best Arkansas has at the moment. That doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement because it’s not. I’m as skeptical as anyone else. I just think there’s a chance he can be better and am willing to give him that chance.

By the time the spring game rolls around, it will have been about five months since the LSU game, and another four months until the Auburn game. That’s plenty of time for players to evolve. Nobody knows how much better Allen will be, but those who’ve watched practices all seem to agree there’s not a quarterback on Arkansas’ roster who is better right now.

Coming off a 3-9 season with an 0-8 SEC mark, nobody is going to give these Razorbacks any credit. They will not be favored in any game against a respectable opponent until they prove they’ve improved and beaten somebody. And Brandon Allen’s very much a part of that. Just as it’s too early to write off the 2014 Razorbacks, it’s too early to write off Brandon Allen.

It may not make anyone comfortable, but this is the boat we’re all in and there’s not a hole in it yet. So let’s just set sail and see what happens.


Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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