Jim Harris: Does Brandon Allen Have a Better Day Still to Come?


In a midweek semi-fit of rage I told someone I was “too old for this [you know what],” and while it wasn’t about Arkansas’s loss to Toledo, or even having to cover such a performance, it could have been.

Take for instance the young whippersnapper of a reporter with tiny video camera in hand in the bowels of War Memorial Stadium where they set up the post-game press conference with the coach and his players. Kid last Saturday says, “Wow, 412 yards passing and no passing touchdowns, 32 of 53 passing, only 10 points from the offense. That’s UNPRECEDENTED.”

Well, yes and no.

Joe Ferguson didn’t reach 412 yards passing, but the 351 he piled up against Texas A&M one October night at War Memorial Stadium in 1971 stood as a Razorback record for years. He was, strangely enough, 31 of 51 that night against a one-win Aggies team headed nowhere except toward firing Gene Stallings at the end of the season. Arkansas fumbled a couple of punts that set up two short-field touchdown drives for A&M, and Ferguson moved Arkansas all over between the 20s, only to come away with 9 points. He ended up having to run in the lone Hog touchdown by himself. Arkansas, apparently in the driver’s seat to its first Cotton Bowl in six years after beating Texas 31-7 two weeks earlier on the same field, took that loss and then a tie the next week at Rice to fall into a Liberty Bowl matchup with Tennessee.

Want more? That Arkansas squad also didn’t have a fullback by then and its tailbacks were banged up, leading to barely a semblance of a running game (even if Frank Broyles still put his backfield in the “unstoppable” wishbone-T when it reached the red zone).

It sounds awfully familiar to what went on Saturday in the same place.

I wasn’t in the press box that night in 1971  — I’m not that damn old — but rather in the north end zone with a church youth group from Pine Bluff, in about the spot where the kicked extra points landed. Then, as the game ended, I had made it to just outside the A&M locker room as Mark Green, the night’s star for A&M, handed me his sweatbands. Kids liked to claim sweatbands and chinstraps after Little Rock games back then. A keepsake from Southern Cal the next year was as valuable, for a while, as a vintage Mickey Mantle baseball card.

Ferguson, the old quarterback, had his moments and still went down a hero in Razorback annals even though his teams disappointed. The’71 squad had their Liberty Bowl stolen from them by UT-fan-turned-linesman Preston Watts, and with little running attack in 1972 Ferguson was throwing into eight-man zone pass defenses and a highly ranked Arkansas tumbled to a 6-5 season. A&M even beat him again with six interceptions in Aggieland.

I don’t know how Brandon Allen will go down in Razorback lore, but for now it’s assuredly “he couldn’t win the close one.” One of the more stand-up guys Arkansas has ever had in terms of dealing with the media after such heartbreak, he’s 0-7 in games decided by 7 points or less. Ferguson was only a two-year starter, and surely no three-year Razorback starting quarterback has managed such futility. Remember, it was only in beating LSU and Ole Miss last year that Allen got off the schneid as a SEC starter.

As mentioned, though, I’ve been around long enough and seen enough to think that Lady Luck, the Football Gods, or maybe even THE God (when he’s not looking over Notre Dame) will shine down on Brandon Allen some day when we’re least expecting it, maybe at Alabama where perhaps the beleaguered kid has one heroic moment, skimming a pass just above the turf to a stretched out Jared Cornelius for the winning score a la Lunney to Meadors in 1995.

Barry Lunney, now the UA tight ends coach, endured an up-and-down career that started with a startling upset of No. 4 Tennessee on the road as a freshman and culminated in an SEC West title that no one saw coming, and it included that massive 20-19 upset of Alabama. To start that very season, Lunney lost the football at the goal line at the end of a bitter upset loss at gosh-awful SMU, so surely he can commiserate with the current Hog quarterback who seems luckless in this his fifth year on the Hill.

Yes, on one hand, no fan could blame Brandon Allen for the numbers he put up Saturday vs. Toledo and putting Arkansas into the red zone five times, only to come away with a field goal (the lone TD came on a 21-yard sprint by Alex Collins on a misdirection play that fooled the stunting Rockets defense). But Allen also had shot after shot in the end zone for the winning TD in the final minutes, the kind of play on which winners make and losers fail. OK, even winners fail every now and then. But hitting the crossbar on a fourth-down attempt, after a timeout, with a 98-mile-an-hour fastball that nobody was going to catch, on the series before the last one, was the biggest ignominy.

And yet, Brandon Allen led the Razorbacks on a frantic last-minute drive to the red zone, only to wait too long to throw to an open Hunter Henry to win the game. The ball almost ended up where we used to sit as kids, watching the Hogs lose games they in no way should have lost.

The folks with the glass-half-full attitudes keep pointing it out: 10 games remain. Surely there’s a moment in one of those for Brandon Allen finally to be rewarded. Or, this team could tank as one of those pass-only squads that couldn’t win for Ferguson as his Hog career came to an end. At least Joe had O.J. and the Buffalo Bills and a great career on the next level. 

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And meanwhile, old news heads like me get to hear questions in the post-game media room like “Coach, what does this loss to do your ‘1-0’ mentality?” and “Brandon, what do you have to do to win the close games?”

Like I said …. 

Catch Jim Harris on THV Channel 11’s HOGZONE every Saturday night at 10:30 p.m., as well as his weekly Wednesday reports with Mary Dunleavy on Channel 11 during the 6:30 news broadcast.

Brandon Allen Skepticism Warranted


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