Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy. He has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Allen, Derby show their mettle in opener
Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen throws a pass during the Razorbacks' game against Auburn on Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE -- From roasted to toasted.
Roasted describes the summer for Razorbacks quarterback Brandon Allen and tight end AJ Derby, and toasted describes them following Arkansas' season opener against Auburn last Saturday in Auburn, Ala.
If the Arkansas coaches toasted a defeat, which they certainly don't, they would have raised a glass to the fourth-year junior quarterback and the fifth-year senior tight end for their performances in the 45-21 loss to Auburn, which was highlighted by the 19-point underdog Razorbacks rallying from a 21-7 deficit to go into halftime tied at 21-21 with the Tigers, who moved up from No. 6 in The Associated Press poll to No. 5 this week following their victory.
The postgame praise that Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney bestowed on Allen and Derby contrasts greatly from the summer roasting that scorched them on the sports talk radio and Internet message board circuits.
It has been Allen's misfortune that his significant playing time coincided with All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson's concussion during the 34-31 upset loss to Louisiana-Monroe in the second game of the 2012 season and the following week's 52-0 rout by national champion Alabama.
Those games virtually ended John L. Smith's lame duck season as interim coach as quickly as it began.
Worse, Allen was the starting quarterback -- except for the one game he missed with the shoulder separation, which plagued him from the third game on -- last season when the Razorbacks went 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the SEC in Bielema's first season at Arkansas.
Derby started in Allen's quarterback's stead when Arkansas lost at Rutgers last season.
He moved to tight end last spring but evoked message board apoplexy when Bielema publicly mused about giving him some preseason snaps in case he needs to be used as an emergency quarterback.
Redshirt freshman Austin Allen's progress as the backup quarterback has kept Derby at tight end.
Coming off Derby's four receptions for 40 yards against Auburn, which included a 17-yard touchdown reception, Arkansas appears better with Allen throwing to Derby than Derby throwing to other receivers.
"You look at a guy like AJ Derby, who actually never played the tight end position in college, let alone at any other level, I'm sure, that was pretty big," Bielema said Monday. "Derb caught the ball really, really well."
Allen completed 18 of 31 for 175 yards and 2 touchdowns but easily could have been 23 of 31 for who knows how many more yards and perhaps more touchdowns had receivers not dropped five passes.
Allen showed a healthy arm and remarkable poise Saturday, considering his week began with his truck being destroyed in what is suspected to be an arson incident.
"Brandon Allen is going to be a very, very good quarterback," Bielema said. "He is a good quarterback already."
Allen's lone interception, a pivotal interception that was returned for a touchdown in the second half, stemmed from a missed block rather than a misplaced throw, Bielema and Chaney said.
"We have a guy slip off one of our protectors and hits B.A. right under the chin as he's releasing the ball," Bielema said.
"You can't blame him on that one," Chaney said. "It was the best game he's played against a quality opponent since I have been here."
Sports on 09/03/2014