State of the Hogs: Kelley speaking the right language

By: Clay Henry
Published: Tuesday, October 17, 2017
Arkansas quarterback Cole Kelley walks toward the sideline during a game against Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas quarterback Cole Kelley walks toward the sideline during a game against Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

— Cole Kelley speaks plainly now. Interviews are great. So is his huddle presence with proper wording of the play calls.

There was a time when center Zach Rogers worked with Kelley on the second team and had to ask the true freshman quarterback from Lafayette, La., to slow down and talk in something other than something akin to Cajun.

“I'm not sure what it was actually that what he was saying,” said Rogers, now working with Kelley on the first-team offense as the Arkansas football team prepares for its first home SEC game Saturday night against Auburn.

“It was a pretty thick accent. But he's pretty easy to understand now. Maybe we are used to him now. Maybe he's just talking the way we talk now.”

The key is for everyone on the offense to be on the same page and some of that has to do with the way Rogers communicates, too. He made his first start at center last week at No. 1 Alabama, with senior captain Frank Ragnow sliding over to right guard.

That meant Rogers had to identify the strong side of the defense, pointing to the middle linebacker or the strong safety. That went well for the most part.

“I did it all right,” Rogers said. “There was one time that Frank said, 'Wait a minute,' and pointed to a safety and showed me something I didn't catch. It was some movement ahead of the snap and we changed the call and got it right.”

There was a lot that went right, but Kelley still said he's got some things to clean up.

“I think the main thing, I have to eliminate the bad plays,” he said. “I think what I'm mainly talking about is the turnover.”

Kelley threw an interception out of a scramble. He'll try to throw it away or take a sack next time.

“That's the thing that I have to eliminate,” he said. “Yeah, there were some things to clean up, but that turnover is the main thing.”

What about his tough to understand vocabulary? He's cleaned that up, too.

“I think so,” he said. “I guess I did have to slow down a little for the guys.”

It's full speed ahead now. Austin Allen might be out for several more weeks. It's Kelley's ship and everyone seems on board, even Kelley.

“Honestly, I didn't think I'd say this, but I think my confidence is higher now – even higher than before the Alabama game,” he said.

Told teammates and coaches like his confidence, Kelley said, “I think if the quarterback doesn't have confidence you wouldn't expect the team to be confident in the quarterback.”

There wasn't a better confidence boost than head coach Bret Bielema putting the ball in Kelley's hand for the two-minute drill at the end of the first half. Kelley is disappointed he didn't deliver on the goal line on a last-second pass to Cheyenne O'Grady. Alabama defender Ronnie Harrison was hanging over O'Grady's back when the ball arrived. Kelley challenged the referee on the play as the team's left the field for halftime.

“Coach B showed a lot of confidence in me,” Kelley said. “I thought it was a great route by our receiver. I put the ball in a good spot. The only way the defender could have made a play on it was to be draped all over him. I talked to the ref. I was frustrated not to get that call.”

Kelley's first two starts are going to be agains two of the nation's best defenses. There's one good thing, Auburn runs the same base calls and looks as Alabama. Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele studied under Alabama coach Nick Saban.

“Auburn is very similar,” Kelley said. “Of course, it's different players. Structurally, it's the same look. The preparation and tape study is almost the same, though.”

Kelley did move the ball against Alabama, sometimes in an up-tempo scheme. He said that's still in the game plan.

“We can do that,” he said. “But we can get in a huddle, too. Either way is fine with me.

“I think when you go up-tempo it catches the defense off guard and makes it tougher for them to execute their blitzes. That's what happened a little bit.”

Kelley didn't knows it's a tough defense.

“All I know though is that we have to win the game,” he said. “No matter what, you have to win this game. It's an exciting time. It's an important game, but all of them are important. We want to win this game at home.

“It's a little weird that it's our first SEC game here and that just makes it more important. That's all I want to do, win this game.”

It was clearly spoken and clearly understood.


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