Nate Allen is a columnist for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of the University of Missouri, Allen is a voter for the Heisman Trophy, has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame, and has authored three books about the Razorbacks.
Briles more than a play caller
Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles claps during a game against Ole Miss on Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021, in Oxford, Miss.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas Razorbacks play-calling offensive coordinator Kendal Briles does more than call plays.
Arkansas’ quarterbacks coach does some coaching, too.
Consider Feleipe Franks. The 2020 graduate transfer via Florida arrived in Arkansas as a good SEC quarterback.
He left Arkansas a better one, good enough to be six games NFL used this season as the backup to Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan.
Before a broken ankle four games into the 2019 season ended Franks’ active Gators tenure, and began Kyle Trask’s ascension to become a 2020 Heisman Trophy finalist, Franks since 2017 was Florida’s dominant quarterback.
However he never quite dominated at Florida like his 2020 Arkansas season tutored by Briles under then first-year Coach Sam Pittman.
In his nine games for the 3-7 Hogs, Franks set a Razorbacks record 68.5 pass-completion percentage. He completed 165 of 238 for 2,107 yards, with 17 touchdowns vs. 4 interceptions.
Now consider what sophomore quarterback KJ Jefferson, the starter in Franks’ one-game injury absence in 2020, has done coached by Briles starting every game for these 2021 bowl-bound Razorbacks (8-4, 4-4 SEC).
Jefferson has completed 184 of 275 —a 66.9% rate nearly matching Franks — for 2,578 yards and 21 touchdowns against just 3 interceptions.
For purely yards gained, Jefferson’s 711-yard rushing leads the Hogs. Subtracting his 149 rushing yards lost, mostly on sacks, Jefferson is second on the team, 554 yards net rushing to running back Trelon Smith’s 592. Jefferson and Smith tie second on the team with five rushing touchdowns to running back Dominique Johnson’s seven.
As team leaders and offensive captains, Franks in 2020 and Jefferson in 2021 took command unquestioned.
They excelled much on their own but they did have help. Treylon Burks’ help. And Briles’ help, too,
Pittman recalls from last season Franks' long bombs to Burks, and this season Jefferson to Burks 66 times for 1,104 yards and 11 touchdowns.
From calling the plays designed for Jefferson and Burks, to monitoring daily Jefferson’s fundamentals, Briles contributes to their success.
“The thing is Coach Briles teaches how to throw that long ball,” Pittman said. “Because obviously Feleipe was good at throwing that long ball and KJ is just tremendous at throwing it. He’s just maturing every week.”
Remember the season opener?
Arkansas, with Jefferson struggling to complete passes, trailed underdog Rice 17-7 with 10:28 left in the third quarter. Though the Razorbacks scored 31 unanswered and won, Arkansas social media bristled fretting the quarterback that can’t pass while clamoring for the backup quarterback to play.
The next week KJ and the Hogs beat then-15th-ranked Texas. Two weeks later they upset then-No. 7 Texas A&M.
Since then, other than blanked at No. 1 Georgia, they’ve either won or scored between 23 and 51 points.
Nobody clamors for anybody but KJ anymore.
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