FAYETTEVILLE — At the first sign of adversity it seems a segment of football fans inevitably clamor for their team to start the backup quarterback.
And since the 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the SEC Arkansas Razorbacks wallow way beyond adversity’s first signs, especially coming off the debacle as being the 2-point favorite over the South Carolina Game-cocks’ team that thrashed Arkansas, 48-22 last Saturday in Columbia, S.C., some fans clamor for red-shirt freshman backup quarterback Cole Kelley to start Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. ESPN televised SEC game against the nationally No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
They may get their wish. Fifth-year senior starter Austin Allen absorbed such a battering that he wasn’t medically cleared to finish the game which Kelley did.
So the Razorbacks start the week in apparent limbo whether Allen, who appeared to be treated for shoulder problems on the sideline in Columbia, is physically able to start or if Kelley will start.
Those wishing for Kelley to start perhaps ought to be careful for what they wish.
Back in 2012 after 2011 All-SEC quarterback Tyler Wilson was knocked out with the concussion from the game that 30-point favorite Arkansas lost in overtime to Louisiana-Monroe in Little Rock, redshirt freshman Brandon Allen, Austin’s two years in the NFL older brother, became a first-time starter against the eventual 13-1 national champion/SEC champion Crimson Tide.
It wasn’t pretty. The Tide flowed 52-0 in Fayetteville. It was a traumatic debut start for Brandon who became accustomed to trauma as he courageously played with a separated throwing shoulder in 2013 for a bad, 3-9 Razorbacks team that didn’t win a conference game.
The Hogs and Brandon got it together for 7-6 and 8-5 bowl winning seasons in 2014 and 2015 with Brandon completing 65 percent of his passes in 2015.
Austin Allen, his brother’s 2014 and 2015 backup, led the SEC in passing starting every game for the 7-6 Hogs in 2016.
Like his brother, Austin has courageously toughed it out despite less than stellar pass protection, par-ticularly this season.
Similar protection could be painfully traumatic given the pass rush that Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide can muster.
Austin knows it too well from the pounding he took from Alabama last year. But he has experienced it. And even excelled during it completing 25 of 48 for 400 yards and 3 touchdowns last year on the Tide in Fayetteville despite the pounding that led to three interceptions.
Kelley has not. Though he’s much bigger 6-7, 268 than Allen, 6-1, 215, and presumably more built to take a beating, the kind of beating that Kelley is apt to take is not ideal for a confidence building debut start that coaches prefer for a young quarterback.
Kelley impressed with his big arm in practices and scrimmages redshirting last fall and during spring drills. And he’s done well in situations designed for him to succeed, mopping up in the 49-7 rout of lower division Florida A&M in the season opener, and surprising Texas A&M on the “Steamboat” goal-line and short-yardage package that surprised Texas A&M during 50-43 SEC overtime loss but didn’t surprise New Mexico State the following week when they forced him to fumble.
Last Saturday Kelley showed some spark mopping up against South Carolina.
Kelley completed 8 of 13 for 140 yards and a touchdown though he also threw a pick that the Game-cocks returned for a touchdown.
“One of the bright spots at the end of the day Cole Kelley came in and winged it around pretty good and showed great control,” Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said. “Obviously he had the one pick but hopefully there are some positives we can build on towards there at the end.”
But Bielema was quick to caution the Carolina defense mopping up against Kelley in the fourth quarter the Gamecocks led, 41-10 at the outset wasn’t the Carolina defense that through the first three quar-ters constantly hit Allen whether sacking him, which they did twice, or not, and causing him to fumble once returned for a touchdown and throw a pick returned for a touchdown.
Otherwise Allen was 12 for 24 for 84 yards and a touchdown.
“They were just playing their base defense at that time,” Bielema said of the Gamecocks in Kelley’s fourth quarter. “They didn’t want to give up anything. They had some of their other guys in there at the time. It was a good situation to walk into, to get some reps.”
Saturday night it’s not apt to be good situation for any quarterback, much less a rookie’s debut start, to walk into against the No. 1 Tide in Tuscaloosa.