Re Arkansas’ football woes, start with this — quarterback Cole Kelley is not the answer in the short term.
Maybe Kelley will succeed next year or in 2019, but abandoning fifth-year senior Austin Allen and re-placing him with the redshirt freshman is equivalent to applying a band-aid when a tourniquet is need-ed to stop the bleeding. Problems with Arkansas’ offense begin up front; the defense has its own de-ficiencies.
No matter who takes the snaps, the quarterback cannot be effective while constantly under siege.
If Kelley starts Saturday at Alabama because Allen is sidelined for medical reasons, that’s different. In that case, the suggestion is Arkansas employ at least two tight ends, try mightily to avoid third-and-long, and hunker down to protect the 6-foot-7, 268-pound Kelley.
The last thing I want to hear is that even if Allen is available, head coach Bret Bielema should get a head start on 2018 and turn the job over to Kelley. He is an intriguing prospect, but there is no reason to give up on this season with at least four winnable games among the final five. In addition, the defenses of Alabama and Auburn are superior to the one Arkansas blockers were unable to handle in Columbia, S.C., and that could result in a dozen sacks by the Crimson Tide and the Tigers the next two weeks. Add another 15 hits or so on Kelley and his confidence could be shaken far beyond October.
Consider, too, reception of Bielema’s message if he gives up on his quarterback who is well respected by center Frank Ragnow and others who witness Allen in the huddle after he has been knocked down.
Hurting in his right shoulder from the first quarter on, Allen was prohibited by the medical staff from playing in the fourth quarter vs. South Carolina.
In his stead, Kelley’s numbers were acceptable — 8-of-13 for 140 yards and two touchdown drives — but remember that South Carolina was in celebration mode and one of his passes was intercepted and returned 43 yards for a TD.
Kelley’s much-ballyhooed strong arm was on display a couple of times, but he also underthrew a few passes and Arkansas receivers will be hard pressed to separate from Alabama’s aggressive secondary.
Kelley’s on-field performance will not be accurately assessed for some time, but he did impress with the classy way he handled questions about possibly replacing Allen.
“People just like to make controversies out of nothing,” he said during the post-game. “Austin is QB 1 like everybody knows, and like I know. There’s no controversy.”
Continued shuffling in the line goes to the heart of the problem on offense. For those who have won-dered about the status of highly touted recruit Jalen Merrick and Brian Wallace, a 10-game starter in 2016, it is encouraging that both showed up on the participation chart at South Carolina. At right tackle, junior Paul Ramirez made his first start as a Razorback and Johnny Gibson moved from tackle to guard, replacing freshman Ty Clary.
More than once during Saturday’s telecast, announcers mentioned Arkansas’ offensive linemen hav-ing problems when defensive linemen move around. Whether that reflects confusion or what, only insiders know.
With Arkansas trailing 17-10 at half, Gene Chizik who won a national championship at Auburn, pointed out the Razorbacks had been unable to “pound the football …” If they can’t do better, he said, they can’t win.
Through two quarters, Arkansas’ running backs David Williams, Chase Hayden, and Devwah Whaley totaled 12 carries for 42 yards. After an interception off Allen was returned 34 yards for 27-10, the trio had 14 attempts for 41 yards. During the post-game, Bielema said everything falls apart when the Ra-zorbacks can’t run the ball and, at 41-10, Arkansas had 153 yards total offense — 180 shy of the Game-cocks.
If, as expected, Arkansas loses the next two to opponents allowing an average of less than three yards per rush, the final five games will say much about all involved.
Sports Columnist Harry King can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org