There is no quarterback controversy at Arkansas yet, but that may change on Saturday as it appears both senior Austin Allen and redshirt freshman Cole Kelley will be able to play.
This will be the first time the coaches have known this early in the week they would likely have both quarterbacks available for the game since the Oct. 7 South Carolina game. Allen, as it turns out, was actually available against Coastal Carolina, but due to the score and flow of game Bret Bielema didn’t put him in the game.
However, it’s not certain that Bielema and Dan Enos, the offensive coordinator, knew last Monday that Allen would almost definitely be available. That has changed this week though Bielema did offer an alert of sorts on Kelley.
“I’ll just alert everybody just in case - I know the world works this way now,” Bielema said. “Cole actually got his foot stepped on, or his toe stepped on and got an extreme turf toe. So he’s in a little bit of a boot but is fully functional. Shouldn’t be an issue for him during the course of practice and preparation for the game. Just real sore, nothing structural. Just a really, really sore bruised toe.
“So Austin Allen practiced last week, really from Wednesday forward. He’s cleared 100 percent to go. If we would have practiced Sunday he would have been there. Could have put him in the game on Saturday, but obviously the way the game unfolded we didn’t want to put him into that situation. We wanted to keep the flow of the offense going the way it was and continue to grow him (Kelley).”
Allen started the first five games of the season. He has completed 66 of 117 passes for 850 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions. He gave way to Kelley in the fourth quarter of the South Carolina game due to a shoulder injury and hasn’t played since. Kelley has completed 84 of 141 passes for 1,002 yards, eight touchdowns and three interceptions. If both are fully cleared who gets the start?
“Yeah, I think we’ll get into later in the week to find out exactly how healthy everybody is,” Bielema said. “But I do think the neat thing for us on Saturday was we had told Austin we expected to get him in the game and there probably was not a better guy on the sidelines from not only working with Cole.
“I saw Austin step in when maybe we had a drop and he talked to the guys about making plays on critical downs. So his leadership skills have been outstanding and his desire to win. I think a lot of kids in those situations would maybe turn the other way or not be as engaged in the game. It just shows the competitive spirit he has. I would tell you this, I bet you no one’s pulling for Austin to play more than Cole. If that makes sense, and vice-versa.”
If Allen is the guy, how hard would it be for him to play against LSU in his first game back after missing four games?
“You know what, I think two things,” Bielema said. “Although he didn’t get fully cleared until last week, he’s been involved in practice the two weeks prior to that, so it’s not like he’s coming in just cold this week and playing. He totally expected to play on Saturday. I think his team expected him to play, and because he’s gotten so many reps in practice so well it makes you feel good.
“But there obviously is a concern, you know, any time you have a guy who hasn’t played to step in, especially at a place as daunting as LSU’s stadium is and as good as there defense is, that could be an issue. I would be very, very comfortable with Austin playing, from one rep to every rep.”
Do you plan on announcing the starter at quarterback later in the week or keep in-house?
“Again, I think I covered that Saturday,” Bielema said. “Anything that could be a strategic advantage for us, whether it’s the quarterback or how much T.J. is going to play or whether or not we’ve done certain things with him, better staying in-house and showing up on Saturday.”
Kelley is one of the players from Louisiana. He played high school football at Lafayette Teurlings Catholic. How excited is Kelley and others from that state anxious to play a game in that state?
“They’ll be excited,” Bielema said. “I think you’ve to be a little bit cautious with it. Any time you’re deal with guys that you know have a personal … For instance, Cole. Cole’s a young quarterback in his career that’s very excited. He’s always a guy that plays with high energy and high emotion and how he goes to his home crowd and he’s going to be a starting quarterback. That’s a lot of emotions for him to deal with. You’ve just got to try to temper it all week and get him to play within himself.”
So did you just name Kelley the starting quarterback?
“Well, I think he can be the starter, absolutely,” Bielema said maybe realizing what he had just said. “There’s no reason to change where we’re going. I think obviously to give us the best chance to win, you’ve got to take that part into it. But again, like said last week, going into the game against Coastal Carolina and this week, we’ve got two quarterbacks that have started and done a nice job.”
Enos also weighed in on the quarterback position heading into Saturday’s big game against LSU.
We’re gonna see where they’re both at tomorrow,” Enos said Monday. “Pre-practice then take it from there. Cole got the lion’s share last week. This week I think Austin feels better. Yesterday he did. I haven’t spoken to him too much today, but I assume he’s gonna feel better every day. We will see where they both feel tomorrow and obviously who we think is gonna be the most healthy and give us the best chance at winning is gonna get the majority. But obviously right now we go into tomorrow and say 50-50 and tomorrow if somebody isn’t feeling good or can’t practice as long or whatever then the other guy will get the majority.”
Austin is coming off a shoulder injury and Cole is wearing a boot how do you deal with that stuff?
“We’ve got a lot of guys on our team dealing with that stuff (injuries),” Enos said. “It’s just been one of those years. They are both tough guys and both do a good job of getting rehab and the good news is both now have live experience. We feel good about either one of them.”
As far as other injuries, Bielema expects tight end Cheyenne O’Grady, safety De’Andre Coley and cornerback Britto Tutt to all play on Saturday. The game will kickoff at 11 a.m. and be televised on ESPN.
The fans wanting to know the time of the Mississippi State game on Nov. 18 will have to wait a little longer. The Razorbacks will host the Bulldogs at 11 a.m. on CBS or at 6 p.m. on ESPN or ESPN2, the SEC announced Monday. The other game being considered by CBS is Texas A&M at Ole Miss.