Alabama is 30 point favorite Saturday but Bielema says there is no lack of effort, discipline.
FAYETTEVILLE - Presumably the Arkansas Razorbacks spent Thursday’s closed to media practice leading into Saturday’s SEC game at Alabama evaluating senior starting quarterback Austin Allen’s ailing throwing shoulder while preparing redshirt Cole Kelley to start and third-year sophomore Ty Storey as the backup if Allen can’t play.
The quarterback predicament adds further fuel to the underdog fire that has had oddsmakers casting Arkansas as a 30-point underdog in Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. ESPN televised SEC West game against the Alabama Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Asked about Arkansas’ quarterbacks, Alabama Coach Nick Saban points to the contrast in styles with Allen, 6-1, 215 of conventional size but unconventionally throwing for 400 yards with three touchdowns on Alabama in last season’s 49-30 loss to the Tide while taking a physical pounding nearly every throw and throwing three interceptions, and Kelley, 6-7, 268.
“Allen is a great passer. Very athletic, quick, can make all the throws,” Saban said. “The second guy is a little different style. I’m not sure that would change their offense, but when he has played, they’ve done more quarterback runs. This guy is like 6-7, 270 pounds. In fact, when I first started watching the film, I thought he was a wildcat quarterback that was a tight end, but as he’s played more, he has a good arm. He can throw the ball effectively.”
What does Saban look for if Kelley starts?
“I don’t know if they’ll change styles with him as the quarterback so we have to prepare for some things that they could do with him,” Saban said. “But we can’t really change because we don’t really know and we’d be defending ghosts if we tried to figure it out. So we may have to adapt in the game.”
Charleston’s Storey, 6-2, 212, and last year’s backup, brings a style similar to Allen, Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema said touting Storey’s recent practices.
Bielema’s Razorbacks enter 2-3 overall and 0-2 in the SEC coming off a 48-22 SEC whipping at South Carolina during which their starting quarterback injured his shoulder while Saban’s nationally No. 1 reigning SEC champion Tide rolls 6-0, 3-0 with a healthy quarterback, Jalen Hurts, dazzling both with his feet and his arm, a great offensive line, four formidable running backs, the SEC’s most renowned receiver, a great kicking game and the generally most feared defense in college football.
To that Arkansas counters with none of the above.
But they do have purpose and they do have resolve, Bielema says which seems half the battle that so many believe Alabama, winning 10 consecutively over Arkansas, has won before it kicks off.
“The good news is we have good kids who haven't shown any bad signs of losing that hope,” Bielema said.
Bielema said he hasn’t seen: “Any lack of effort. Any lack of discipline. Any in-fighting. Anybody going at one another. It's more of a message of unity and persevering.”
He can also look at an Arkansas roster with some players who were recruited by Saban for Alabama but chose to stand by Bielema and the Hogs.
On the defensive unit, senior nose guard Bijhon Jackson of El Dorado, sophomore defensive end McTelvin “Sosa” Agim originally from Texarkana, Texas though graduating high school on the Arkansas side at Hope, and sophomore middle linebacker D’Jon “Scoota” Harris of Harvey, La. all turned down the Tide to come to Arkansas.
Jackson said he never even visited Alabama because he was “all Hog.”
Agim visited Alabama and was impressed but even more impressed with Bielema.
“Where I’m from, if you get an Alabama offer, that’s the cream of the crop,” Agim said. “So I most definitely took the visit. Nick Saban is a brilliant mind. I like how he coaches and everything like that. Mad respect for him and everything.”
But he obviously chose Arkansas.
“I didn’t want to go to Alabama because I felt like I believed in Coach B,” Agim said. “ I felt like he was on a route to turning this program around and I wanted to be a part of that. I wanted to be at the forefront of it and not at the back end.”
Harris said he was already committed to Arkansas when he visited Alabama.
“I just took the visit to take the visit,” Harris said of the honor of being recruited by Alabama. It was a good feeling to be wanted by (Saban). But it wasn't hard for me to tell him no, because I didn't have any interest in going there. For other players, it's probably hard for them. But I was already committed to Arkansas and I think it was just a week or two before signing day.”
Redshirt freshman reserve defensive end Briston Guidry and third-year sophomore reserve receiver LaMichael Pettway, both left home from the South Carolina trip, are back in good team standing and traveling to Alabama, Bielema said.