Redshirt freshman quarterback Cole Kelley drew praise from both Bret Bielema and Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos on Monday for his performance against Alabama.
The Razorbacks lost 41-9 to top-ranked Alabama on Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa. Kelley was 23 of 42 passes for 200 yards with one touchdown and an interception. Bielema said on Monday that Austin Allen, while not ruled out yet for Auburn, is more likely two weeks away from playing. Allen did make the trip to Alabama.
"We typically make out the travel roster on Wednesday, so our idea was to take him with us then, and at that point we made a decision to bring him with us and help us with Cole on the sideline," Bielema said "Cole got all the reps last week as the one. Ty (Storey) was all the week as the two. Austin really did a nice job in the course of the game, I thought, to help Cole handle the game and go with us.
"But Austin is a little bit different situation this week. There is a chance by the end of the week. But don't know that until that time comes. Until then, we'll just continue to rep with Cole and Ty. Jack Lindsey was our, technically on game day, our third-string quarterback that went in there for us."
Arkansas did go tempo against the Tide with Kelley at quarterback. Bielema talked about the decision to go tempo with Kelley.
"It was something we were able to capitalize and use with Cole that truly gives him our entire offense but at a tempo," Bielema said. "And then we also went before the end of the half with two-minute, which is primarily one offensive package with a huge emphasis in the throw game. They both look similar and it's something that I think we're excited with the way Cole handled it. But for our offense, defense and special teams to work together our huddle system is something we definitely will use."
Enos was also pleased with how Kelley operated the tempo offense on the drive that took the Hogs to the Alabama 3-yard line before the half ran out.
"I think it was good for Cole it allowed him to maybe not stand in the huddle for a long time," Enos said. "Just get lined up and play the next play. It kept him going, kept him thinking and he likes to have the ball in his hands anyway. In some of these scenarios there was quarterback reads, run-pass options and I think he really responded very well to that."
Is the tempo something that become more of the offense going forward?
"Since I have been here we haven't had that in our system the ability to do that," Enos said. "We kind of pick and choose. Coach Bielema has a lot to do with that. When he gets a feel for the game in the flow of the game makes suggestions on when we should do it and if we should do it.
"Again, I think it will be a week-to-week thing, a game-to-game thing. Some games you are huddling and the rhythm is going good. You know we don't need it right now or we're not moving the football. You have to pick and choose and then we're able to jump into it."
Overall. how do you think Kelley played against a very tough Alabama defense?
"I thought he played very well," Enos said. "I base a lot of my stuff on the communication he and I had during the game. This is my 27th year with quarterbacks and I have been in a lot of quarterback dialogues during games if you will. I can tell a lot about a guy how he's communicating with me. His mindset, his demeanor, what he's seeing and what he's not seeing. I was talking to a very poised, confident player that the moment wasn't too big for him. He was communicating with me clearly what he was seeing and he was seeing what was happening. He was making good decisions."
Enos pointed out that any struggles Kelley had against the Tide weren't the first for a quarterback facing them this season.
"Every quarterback I have seen play against that defense there's plays where you 'why did I just do that right there?' They make you do that," Enos said. "They are very fast and very physical and they're very complicated. They do a great job pre-snap showing you one thing and then when the ball is snapped showing you something different.
"I thought Cole responded and handled those things as well as any freshman in his first start would do. I thought he made some tremendous plays too. The times we got the ball down inside their 5-yard line three times. That was because of Cole Kelley. Plays he made and things he did. Whether it was on third down or the big post to Jordan Jones on second down. Just seeing things and making good decisions. If you asked me the best thing he did on Saturday he competed and competed to win the football game every play he was in there. He wanted to give his team a chance to win and competed at that level. Again if a guy is gonna do that there's a lot of things you can build on."
Enos talked about the teaching moments with Kelley on Saturday.
"Oh there was a lot," Enos said. "I don't know if there was one biggest moment. The interception, no one is there throw the ball away, the intentional grounding and there's a lot of things to take away from it. A lot of moments...handle adversity and success. You lost 41-9 how much success did you have? First just how a freshman quarterback handled that situation. The emotional stability that comes along with playing the position.
"The interception how you gonna respond? He came back and drove us down the field. Those things, I said this last week, you don't get any of those experiences in a quarterback meeting room. You don't get them from practice really. You get them from the heat of the battle in the moment playing the No. 1 team in the nation on the road and all the experience he gets is good for his future."
Another teaching moment for Enos was when Kelley, just before halftime, went and talked to a referee about what he thought should have been a holding penalty against Alabama when tight end Cheyenne O'Grady was a targeted receiver.
"It's like I said earlier about what we recruit and what we're trying to recruit, is that competitive nature," Enos said. "He wants to win. Every play matters. Every play's important, every play counts. He felt like he had a good route structure with a guy coming underneath on an inside-breaking route and had good leverage and a guy got grabbed and held. I guess he wanted to voice his opinion.
"Coach Bielema I'm sure tells him he's the only one allowed to talk to the officials. So I'll have to have that talk with him. But I'll tell you this, you love the feistiness and you love the competitiveness. I'd rather have that way than the other if you know what I mean. If you're trying to light a fire under somebody to get them to go out and compete. I'd much rather have this way."
During the course of Saturday night's game, it appeared Kelley had the confidence of his teammates. For a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first collegiate start in a hostile situation against possibly the nation's best defense that was important. Was there a buzz around Kelley?
"I don't know if it's a buzz, but I do sense that our team has confidence in him," Enos said. "Yes, I do. I've felt that even as far back as fall camp and the spring. He's a real likable guy first and foremost. He's got a really good personality. I think the guys really respect his work ethic. I think they respect his ability, and that's where it really starts for me.
"Then he'll go have relationships with a lot of different players on our team on both sides of the football. He has a really infectious personality. He's not afraid to laugh at himself and joke around with you about himself or joke with you. I think that goes a long way with our guys. They seem as a humble guy that tries to really get along and mingle with every guy on the team."
Kelley and the Razorbacks will return home to host Auburn on Saturday night at 6:30 p.m. CT on the SEC Network.