Arkansas QB Allen healthy, ready for bounce-back season
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Brandon Allen isn't looking for an excuse for his poor play last season in his first year as the starting quarterback for Arkansas.
The junior would much prefer to simply show everyone why the Razorbacks coaching staff and players have so much confidence in him.
Allen's quest for redemption will begin in earnest when Arkansas' players report for preseason practice on Sunday. They'll take the field a day later, eager to shake any hangover from last season's winless march through the Southeastern Conference.
None will have as much prove as Allen, the former Fayetteville prep standout who struggled with injuries last year while attempting to extend what had been a four-year run of solid -- often times spectacular -- quarterback play for the Razorbacks.
The days of Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson seemed like long ago last season at Arkansas, which saw its once-vaunted passing attack fall to the bottom of the SEC with an average of 148.5 yards passing per game.
"Rock bottom is a good way to explain it," Allen said.
Much of the blame from fans for the passing struggles fell on the shoulders of Allen, the first-year starter under coach Bret Bielema.
Arkansas won its first three games of the season, all with Allen starting, but the excitement surrounding Bielema's arrival from Wisconsin quickly turned sour after the quarterback injured his throwing shoulder in the third game against Southern Mississippi.
Allen missed only one game with the injury, but he played the rest of the season at far less than 100 percent healthy -- with the Razorbacks losing their last final nine games.
The 6-foot-3 Allen finished the season by completing 49.6 percent of his passes and throwing 13 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He did so while practicing only once a week after the injury and receiving weekly numbing shots in his shoulder in order to play.
Allen refused to use the injury as an excuse last season, even while he was unable to lift his arm above his shoulder, and the closest he'll come now is to call the experience "annoying" and "a nag."
"The fact was he wasn't healthy," Arkansas tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. said. "... He sat in there and pushed through it and practiced the best he could and played in a situation where he wasn't healthy, and I think he's going to draw a lot of confidence from that."
Lunney can relate to Allen's struggles last season, and not only because he also played quarterback at Arkansas during the school's difficult transition to the SEC more than 20 years ago. He also played through a shoulder injury as a sophomore in 1993, and he's made a point to talk with Allen about his experiences since last season.
"It's a unique position to play in a unique university," Lunney said. "When you do have the entire state on you, looking at you."
Allen's lowest point last season came after returning home from an overtime loss to Mississippi State in Little Rock -- only to find his truck had been egged by an upset fan.
The memory is one of many the quarterback is ready to put behind him.
Allen spent much of the summer taking a more vocal role in leading Arkansas' offseason practices, and he's ready to show why Bielema has called him the clear-cut No. 1 quarterback leading into the Razorbacks opening game at Auburn on Aug. 30.
He's also ready to show that Arkansas has a reason for its quiet confidence, despite last year's woes.
"Our whole team is so much more mature," Allen said. "We're not going to go into any game big-eyed and in awe of what's going on. We're definitely more seasoned than last year."