Bielema: Allen a game-time decision, Derby ready
Bret Bielema still isn't sure if quarterback Brandon Allen will play this week at Rutgers and the Arkansas coach may not make that decision until Saturday.
Bielema said Wednesday that Allen still hasn't practiced following last week's shoulder injury against Southern Mississippi. He said the sophomore will travel with the Razorbacks (3-0) to face the Scarlet Knights (2-1), but that Allen will be a game-time decision.
If Allen is unable to play, Arkansas is expected to go with AJ Derby at quarterback.
The junior, who played last season in junior college after transferring from Iowa, led the Razorbacks past the Golden Eagles last week in place of Allen, who injured his right shoulder on a first-quarter touchdown run.
Bielema initially called Allen's injury a bruised shoulder, but he's declined to offer more details since about the nature of the injury, except to say that it wasn't a break and ''wasn't structural.''
''Unless the doctors can guarantee me 100 percent that there's no risk whatsoever, and (Allen) could look me in the eye and tell me, `I can guarantee you I can go, coach,' and doesn't blink, that's the only way we'd let him go,'' Bielema said.
Allen has performed well in his first year as the starter, completing 26 of 44 passes for 388 yards and five touchdowns. The sophomore won the starting job during the spring by beating out Brandon Mitchell, who later transferred to North Carolina State.
Derby won the job as Allen's backup during the preseason and was 4-of-6 passing for 36 yards against Southern Mississippi. The Iowa native struggled initially after Allen's injury, fumbling his first shotgun snap and completing just 1 of 2 passes for 4 yards in the first half, but he settled down and was 3-of-4 passing for 32 yards in the second.
''He's a naturally calm guy,'' running back Jonathan Williams said. ''He walked in there, he was pretty calm, but you could see as the game went on and throughout the game, he got even more calm and more comfortable out there on the football field.''
Derby played in nine games as a redshirt freshman with the Hawkeyes in 2011, completing three passes for 30 yards. He played last season at Coffeyville (Kan.) Community College after leaving Iowa, serving as the school's starting quarterback.
Coffeyville was 6-4 under Derby, but the quarterback struggled with his accuracy and turnovers. He was 149-of-321 passing (46.4 percent) with 22 touchdown passes and 14 interceptions.
Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Derby's experience during the preseason helped earn him the backup job over freshman Austin Allen, Brandon Allen's younger brother.
''I think AJ's got a wonderful feel for the game of football,'' Chaney said. ''He's got some common sense about him when it comes to playing football, and he's really improved his throwing motion to be able to throw the ball more accurately than he ever has.''
Bielema, who hasn't allowed the quarterbacks to speak with the media this week, said Austin Allen would serve as the No. 2 quarterback this week if his older brother is unable to play.
While Brandon Allen's status likely won't be known until Saturday, Bielema did say his injury has improved this week at practice. He said ''it will be a work in progress to get to Saturday, and if (Allen) can't go, the next man will be in and we'll take that challenge.''
If that man is Derby, senior wide receiver Javontee Herndon is confident the backup will be able to lead the Razorbacks to a win - and remain undefeated heading into next week's Southeastern Conference opener against Texas A&M.
''I think we're very confident in him,'' Herndon said. ''He can throw the football. He has control of the offense, and if we need him to be the guy, I think he'll do a great job for us.''