Backup QBs on the spot as Razorbacks travel to Rutgers

By now it’s no secret that Arkansas starting quarterback Brandon Allen is about as likely to play for the Razorbacks on Saturday at Rutgers as you or I. OK, that’s exaggerating, but you get the point.

Brandon Allen suffered an injury to his right shoulder when he leaped into the end zone for the Hogs’ first touchdown on a five-yard scramble in their 24-3 victory over Samford. Allen’s right shoulder is either bruised or separated, which could keep him on the sidelines for a few as two weeks and as many as six weeks.

If it’s the former, he could be back in time for the Hogs’ road trip to Florida on Oct. 5. Even in the best of cases, it’s doubtful he would be ready for the Texas A&M game on Sept. 28.

If the injury is more severe, the target date for his return could be as late as Arkansas’ Nov. 2 home game against Auburn. If the injury does linger that long, Arkansas could consider a medical hardship for Allen, even though he has already redshirted. That would likely only happen if either A.J. Derby or Brandon’s brother Austin Allen, a true freshman, had solidified themselves as the Hogs’ starter.

For those wanting to see the younger Allen keep his redshirt year intact, it’s a great thought and it could still happen, but in all practicality his redshirt came off last week when his brother went down and Derby entered the game.

At that point Austin Allen was one unfortunate play away from being the Hogs’ starter. He has to practice with that knowledge, and one hopes Arkansas’ coaching staff is preparing him for that possibility.

After Derby’s shaky play in handling shotgun snaps, some are already questioning whether the junior college transfer is up to the task of quarterbacking the Hogs.

It’s too soon to tell from my vantage point, but he did show considerable improvement in the second half, and after a week of work in practice as the starter, we could see a much different looking player against Rutgers.

Then again, we may not and that’s why Austin Allen also needs to be on Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney’s fast track, and no doubt he is.

As Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema often notes games are precious commodities, with only 12 guaranteed a year. Bielema promised the seniors that he was coaching for them to win this season, not the future.

Arkansas’ coaching staff must play the quarterback who has the best chance of helping the Razorbacks defeat Rutgers, even if it means burning a redshirt. And with the type of competitor Austin Allen proved to be on the prep level, I’m guessing he’d love to have the opportunity to play on Saturday.

Shoulder History

Shoulder injuries have been unkind to the Razorbacks quarterbacks before. The two that stand out the most in my memory were suffered by Greg Thomas in 1987 and Clint Stoerner in 1999.

While no Razorback loss ever will swell to the enormity of the Hogs’ failure against Texas in the Big Shootout of 1969, Arkansas’ loss to the Longhorns in 1987 rings almost as hollow to a generation of fans.

Arkansas was the better team in 1987, but the game hinged, or should I say unhinged, on a shoulder injury to Thomas. Thomas was hard-running option operator who had developed himself into a credible passer by his senior year, his third as a starter. However, he struggled with a bruised shoulder, first knocked out of joint against Ole Miss, during the first half of the season.

Thomas opened the game strong, but he re-injured his shoulder on a touchdown run that gave the Hogs a 14-7, first-quarter lead over the Longhorns. Unfortunately, his freshman backup Quinn Grovey was in worse shape with a groin injury.

Thomas played the remainder of the game, but Arkansas went the better part of three quarters without throwing a pass because the young man couldn’t lift his arm above his shoulder.

The ever-opportunistic Longhorns made the most of a controversial fumble recovery and an ill-conceived timeout by Arkansas defensive coordinator Fred Goldsmith to find them in position to win the game.

On fourth and goal at the four, Texas quarterback Bret Stafford threw a dart between three Razorback defenders to little Tony Jones for the game-winning touchdown, 16-14.

In 1999, a bruised shoulder suffered by Stoerner, when head coach Houston Nutt elected to re-insert him in the game after Louisiana-Monroe scored a meaningless late touchdown in a 44-6 Razorback victory.

The next two weekends, the Razorbacks were on the road at Alabama and Kentucky. The Hogs were favored in both games, but Stoerner struggled with his passing touch on short routes because of the injury. With the Hogs’ star quarterback at less than his best, the Crimson Tide staked a 35-28 victory and the Wildcats posted a 31-20 win.

We’ll have to see if Bielema and the Razorbacks can avoid similar pitfalls this week against the Scarlet Knights.