FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas players spent the summer raving about quarterback Brandon Allen’s maturation, insisting the sophomore’s confidence was climbing after winning the starting job in spring practice.
The Razorbacks’ first preseason scrimmage showed they were right.
Allen proved to be the biggest star of Arkansas’ 107-play scrimmage inside Razorback Stadium on Saturday, completing 16 of 17 passes for 204 yards with a touchdown. The Fayetteville native was sharp in running Arkansas’ first-team offense, continuing to build on what coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said had been a productive first week of camp.
“Brandon Allen continues to impress me with certain throws, his composure, his demeanor,” Bielema said. “Just everything he brings to the table.”
Most of Saturday’s scrimmage was based on specific situations. For instance: Early portions were spent trying to gain a first down. The Razorbacks also worked extensively on third downs from the offense’s side of the field.
So moving the ball up and down the field like scrimmages the past few years wasn’t an option early on. But when Allen got that opportunity later in the practice, he led the first-team offense to points on all three possessions.
It began with a touchdown on a red zone drive that began on the 22-yard line.
The key play came when Allen hooked up with senior Javontee Herndon for a 17-yard gain on 3rd-and-7, throwing a perfect pass to the receiver’s back shoulder. It set up a first-and-goal for the offense. Running back Alex Collins scored three plays later on a one-yard run for the scrimmage’s first touchdown.
Allen connected with Herndon again for the biggest play of the day on his next series. He threw a deep pass down the sideline to Herndon, who tangled with cornerback Carroll Washington and came down with the ball for a 47-yard score.
“I thought our receivers (Saturday) did an exceptional job of competing for the football,” Bielema said. “It's something we've been stressing. It's one thing by rule to have a path to the football, but a lot of guys don't exercise it. …
“Our guys are just competing for the football that much more, and it's something we really, really stress and believe in, and hopefully it's paying off.”
The Razorbacks didn’t crack the end zone on the third series after Allen was sacked on third down by defensive tackle Robert Thomas. But place kicker Zach Hocker made sure the offense scored points by booming a 57-yard field goal.
Allen’s lone incompletion Saturday came on a dropped pass by receiver Julian Horton, who still led the Razorbacks in receiving with six catches for 63 yards.
“I'd say really after the first week back from spring break to where we are now, every day just seems to go forward,” Bielema said of Allen. “We talk about winning each day. You hear our players talk about it. Winning every day. Every day is an opportunity. Then he's in there at the end, coaching up his brother (quarterback Austin Allen) and Duwop (Mitchell). He knows those guys have got some skills.”
Arkansas wasn’t as successful establishing the run against the defense Saturday, totaling 152 yards on its 49 rushing attempts (3.1 yards a carry).
Sophomore Jonathan Williams finished with 17 yards on 10 carries, while Kody Walker had 31 on nine attempts and Nate Holmes rushed for 13 yards on seven carries. The Razorbacks — who scrimmaged without starting center Travis Swanson (groin) and fullback Kiero Small (foot) — were led on the ground by freshman Alex Collins (12 carries, 40 yards, touchdown).
Collins ran for 11 yards on his first carry and also had a 17-yard that was nullified by a penalty. He showed signs of being a freshman, too, trying to reverse fields at one point before being chased down for a short gain by a swarm of Razorbacks.
“I knew he was going to do it,” said Bielema, who said the first week has shown Collins is a gifted player. “I didn’t know when he was going to do it. Knew he was going to try to reverse the field and our guys tomahawked him down.
“I said, 'Hey, we're not at South Plains (High) any more, you know.’”
Quarterback AJ Derby worked with the second-team offense Saturday, but wasn’t as sharp as Allen in completing 9 of 19 passes for 106 yards. Junior Brian Buehner got third-team repetitions and went 4-for-5 for 39 yards.
Austin Allen (1-for-1, 20 yards) and Mitchell (0-for-2) didn’t see any action until the last few plays of the scrimmage. But Bielema indicated both continue to factor into the battle for backup jobs, however. The No. 2 position remains up for grabs.
But there’s no question about Arkansas’ starter, who looked confident and comfortable running the offense in his first preseason scrimmage.
“It's just fun to watch his growth,” Bielema said of Brandon Allen.