Brandon Allen grew up with a front-row seat for Arkansas football, so he doesn’t need a history lesson.
The same goes for the recent history of the Hogs’ offense. They’re the only team in the SEC that’s had a quarterback throw for more than 3,000 yards each of the past four seasons.
Those are swanky numbers, for sure.
But there are other numbers that Allen is more concerned with as he steps in as Arkansas’ starting quarterback this season.
“You can put up as many numbers as you want, but it all comes down to the win-loss column,” said Allen, a third-year sophomore. “Football is such a team effort. It could be the sloppiest game you ever played. But as long as we come out with a win, that’s all I’m worried about.
“It’s going to take all three phases -- offense, defense and special teams -- to win in the SEC. All that matters to me is coming out with the ‘W.’ ”
If Allen sounds like a coach, there’s a reason. His father, Bobby, has been a member of the Arkansas football staff since 1998 and has coached every defensive position for the Hogs. He’s currently in his first year as Arkansas’ director of high school and NFL relations.
Allen has been tagging along with his dad to Hogs games since he was 5. And while getting a shot as Arkansas’ starting quarterback is pretty heady stuff, it’s hardly the end-all for a guy whose debut a year ago was anything but memorable.
“Winning the starting job was one of my goals, and to accomplish that is cool, but it’s not the end of the rope,” said Allen, who passed for more than 10,000 yards in high school. “There are a lot more things I’d like to get done. Becoming a starter here is just a step. The SEC championship and national championship is the goal our team has set and what we’re pushing for every day.
“It’s like coach [Bret] Bielema always says. We want to be 1-0 and win every day. That’s how you become a champion.”
Allen’s mettle was tested mightily last season as a redshirt freshman when he was thrown into a couple of tough situations. He replaced Tyler Wilson in the second game against Louisiana-Monroe after Wilson left with a concussion. Allen directed a touchdown drive to open the second half, giving the Hogs a 28-7 lead. But it was all downhill after that for everybody, as Louisiana-Monroe charged back to stun the Hogs 34-31 in overtime.
Allen finished 6-of-20 for the game and missed his last seven pass attempts.
The next week, he got the start against No. 1 Alabama, and the Hogs weren’t even a speed bump for the Crimson Tide in a 52-0 pummeling.
There were natural concerns among fans in the aftermath of those two performances about whether or not Allen was indeed the Hogs’ future at quarterback. But he never wavered in his belief in himself and came back stronger than ever this spring in beating out senior Brandon Mitchell for the job. Mitchell wound up transferring.
“I learned a lot in both of those games last year,” Allen said. “It was a tough learning situation. But if you’re going to get thrown into that kind of situation, why not against the best team in the nation?
“I got my feet wet against that kind of speed and talent, and it was obvious what kind of preparation goes into being able to play against somebody at that level. It’s something I think will stick with me for years to come.”
Jim Chaney, Arkansas’ first-year offensive coordinator, said he saw a change in Allen about midway through the spring. As much as anything, Chaney said Allen committed himself to doing all of the things it takes to be a starting quarterback in this league.
“He’d always had that backup quarterback mentality and a little immaturity about him in terms of how hard he needed to work to be a starter,” said Chaney, who coached Drew Brees at Purdue. “We had some powwows, and he decided that he wanted to be a good football player. He’s worked his rear end off ever since and has done an excellent job of understanding concepts better and just working harder.
“I love the kid. He’s a solid kid and doesn’t get rattled. It will be interesting when the bullets are live and he starts getting hit, because he’s going to get hit. It reminds me a little bit of my first year at Tennessee when we played all those young offensive linemen. So we’ll see how he holds up, but I love the way he competes and how hard he’s worked.”
Chaney said the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Allen has a little gunslinger in him, but he’s been extremely accurate and taken care of the ball in preseason scrimmages.
One of the most challenging aspects for Allen was making the transition from the offense the Hogs ran under the Petrinos (Bobby two years ago and Paul last year) to what they’re running under the new regime.
The terminology and formations are completely different, and what the Hogs are doing now, particularly given Bielema’s background, will feature much more of the running game.
“In the past, we’ve been more of a pass-heavy team, and our run game hasn’t been the greatest,” Allen said. “I think this year and the years to come, we’ll be a lot more of a balanced offense. We’ll have a run game and a passing game, and that’s what you need if you’re going to win consistently in the SEC.”
The Hogs haven’t finished higher than ninth in the SEC in rushing offense any of the last four seasons and were last (118.7 yards per game) a year ago.
Chaney said one of the things Allen does best is throw the ball off play-action and move around in the pocket and make things happen.
The honest dialogue between Chaney and Allen has also improved dramatically, which is critical in settling on an offensive plan entering the season.
“It took some time for that honest dialogue to develop, but I think we’re there now,” Chaney said. “A lot of quarterbacks are hesitant to say, ‘Coach, I don’t like that, or I don’t feel comfortable with that.’ It takes a certain amount of trust and maturity to have that honest dialogue, and between a play-caller and your quarterback, that’s everything.
“I can like a lot of things, but if the quarterback can’t go execute, then it makes no sense to call it. I think we’ve found a harmony, and I’m excited to go watch Brandon play.”