Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said quarterback Brandon Allen remains a “game-time decision” Saturday, but still hasn’t received “100 percent assurance” from team doctors that the sophomore is ready to play after last week’s shoulder injury.
Allen participated in Thursday’s practice on a limited basis by taking snaps from under center and in the shotgun, according to Bielema. But he did not throw any passes during Arkansas’ final tune-up before heading to Rutgers.
“You guys know the proponent I am for player safety,” Bielema said. “We won’t put him on the field unless they feel that he can protect himself in a normal game situation and then obviously he’s got to feel good enough to go in there as well. The thing that’s been fun is all week I think he’s gotten significantly better every day. There’s nobody that’s more engaged and more who wants to play more than him.”
Bielema said the sophomore did get out of the sling he had been wearing since Saturday on Tuesday or Wednesday. Allen will travel with the team when it leaves for New Jersey today, too. But signs continue to point to backup AJ Derby starting under center in place of Allen when the Razorbacks play Rutgers.
“To see (Allen) out bopping around out there now and taking snaps (Thursday) - it makes you feel good,” Bielema said. “But on the same account you’ve got to understand exactly where he’s at and he hasn’t gotten 100 percent assurance yet from the doctors that we can put him in there.”
Rutgers sounds much more confident about its starting quarterback, Gary Nova, for Saturday’s game. Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said Wednesday he was “very optimistic” Nova would be back from the concussion that knocked him out of last week’s game and told the Newark (N.J.) Star-Ledger his thoughts hadn’t changed Thursday.
If Allen can’t play, Derby, Austin Allen, Brian Buehner and Damon Mitchell would fill out the quarterback depth chart. Bielema said Derby and Austin Allen have divided repetitions in practice this week with Brandon Allen unable to throw passes.
“I would say that we had a little bit more even reps than we would have if it was a normal week, just because we wanted to get Austin going a little bit as well in case BA doesn’t play,” Bielema said. “I thought (Derby has) handled it very well. He threw the ball around extremely well (Thursday). Thursday we have a scripted practice, kind of like a game-like situation and he actually kind of got a little bit more in rhythm there. I think from the time he first entered the game on Saturday to where he is today, it’s been a very, very good blessing to have all this time to prepare him.”
2. Secondary’s Second Chance
The Arkansas secondary was scorched by Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova and his receivers last season. The Scarlet Knights piled up 397 passing yards and five touchdowns, rolling to a 35-26 win against the Razorbacks.
Cornerback Tevin Mitchel didn’t play in the loss because of the head and neck injury he suffered two weeks earlier against Louisiana-Monroe. But the junior said Arkansas’ defensive backs don’t plan to let a repeat performance happen Saturday.
“It hurt me, even though I wasn’t out here, that they came in our house and they beat us,” Mitchel said. “This is a new year. That’s in the past. Now we have to go in their house and beat them.”
Brandon Coleman leads Rutgers’ receivers with 12 catches for 139 yards and two touchdowns in three games. He also presents a big problem because of his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame. But Mitchel said he’ll be prepared for the challenge.
“We’ve got to have the mentality where you shouldn’t care the size of any receiver,” Mitchel said. “Just go up and do what you have to do. Do what you’re coached to do.”
3. Run Blitz Ready
Southern Miss frustrated Arkansas with a variety of run blitzes during last week’s win, providing the biggest test to the Razorbacks ground game so far this season.
Center Travis Swanson said it should be a good thing, though, because Rutgers has a “striking resemblance” to Southern Miss defensively. At the very least, Arkansas will have a good feel for the type of challenge the Scarlet Knights present this week as the Razorbacks try to continue their run-game success Saturday.
“I think we really lucked out scheduling those two games back-to-back,” Swanson said. “Obviously we have a lot of carryover for this week, but we’re going to learn from the mistakes that we made this past week and fix them for this week.”
4. Extra Points
Bielema said TE Hunter Henry suffered a leg injury against Samford, which played a role in the freshman going without a catch against Southern Miss last week. He believes Henry, who is the team’s third-leading receiver, will be “more effective” Saturday. … Bielema said WR Javontee Herndon has been a “one-man show” through three games. But he’s hopeful Arkansas can get more of its receivers involved at Rutgers. That includes Keon Hatcher, who has been healthy this week after being slowed by a preseason hamstring injury. … CB Jared Collins, who suffered a head injury against Southern Miss, practiced “a little bit” Wednesday and all of Thursday, according to Bielema. It’s not known if Collins will be available against Rutgers. … Bielema said Arkansas will bring 72 players to New Jersey for Saturday’s game. The Razorbacks dressed only 70 players for its first three games, but Bielema said Arkansas is “taking a couple extra just because we’re that much more healthy.”