FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Coca-Cola. Pepsi. Peanut butter. Jelly. Austin Allen. Cole Kelley.
‘This or that?’ is a fun game to play when killing time. Which would you choose? This? Or that?
It’s not as fun when you’re Arkansas, your season is going straight down the toilet and you have to make a decision about which quarterback you’re going to start for the final three games of the season.
Coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Dan Enos have to make it, though. At 4-5, likely with their coaching futures on the line, the question of whether Allen or Kelley will be Arkansas’ quarterback is currently the most pressing on-the-field curiosity. Whichever decision is made is sure to generate backlash.
Allen entered the year as the SEC’s returning leader in practically every passing stat in the league. He was named the preseason All-SEC third-team quarterback. His 2016 performance was excellent at times, although it did grow worse late in the season. Still, Allen was a big reason the Razorbacks were able to win seven games last year. He won the job, earned the job and deserved to keep the job.
Then he got hurt. His offensive line, like it had so many times before, let him down. A South Carolina defender popped him a good one in early October. Allen has missed the past four games with a shoulder injury.
Austin Allen 2017 statistics:
Kelley, the talkative Louisiana-born redshirt freshman with a gunslinger attitude, stepped in. Under his guidance, Arkansas was smoked by Alabama and Auburn, but then beat Ole Miss and Coastal Carolina. They were unlikely comeback wins, but they were wins nonetheless.
Who provides the better option for the final three games? Arkansas needs to get to .500 to ensure a bowl berth. That means winning two of its last three against LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri.
Cole Kelley 2017 statistics:
Here’s the rub, and why the backlash will be furious either way:
Fans think the season is over. A lot of folks would prefer the Razorbacks not make a bowl this year. They want Bielema gone that badly, and they think there is a chance Bielema returns if Arkansas makes a bowl. Taking this side acknowledges that Allen probably provides the best chance to get Arkansas into the postseason. He is far more experienced and has the better résumé.
Coaches and players know that, and they want to go bowling. They’re not about to punt the season just to get extra snaps for Kelley. In their minds, building for the future is nice and all — but not at the expense of the present.
Consider, too, the players’ demeanor. For some reason a lot of fans don’t like Allen. They think he’s lax and doesn’t take things seriously enough; they think he whines and gripes to his offensive line too often. Kelley, they think, is happy-go-lucky. They remember when Bielema said players were excited to play for Kelley. That didn’t mean they weren’t excited to play for Allen. Not only is that a completely irrelevant way to judge a quarterback, it’s also wholly untrue in this case.
The truth is no one knows which quarterback gives Arkansas the best chance to win in the final quarter of this season. The smart money says it’s Allen, who is likely to play more snaps Saturday against LSU.
The way this season has gone, though, Bielema might not commit to either one and blow the final three games in the process.
It would be a wonderfully, horribly apropos end to this mess of a season.
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