A quarterback will always be under a spotlight, one of celebrity status and insane pressure to make the play. No matter how great things are some fans will always feel like the QB could do more. Too conservative, taking too many risks, stares down receivers, holds the ball too long, there's always something negative. If a drive stalls, or a wideout drops one, an endless debate occurs on how much of the blame to place back to the quarterback. That is the nature of the job. Brandon Allen has been through it all at this point: questioning his decision making, the endless call for a backup, all the highs and lows. This season will determine his story at Arkansas. It will very likely hinge on a few critical moments, no matter how well he plays throughout most of the games.
My definition of a critical moment: A 3rd or 4th down in the last 2:00 of a game or OT, or when leading and attempting to pick up a first down forcing the opponent to use their remaining timeouts.
Critical Moments: 2013 Season
The first substantial critical moment of Brandon Allen's career came toward the end of his first season as a starter. Against Texas A&M Allen returned from the shoulder injury and looked on fire through the first half, but Arkansas was unable to keep pace in the second half. Running the gauntlet of Florida, South Carolina, Alabama and Auburn resulted in four more losses. Against Ole Miss, Allen had an opportunity in the 4th quarter after an Eric Bennett interception inside the Arkansas 5 yard line.
The next shot in a clutch situation came after the bye week against Mississippi State. On a fourth and 9 at the 24 yard line in overtime, Allen faced an opportunity to pick up a first down or score to keep the Hogs alive. A pick on a comeback route sealed the win for the Bulldogs after trailing most of the way. Many opportunities for Arkansas were missed in this game, including an Alex Collins fumble inside Bulldog territority with five minutes left in regulation.
LSU the next week:
After freshmen Anthony Jennings 99-yard TD drive to take the lead Allen had a chance to do the same with only 1:15 to play. LSU sent pressure as the clock was winding down and the result was a strip sack fumble.
The strategy was obvious for LSU, send pressure and make Allen beat them, they were not going to sit back and play coverage as some teams would in that situation.
Critical Moments in 2014:
#6 Texas A&M in Regulation and Overtime
Arkansas had a chance to score in regulation, but instead were forced to punt. In OT AJ Derby was not able to pick up the first down on 3rd and 8 and the eventual stop of Alex Collins' 4th and 2 gave the Aggies the win.
Down 1 with 2:00 to go Arkansas had a shot to drive within field goal range to knock off a top ten team. Allen attempted to throw back across the field but was picked off by Landon Collins.
#1 Mississippi State
In a battle against the #1 team in the nation at the time, Allen had the Hogs inside Mississippi State territory with the clock winding down.
No quarterback is going to convert in all of these situations, even Tom Brady, Aaron Rogers, any of the Mannings, or even players in other sports like Lebron James will at some point come up short in a critical situation. Allen at Arkansas has shown he has the competitive drive, arm, and ability to come through in some of these clutch moments. The odds are in his favor. His stats in the back to back wins last season over Ole Miss and LSU speak for themselves. But, there is absolutely no doubt that in a game this season there will be a critical moment that he is asked to convert.
The use of virtual reality technology has the capability to put players in even more of these situations. The CEO type of program Bielema runs identifies a problem area and puts a player in that situation and gives them the tools to improve. We will see the results of those added reps in stress situations that are so difficult to simulate in practice. That combined with Allen's experience will pay off. Whether it comes in the form of a deep ball down the sideline like Ryan Mallett to Greg Childs, putting together a game winning drive like Tyler Wilson's to beat Texas A&M in 2011, or something like Casey Dick's game winning touchdown to London Crawford over LSU, Brandon Allen will have a chance this season to convert a critical situation and when he does it will be an incredible moment that solidifies his spot with the other clutch QBs in Razorback history.