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Hogs: Arkansas-Texas A&M Sider… QB Allen returns

FAYETTEVILLE — On Friday evening, Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema got on Twitter and announced starting quarterback Brandon Allen would be rejoining the team for the game against Texas A&M on Saturday.

Allen missed last week’s 28-24 loss at Rutgers after injuring his right shoulder on a first quarter touchdown on Sept. 14 in a 24-3 win against Southern Miss. But the sophomore showed no ill effects of the injury Saturday. He completed 17-of-36 passes for 282 yards with three touchdowns in a 45-33 loss to the No. 10 Aggies at Razorback Stadium.

For somebody coming off what he called a “sprained” shoulder, Allen threw a lot of deep passes. Fourteen of his 36 passes were deeper than 20 yards. The only blemishes were two second-half interceptions, one of which was returned for an A&M touchdown.

“I thought he played great,” Bielema said. “Obviously we got two picks. I think that last one might’ve been more fatigue induced than anything. He really, basically, didn’t do anything for about a week and a half throwing the football. We were winging it around out there.”

When Allen took the field on the Razorbacks’ first possession it ended a week of speculation and just a tiny bit of subterfuge. Asked in the middle of the week about Allen, Bielema said he threw a bit on the sidelines. The reality was he did much more than soft toss while practice went on without him.

“What basically happened on Tuesday is he did no throwing whatsoever. We wanted to see if he could hand the ball off, move around, function as a quarterback. He had no issues,” Bielema said. “Wednesday he practiced about half the practice with runs, throws, everything like he’s a normal quarterback.

“Then we needed to see how he reacted. The doctors were really concerned about, once he practiced and threw and did all the things a quarterback does, how he’d feel the next day and if he’d be able to go. He was a little bit sore on Thursday, but felt better on Friday and gave us the clearance to do it.”

While Bielema didn’t announce Allen’s return until Friday evening (and admitted he only did so to excite Arkansas fans), the quarterback was convinced he was going to start sooner than that.

“This whole week we’ve been rehabbing hard. I think it was probably middle of the week I started feeling good and it might have been Wednesday you know I thought I would be good enough to play on Saturday,” Allen said. “I think we talked Thursday after we threw on Wednesday about how sore it was and what it felt like. We kind of realized we were going to be all right.”

Allen, whose shoulder was taped and covered with extra padding, said he felt fine throughout the game.

“There wasn’t a whole lot of pain tonight,” Allen said. “Credit to the (offensive) line, they kept me clean most of the game. So I didn’t have to take too many shots. It was fine the whole game.”

Allen was brilliant in the first half. On four of five first-half drives, Arkansas scored.

After A&M scored on the opening possession of the game, Arkansas went 62 yards in nine plays to tie the score at 7 on a 12-yard pass from Allen to Keon Hatcher. After the Razorbacks punted on their second possession, Allen led Arkansas on a 66-yard, six-play drive for a field goal that cut A&M’s lead to 17-10.

Allen hit Jonathan Williams for a 19-yard TD pass that capped a 10-play, 82-yard drive and then put together a nine-play, 72-yard drive for a second Zach Hocker field goal. At the break, the Razorbacks trailed by four at 24-20. Allen completed 10-of-18 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns in the first half.

“I thought we moved the ball well on them. I thought we responded well to them,” Allen said. “We knew that they had a high-powered offense and they’d be moving the ball and putting points on the board.”

Allen’s main target was tight end Hunter Henry, who caught four passes for 109 yards. Allen said the 6-foot-6 Henry presented a problem for the Aggies.

“We knew that we had a couple of mismatches with our wideouts or tight ends against their defense,” Allen said. “Hunter is obviously a big target. He’s a mismatch for a linebacker or a (defensive back).”

But Allen’s first interception was costly. On the third play of the third quarter, A&M free safety Deshazor Everett stepped in front of a short pass across the middle and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown and a 31-20 Aggies’ lead.

“I messed that up. It was all on me. I was telling the whole offense that one was my fault,” Allen said. “They rolled to a coverage late, I got stuck on one side and tried to force it in there.”

But Allen and Arkansas responded two more touchdowns in the quarter and trailed 38-33 heading into the fourth quarter. In the fourth, however, the Arkansas offense bogged down. The Razorbacks had a three-and-out early in the fourth.

After A&M stretched the lead to 45-33, Arkansas turned the ball over on downs after a 10-play, 67-yard drive bogged down midway in the fourth and then Allen threw a late interception.

Allen couldn’t lead Arkansas to a win, but center Travis Swanson said there’s no doubt his return was a “big lift.”

“We have faith in whoever they put out there, but obviously Brandon is the starter for a reason,” Swanson said. “He just does a great job, and I’m glad we got him back.”

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