1. No Throwing
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said Wednesday morning quarterback Brandon Allen would not be healthy enough to throw passes during his team’s second full practice in preparation for Texas A&M. So the Razorbacks continued to prepare AJ Derby for his second straight start in place of Allen, who hurt his shoulder on Sept. 14.
“Brandon will take part (Wednesday) in maybe some handoffs and some things that don’t involve the throwing of the football,” Bielema said during his appearance on the SEC teleconference. “He’s just not quite there yet.”
Allen has thrown for 388 yards with 5 touchdowns and an interception in nine quarters this season. Bielema hasn’t publically ruled the sophomore out of Saturday’s game, but signs continue to point to Derby earning his second start.
Derby has thrown for 173 yards and a touchdown in seven quarters since Allen’s departure against Southern Miss. The junior completed 14 of 26 passes for 137 yards with a touchdown in his first start at Rutgers last week.
“Percentage wise I would still say it’s about the same last week of him being able to roll Saturday,” Bielema said Wednesday morning about Allen’s chances of playing against the Aggies on Saturday night. “(Tuesday) AJ and Austin Allen took all the reps during practice. … There is a chance that he could be there Saturday. But for us to get to where we need to be, AJ will continue to take the reps.”
Bielema said Wednesday night on his weekly radio show he thinks Allen will be ready for Arkansas’ next game at Florida on Oct. 5.
2. Philon’s Success
Arkansas defensive tackle Darius Philon enjoyed the best game of his career last week, sacking Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova twice in the first half.
The performance didn’t surprise defensive end Chris Smith.
“That was just a game that he broke out,” Smith said. “That was one thing (defensive line) coach (Charlie) Partridge said on the sideline. He said ‘I’m not surprised with the plays you’re making.’ He said, ‘I told you it was going to happen.’”
The redshirt freshman has provided Arkansas with more depth on the interior of its defensive line. Partridge said he played roughly 20 snaps in relief of starter Byran Jones and could be in line for more playing time against Texas A&M on Saturday.
Philon said he’ll be ready for the work after enjoying a big day at Rutgers.
“It’s always in my mind whenever I’m out there, go do something to make a play to help the team get in a good situation,” Philon said. “As a freshman, I just play my role and do what I need to do. Whenever they call my jersey number, I’m ready.”
3. Youth Movement
Texas A&M has plenty of veteran players, including Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel. But Kevin Sumlin’s 2013 team also is loaded with plenty of youth.
The Aggies have played 17 true freshmen so far this season. It’s the most Texas A&M has played since 2008, when former coach Mike Sherman used 18 true freshmen.
“That’s where we’re at,” Sumlin said Wednesday. “We signed 31 players this year and we’re at a point in our program where we’re trying to build depth. We’ve got some talented young guys. They’ve made some mistakes, but they’re playing hard.”
Linebacker Darian Claiborne has the biggest responsibility among the new group after starting his first game last week. Claiborne is sixth on the team in tackles (18).
“We’re utilizing all of them,” Sumlin said. “Those guys are doing a great job, but obviously they’re learning on the job. What they lack in experience, they make up in enthusiasm. They’re having fun playing the game.”
4. Defending Evans
Manziel is just part of the problem for Arkansas’ defense this week.
Texas A&M’s Mike Evans also has emerged as the SEC’s top wide receivers, catching 22 passes for 575 yards with three touchdowns as a sophomore. It included a 279-yard receiving effort in the Aggies’ 49-42 loss to Alabama two weeks ago.
So Bielema said the Razorbacks will have their hands full trying to disrupt the connection that has developed between Manziel and the 6-foot-5 Evans.
“We’ve got to use great body position,” Bielema said. “We obviously have to make sure we try to do some things to disrupt the throwing of the quarterback and how he can throw a ball in there. We all know he can get the ball into some very tight windows. The pass rush has a lot to do with that. It’s a very unique challenge and we’ll put our guys in heels or whatever to get a couple of inches of height.”