Underclassmen give Bielema hope at Arkansas
Published: Friday, October 4, 2013 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, October 3, 2013 at 11:03 p.m.
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Bret Bielema has done his best since being hired at Arkansas to focus just on this season.
The Razorbacks coach, however, couldn't resist a small look ahead to the future earlier this week while discussing a host of talented underclassmen already contributing to the offense.
When the Razorbacks (3-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) face No. 18 Florida (3-1, 2-0) on Saturday, they'll likely do so with as many as six freshmen or sophomores taking part in the majority of the action on offense.
From sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen to freshman running back Alex Collins, Arkansas appears in good shape — both now and in the future.
“Those aren't just four or five average players, those are four are five really good players that as sophomores and freshmen,” Bielema said. “So, it's fun.”
In his first season as the starting quarterback, Allen has thrown for eight touchdowns and 670 yards while missing nearly two games with a shoulder sprain. He set a career high with 282 yards passing in a 45-33 loss to Texas A&M last week, but his return from injury sparked Arkansas to 483 yards of total offense.
Collins, meanwhile, has been nothing short of spectacular in his first season.
The Florida native is second in the SEC in rushing this season, averaging 119.4 yards per game. His 597 yards rushing lead the league in total yardage, and he's combined with another underclassman running back — sophomore Jonathan Williams — for 1,068 yards rushing and six touchdowns through five games.
Collins waited until the day before national signing day in February before committing to Arkansas, but another talented freshman who has contributed early was Bielema's first commitment. After Bielema's introductory news conference at Arkansas last December, the first person he called was tight end Hunter Henry — a call Bielema called “probably the most rewarding phone call I've made since my announcement.”
The Little Rock native wasted little time in reaffirming his commitment to the Razorbacks, and he's lived up to expectations. Following last week's 4-catch, 109-yard receiving performance against the Aggies, Henry is second on Arkansas with 12 catches for 234 yards.
“It definitely felt great to be in the game plan and help my team out,” Henry said. “When the run game opens up, it helps the tight ends get the ball a little bit more, so I've got to give credit to everyone else.”
Others have been less reserved in their praise of the 6-foot-6, 250-pound Henry, who Bielema said is “going to set records” with the Razorbacks before he finishes his career.
“I saw it in camp,” Williams said. “That's when I really saw his potential, and he hasn't disappointed yet. He's a big playmaker and is real calm out there on the football field. You can tell he has confidence, and he makes plays.”
A pair of other freshmen offensive linemen, Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, also made their first starts last week at the guard positions. The 6-5, 345-pound Kirkland and 6-10, 317-pound Skipper earned the praise of Bielema and Allen for their efforts, and they are likely to start again this week against the Gators.
It's a game that's expected to give Arkansas' youthful offense its most difficult challenge yet. Florida leads the SEC on both scoring and total defense this season, allowing just 12.8 points and 202.5 yards per game.
“They're definitely a great defensive team,” Allen said. “It all comes back to us doing our part, us doing what we can not to make our own mistakes to help them all. Because we really can't afford that.”
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