FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen emerged as one of the top quarterbacks in the Southeastern Conference last season, and he entered this year as the league’s leading returner in passing efficiency.
So far, the senior’s encore has yet to live up to the lofty expectations he set a year ago in his first season as the starter for the Razorbacks (1-1).
Arkansas faces Texas A&M (2-1) in the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium on Saturday, doing so after a 28-7 loss to No. 16 TCU two weeks ago. The Razorbacks failed to score in the second half against the Horned Frogs, the third time in four games that’s happened under coach Bret Bielema.
Allen has thrown for 135 and 138 yards in the first two games, the two lowest totals of his career as a starter. He’s been plagued by an overhauled group of wide receivers and a struggling offensive line, but more than anything the Fayetteville native has looked uncomfortable and uncertain.
“I’m looking for things to get open instead of throwing it open,” Allen said. “Last year, I was just letting it rip.”
Allen averaged nearly 264 yards passing per game a year ago, throwing for 25 touchdowns and 15 interceptions and finishing with a passing efficiency rating of 146. He also completed 61.1 percent of his passes last season, a number that has fallen to 54.8 percent through two games this year — while his passing efficiency has dipped to 120.3
Offensive coordinator Dan Enos said Allen has been “processing” too much during plays so far this year, and that the quarterback’s footwork and throwing motion haven’t been as consistent as a year ago.
The two have worked on both the physical and mental parts of Allen’s early struggles since the TCU loss, with Allen saying he plans to play more of a relaxed game this week against the Aggies.
“I was just putting too much pressure on myself, where I want to be perfect on every play,” Allen said. “I’ve got let things come to me and instead of trying to be perfect on every throw, just throw the ball.”
Arkansas’ top three receivers graduated after last season, leaving a largely unproven group to support Allen this year. Also, the team’s leading receiver — senior Jared Cornelius — missed most of the preseason with an injury and has only returned to full speed during practice since the TCU loss.
That lack on continuity has had an effect, most notably during the TCU loss when Allen completed 9 of 23 passes with only three completions to wide receivers.
Bielema said, in addition to Cornelius returning to 100 percent during practice this week, the rest of the Razorbacks have been able to practice at full speed on offense over the last week for the first time this season.
Now he’s counting on Allen to trust that his teammates will do their jobs — while focusing only on his.
“I think he’s also felt the weight of the world, trying to make this whole offense go when all he’s got to do is be the quarterback,” Bielema said. “He’s got guys around him that can run the football, guys around him to can catch the football, guys in front of him who can block for him.
“All he’s got to do is be the quarterback, and the more he does that the better we’ll be.”
Follow Kurt Voigt on Twitter at @Kurt_Voigt_AP