Arkansas had no choice but start a new quarterback on Saturday night against Alabama and redshirt freshman Cole Kelley responded with a good performance in a 41-9 loss.
It wasn’t a perfect game for Kelley, but no one expected it to be. He was starting his first collegiate game and doing it against the top-ranked team in the nation in their home stadium. He completed 23 of 42 passes for 200 yards, one touchdown and an interception. Bret Bielema was impressed with Kelley’s performance and effort.
“Obviously, a tough situation for a new quarterback to walk into, but Cole gets you excited about some things,” Bielema said. “I think our guys were excited to play for him and with him.
“I was excited to watch him play. Anybody that’s been around him, I think there’s a lot of positives he can build off of. I thought his poise was good and his confidence level was there.”
Kelley was forced into action when a shoulder injury suffered in the South Carolina game sidelined Austin Allen, who had started 18 consecutive games until Saturday night. Allen’s status for Auburn is also very much up in the air.
Despite still being sacked five times and the running game only producing 27 yards on 29 attempts Kelley still played behind an improved offensive line. It was one that saw only left guard Hjalte Froholdt start where he did the previous week. Senior center Frank Ragnow moved to right guard, junior Brian Wallace was finally inserted into the starting right tackle slot. Junior Johnny Gibson, who had started games at both right tackle and right guard, moved out to left tackle and junior Zach Rogers got his first collegiate start was the center. Bielema talked about what he was looking for from his team including his offensive line.
“I wanted to go swing for swing and be as physical as we possibly could,” Bielema said. “Physicality comes from within your heart, and within your mind and within your soul. I thought the guys did fight and did respond. But obviously we didn’t have enough horses.”
That is an offensive line one has to wish had started since Week 1 and see how much they had improved in the sixth game of the season. Instead, Wallace and Rogers started for the first time this season. Wallace started 10 games last season and yet he only started Saturday after they had tried true freshman walk-on Ty Clary at right guard with Gibson at tackle then Paul Ramirez got a chance ahead of Wallace.
Despite any positives that came out of Kelley’s performance in a tough situation there was still some negatives that continue to pop up. On special teams, Blake Johnson let a clean snap go between his hands on Arkansas’ first possession. He then chased the ball down and instead of kicking it on the run tried a pass. That allowed the Tide to take over at the Arkansas 25. They got a field goal for a 10-0 lead. Later in the game Connor Limpert missed a PAT.
The defense did some good things including Kevin Richardson picking off Jalen Hurts’ pass which was the first interception suffered by the Tide quarterback this season. But they allowed Damien Harris to go 75 yards for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. The Hogs were behind 17-0 before they seemed to finally settle into the game.
With the loss, Arkansas drops to 0-3 in the SEC. The Razorbacks haven’t beaten the Tide since the 2006 season. This was a season when they were picked to finish fourth in the SEC West. Right now they are in seventh place. Auburn comes to Fayetteville on Saturday night to face the Razorbacks in another night game. Auburn will come in mad after blowing a 20-0 lead against LSU.
Arkansas and Auburn will kickoff at 6:30 p.m. this Saturday on the SEC Network.