29 Dec

James Shibest: “I can remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young”

James Shibest

The Virginia Tech special teams coach recalls meeting Austin Allen while coaching at Arkansas

James Shibest and Bobby Allen are at the center of Razorbacks-Hokies football coaching cross-pollination. Allen, a former Virginia Tech player, has been on the Arkansas staff for nearly 20 years. Shibest, meanwhile, is a former Razorback player and coach. He’s in his first year at Virginia Tech, coaching special teams and tight ends for Hokies coach Justin Fuente.

They will both be on the sidelines for today’s Belk Bowl, in which Arkansas is a touchdown underdog to Virginia Tech according to the latest betting odds.

Shibest, who coached at Arkansas 2000-07, yesterday recalled Allen training his two sons in and around Razorback Stadium. Those boys, Brandon Allen and Austin Allen, have combined to hold the Hogs’ starting quarterback job for the last four years.

“Almost every free minute he had he was working with them boys and obviously that worked,” Shibest told sports show host Bo Mattingly and sportswriter Clay Henry on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly. “Whether it be football, baseball, whatever it was, has paid off. God I’m just so happy for them guys. I used to remember how chunky ol’ Austin was when he was young… He’s an unbelievable competitor, let me tell you. I know all the Hog fans know that boy but I’ll tell you what, he is a good player.”

Here are some more choice excerpts from their conversation:

Bo Mattingly: … What was that period of your life like when you  left Arkansas when coach Nutt took the job at Ole Miss? Then when it didn’t work out at Ole Miss, you had some stuff to figure out…

James Shibest: No doubt. I have really been unbelievably blessed. Ever since I’ve gotten to this level I was very fortunate. I came from junior college and coach [Houston] Nutt hired me. God what an awesome person to work for and learn from. You love your alma mater so much, you want to stay there. It was tough.

Then when we went to Ole Miss went ahead but you got to go feed the family. Really the first time I really ever had to look for a job is when I got connected with coach Fuente at Memphis there. It didn’t take long, it was a couple of weeks. It wasn’t like I had to sit out a year. It’s a tough road a lot of times in this profession. I’ve been extremely lucky. Always having to be at a great place and then with great people to work for.

On coaching junior college football:

James Shibest: Let me tell you it was really a great training. First of all you learn how to go be a coach. Them guys kind of were on their second chance especially the Division I type guys through academics or various reasons. They needed you more. I don’t know if I’ve ever been closer to my players more than in junior college. It was obviously a little bit smaller but them guys really needed your help. There was some deep, deep satisfaction when you could get them to that … back to division one or whatever, to that next institution.

Clay Henry: I’ve written stories about the Arkansas wide receivers of late and I keep pulling up these top 10 lists. I keep finding you in there —

James Shibest: Didn’t do much as a freshman and then, of course, it was a little nerve wracking there. I came in with hopes and Coach [Ken] Hatfield was … Of course all you heard was the Flexbone. I didn’t really know what that was as far as being a receiver, how I would fit in that. It’s amazing how it turned out to be a great blessing. Them safeties have to play the dang triple option in there, and I was out there by myself one on one most of the time and-

Clay Henry: You ran those crossing routes. It’d take a little while. The safety would clear than then ere came Shibest, about eight seconds later.

James Shibest: All right now, I was a lot faster than what y’all say I was.

Clay Henry: Okay, sorry, sorry.

James Shibest: [Laughs] It was pretty cool. You know Brad [Taylor] was still there so we kind of had to throw the ball that first year and end up having a pretty good year. It all worked out just like the way it should have.

The Shibest File
Experience: 27th season, 1st at Virginia Tech
Hometown: Houston, Texas
High School: MacArthur
College: Arkansas (1987)
Playing Exp: Arkansas (1983-87)
Family: Wife – Dianna; Son – James John III, Daughter – Jordyn Grace

Coaching History

Year School Position
2016 Virginia Tech Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2012-15 Memphis Special Teams Coordinator/Tight Ends
2008-11 Ole Miss Special Teams Coordinator
2006-07 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
2002-05 Arkansas Special Teams/Wide Receivers
2000-01 Arkansas Special Teams/Tight Ends
1996-99 Butler County CC (Kan.) Head Coach
1994-95 Garden City CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator/QBs/WRs
1993 Independence CC (Kan.) Defensive Backs
1992 Independence CC (Kan.) Offensive Coordinator
1990-91 Oklahoma State Graduate Assistant
03 Jan

Brandon Allen, Bret Bielema & Sebastian Tretola Yuk It Up in Post Liberty Bowl Press Conference

Spirits were running high at the press conference following Arkansas’ 45 to 23 victory over Kansas State in Saturday’s Liberty Bowl. That much was evident from a question that normally wouldn’t elicit anything close to humor.

A few minutes in, reporters asked about the health of Razorback junior Dominique Reed, who suffered a head injury in the second quarter which looked very scary. The Camden native was immobilized and carted off the field.

Bret Bielema: I probably was a little bit oblivious, because when I went out there he was moving his arms, he was moving around. But he got knocked out, he was as out as out gets. That part was there. They just did an unbelievable job of precautions, in that situation didn’t get the right responses.

But he was in the locker room with us. He’s got a heckuva headache probably but he’s alive and well.

[He was] walking, talking – he smiled, he smiled at me. [pause, grins] Sometimes Dominique gives you a delayed response anyway so you just kind of got to get used to it.

Here are more excerpts from the press conference:

On new “Chrome Cardinal” helmets

Alex Collins: I just believe it gives you an extra edge. You know, look good, play good. We were out there feeling good, everybody’s watching, we got this chrome – it’s just a good feeling. I like it. I wish we could’ve done it a few more times this season.

Bret Bielema: I actually designed a helmet with that kind of color back when I was at my old school. When I left to come to Arkansas, and they didn’t let me coach in the Rose Bowl I took the helmet with me. [grins] So that design had been there for a while.

Sebastian Tretola: I was a little nervous about the helmets because the last time we tried tried to change up the uniform we lost three games so… [grins]
But, you know, it worked out. We won the game. They were awesome obviously and [pause] swagggyyy?

[looks at Bielema, laughing]

On Dan Enos:

Bret Bielema: He’s been an unbelievable godsend. He so well organized, detailed, planned. His relationship skills – it just makes it more fun environment and I’ve ever endured as a coach…

There’s kind of an ongoing saga. Every day then Skipper finds a new picture of Dan Enos on the Internet that kind of just makes him look worse and worse. And every day Matt, just really angry with his little glasses on. I saw one clear back from the high school days just the other day.

And then he tries to retaliate on the o-line. I don’t know how to stay neutral out of the whole thing.

He brings a lot to the table that has nothing to do with winning games, and he brings a lot to the table that has to do with winning games. He’s just so dialed in. Once him and BA got comfortable with what his skill set is, what he could handle and what he could do over the course of the game it’s been a skyrocket ship. It’s been off the charts.

Alex Collins on this touchdown run:

I was very determined. We wanted to put the game away and us scoring on that drive was what kind of put us over. Just seeing everybody’s faces and determination on that play made me feel like I had to to do my part and get this touchdown. I just fought hard to score for the team.

What Alex Collins has meant to the team

Brandon Allen: Alex ran hard all day. You’ve got to give credit to the guys who were blocking for him… He was breaking tackles, never going down, just really running hard on every single play. He really carried us in the second half and is definitely deserving of that [offensive] MVP.

Sebastian Tretola: The kid is unbelievable. He runs angry, he runs mad, the legs never stop and that and I think that adds to our mentality. The o-linemen keep going. Even if you miss your block, he might make that guy miss, so you better keep running because you might help him 20, 30 yards down the field.

Josh Liddell: As these guys said, watching Alex Collins run is unbelievable. As defensive guys we see him running out there, breaking tackles in fighting for every extra yard. That just fires us up and gets us pumped up and ready to play and play defense. It’s really fun to watch Alex run.

Alex: I feel honored. If you asked me the same thing, I would say the same thing about those guys. I would say those guys had a great game. I don’t like taking credit for anything because without the other 10 guys on the field I wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything.

The o-line did a great job blocking for me, the tight ends as well, so I don’t take credit for anything. The seniors did a good job of motivating us and getting us ready to go. Sebastian does a great job every game…

Brett Bielema: Alex is playing as good a football as he’s ever played since being here. It’s been a steady crescendo in our program, and that’s what you should do. You should get better every day, every week, every year.

The part of his game that’s really improved this year is his overall toughness, his durability. I think Brandon Allen and some of the offensive players would tell you he’s really put it on the line a couple times for them in the pass protection which sometimes running backs don’t do.

He really drew closer to our team this year. He’s a really bright, engaging young man. This year he really took more of an ownership in the team than he ever had before, and it’s been awesome. He comes back with us next year, you’re probably looking at a Heisman candidate.

He could go down as not only one of the best players in Arkansas history but could be the first player in the SEC to run for at least 1000 yards and four straight years. If he goes on, the NFL’s gonna get a very good football player with a lot of growth and opportunity in front of him. I’m just blessed to have three years with him already.


 

Want more on Collins’ impending pro decision, why Jonathan Williams got back into the game and why Bielema thinks people still don’t give the SEC West enough credit? Get all that and the rest of the transcription from the press conference by signing up for my newsletter below:


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27 Nov

Brandon Allen’s Hot Streak Matched By Only Six Quarterbacks Since 2001

Not many Power 5 quarterbacks have thrown for at least 14 touchdowns and 950 yards with a QB rating of at least 190 in a three-game stretch since 2000. As you can see by the numbers in the parentheses  below, half of them have done their damage in their team’s first four games when powder puffs are more likely to be played. The other half have achieved this feat in the more difficult middle or last parts of the season:

QB Year School Completions Attempts % Yards TD Int Rating
Seth Russell ( Gms 1-3) 2015 Baylor 50 80 62.5 995 15 4 218.9
Sam Bradford (2-4) 2008 Oklahoma 66 93 71 1110 14 2 216.6
Geno Smith (2-4) 2012 West Virginia 109 133 82 1405 16 0 210.4
Jared Goff (2-4) 2014 California 59 94 62.8 1067 14 2 203
Rex Grossman (3-5) 2001 Florida 66 99 66.7 1159 14 1 209.7
Cody Kessler (7-9) 2014 Southern California 64 90 71.1 983 14 1 212
Brandon Allen (9-11) 2015 Arkansas 72 104 69.2 989 14 1 191.6
Josh Fields (10-12) 2002 Oklahoma State 45 68 66.2 954 14 0 252

All stats via sports-reference.com

Josh Fields, who is head and shoulders above the rest in terms of hot-streak QB rating, ended up playing for the Chicago White Sox.


 

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As a bonus, you’ll receive a full breakdown of all Division I quarterbacks to ever achieve this three-game feat.  Six other quarterbacks from “mid-major” programs have also done the deed. As you can imagine, guys like Case Keenum and Colt Brennan rank awfully high…

22 Nov

Mississippi State Player on Hogs Defense: “I thought they was a little better, man.”

Dan Mullen believer

Junior Mississippi State De’Runnya Wilson expected his offense to score on the Razorback defense Saturday night. But 51 points in four quarters? And being one of two receivers tallying 10 catches? Not so much.

“I thought they was a little bit better, man,” Wilson said of the Hogs’ defense after Arkansas lost 51-50 at home. “They really played me really tight.* I’m just happy that the gameplan was to get the ball to the receivers in the open field, throw swings and block the perimeter.”

After a game filled with dramatic scoring swings, the postgame scene in the Mississippi State locker room was a predictably upbeat one. The Bulldogs had just survived one of the greatest duels by opposing quarterbacks in SEC history, with  Dak Prescott and Brandon Allen combining for 969 total yards and 14 total touchdowns.

 

Perssist


 

Emotionally, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen likened the night to jumping out of a plane and “pulling the rip cord four hours later.” He added: “I think it was two of the best quarterbacks in America battling out there on the field today.”

Below are more excerpts from Mullen’s press conference. I’ve boldfaced the more Razorback-related comments:

What a football game. What a football game that was. I tell you what, that was big time ball. Both teams, as impressive of a quarterbacking performance I think as you’re going to see in college football on both sidelines. We talked to our kids about finishing. You know, everything we do from the start of January through off season conditioning, spring training, summer conditioning, training camp all season, it’s about competing. Every time you compete, you finish. You finish and finish and finish. Our strength staff, unbelievable job, having that team ready at this time in the season to go finish a game. Our defense, I told them we need to go get a turnover on that last series. I felt a turnover.  Don’t stop, don’t stop believing.

 

 

Don’t stop fighting for every inch, then it’s going to happen. Even right there at the end, make it a yard longer, make that field goal longer, continue to battle and we found a way to block the kick to get a win. It’s pretty special, pretty special for this team. So proud of our guys. Great football team in that locker room, great football team of guys who care about each other, play hard for each other, and compete in everything that they do.

Read More

10 Oct

Top 15 SEC QBs, Ranked By 1st Half & 4th Quarter Performances

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen has gotten a hard knock this season for underperforming in the fourth quarter of games. While he’s definitely missed a few important throws in the fourth, the perception among some fans that he is especially “unclutch” comes from the fact he’s so good in the first half. His first-half-to-fourth-quarter dropoff still is the worst in the nation among Power 5 starting quarterbacks, just as it was last week and last season.

But the question of what criteria should comprise “clutchness” is a nuanced one.  As I point out in this article for the Fayetteville Flyer, the traditional QB rating only takes into account passing yards and not rushing yards. Allen’s number would likely improve slightly his rushing was including – as  he has been efficient running  this year, going 23 times for 4.3 yards a carry. But so would other quarterbacks’.  Still, the limited nature of the QB rating is important to keep in mind when looking at the below comparison stats.

I’ll highlight Allen and Jake Coker since the Razorbacks and Crimson Tide play tonight. These 2015 stats are current through the early afternoon of October 10.

1st Half QB Rating 

Brandon Allen: No. 2

Jake Coker: No. 7

First Half Rating

 

4th Quarter Passer Rating

Allen: No. 12

Coker: No. 10

4th quarter passing rating

1st Half to 4th Quarter Improvement 

Allen: No. 15

Coker: No. 9

1st half to fourth quarter improvement

3rd Down Passer Rating

Allen: No. 4

Coker: No. 14

3rd down passer rating

That’s a huge 3rd-down success disparity through five games this season. One major key for Alabama to win this game will narrowing this gap, while Arkansas will try to keep the numbers as close as possible to Allen’s season average.


Bama Hogs

Find more one-of-a-kind T-shirt designs for both Arkansas and Alabama fans at Coed Co-op  

10 Aug

Q&A with Brandon Allen & Austin Allen

Nelson Chenault (USA Today)

They have pushed each other their whole lives. The question now is how far they can push their team.

A veritable dust storm of media folk rolled into the Razorback football team’s compound yesterday for the program’s annual media day. I was honored to attend, too, and enjoyed the chance to sit beside the Razorbacks’ top two quarterbacks. Here are some choice excerpts from what they had to share:

Starting Quarterback Brandon Allen

On what to expect from the new offense under Dan Enos

You can expect a lot. You can expect us to be a very balanced offense … the biggest thing we’ve worked on is not allowing teams to be able to stack the box against us and stop the run. We’ve done a lot and grew a lot as an offense … I don’t want to say spread people out but keep people on us really and just little tweaks here that are gonna allow us to get the ball in the perimeter, and not let teams knock it out and box us.

On his wide receivers:

You know I love the experience and Keon is really leading those guys and he’s even bringing that core receiving corp a long way. Hunter is the leader of those tight ends and you know they’re doing so much in making themselves better. They’re doing a lot from a fundamental standpoint getting releases, getting off coverage and they’re night and day from where they were last year.

On if Hunter Henry will play an even bigger role in the offense this year:

Absolutely – you know we’re doing so much with him. He’s such a mismatch for defenses with  linebackers and corner backs … He’s such a mismatch and a weapon for us. So we’re gonna move him around we’re going to do certain different things with him, they’re going to feature him and give him the ball and  the offense is all about getting the ball to the play maker.

On all the pre-season love Arkansas has been getting:

I look at it as an opportunity. I think I’m really just excited for the season and we’ve talked about as a team the pre-season accolades, the pre-season watch list, those really don’t mean anything to us. They really don’t. They’re nice to hear but the real thing we want is those pro-season accolades and the things we know that we can accomplish and get done.

On running behind one of the most hoss-ified offensive lines in SEC history:

Makes me feel nice it really does, you know I feel very protected, very at ease back there. Those guys take it hard on themselves whenever I get hit or anything and I think those guys really take pride in what they do. Whether that’s opening holes or protecting me, they love seeing success from this offense.

On handling the big pressure moments coming this fall:

I think that really comes from experience, being able to handle the moment, handle the big pressure situation and I think my experience goes a long way. We’ve got the personnel and we got the player skills to make the big plays. You know it’s just my job as quarterback to be able to put the ball in their hands.

On how much it matters whether the Hogs have a two-a-day or not this training camp:

It all comes down to how we practice. If we don’t practice the way we need to practice we may as well throw a two-a-day in there, but if we practice the way we should, get the work in we need to get done and do it at a high level, then there is no need for that two-a-day – and we can go about our business without having those two-a-days.

On whether he sees other teams also shedding two-a-days if the Hogs get off to a hot start:

They may. We’ll see how it works out it’s really for just keeping us fresh for the start of the season and throughout the season so no two-a-days may be the way to do it.”

Interested in reading similar interview takeaways from 20 other Hog coaches and players, including Dan Enos, Will Gragg and Dominique Reed? Get them all through BestOfArkansasSports.com’s interview roundups.


Quarterback Austin Allen

On getting some burn last year (his sophomore year):

That was a fun experience right there. I hadn’t played for two years going into that Ole Miss game. That was a lot of fun going in there and running the huddle and all that, and it was exciting for me.

On whether he’s feels his time to get major minutes is coming, as it was at Fayetteville High after his brother graduated:

A little bit. There’s a lot of competition and a lot of great quarterbacks here, a lot of new quarterbacks coming in. You always got to be prepared. I mean, you always got to work hard and always try not to get out-worked basically is the way I like to think about it, and that’s kind of what I’m trying to do… You got to be confident playing the quarterback position. That’s just kind of seeps through to the other teammates when you’re walking the huddle, when you have an aura of confidence, and you’re the calling the play.

On how the receivers and running backs look nowadays:

The practices in fall made me see how far Duwop [Mitchell] has come. He’s a freak show wide at receiver and now you’ve got Dominique Reed coming in, he broad jumped 11-11, he runs about a 4.27 40. Then you got consistent guys like Keon, he’s been amazing since the time I got here to where he is now, it’s unbelievable. He’s ready for a breakout year and he deserves all of it. All of the running backs just chuck it down to him to a two-yard throw, and they might run for 85, so there’s playmakers all over the place.

On why fans and players are optimistic for 2015 beyond the fact the team finished strong in 2014:

I think it’s just they see the improvement in the team from the first year to second year, and now our recruitment class has come in. There’s some big-time players that came in in that recruitment class, and there’s just how well Coach Herb got us all prepared, our bodies, to play in the SEC. That’s why I think we have the confidence, because it comes from the head coach and Coach Herb. It should be a good year.


 

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18 Sep

Why Bobby Petrino’s Departure is Ultimately Good News for the Razorbacks

For Arkansas to beat college football’s big boys, it needs a coach who can attract and sign high school football’s big boys. Courtesy: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

With 2:50 left in the first quarter, Arkansas trailed Alabama 7-0 on Saturday. On third down, freshman quarterback Brandon Allen threw a pass to Brandon Mitchell near mid field, but the ball bounced off Mitchell’s hands and appeared to be picked off by Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner, who ran it back to the Arkansas three yard line.It wasn’t clear if Milliner had actually intercepted the pass. CBS replays showed the deflected ball wobbling and falling down, down close to the turf, before going up again, scooped up into Milliner’s arms.

The question: Did it hit ground first? At any point, did it bounce back?

Yes, it turned out.

The Razorbacks, though, could be falling for a while.

There were too many loose ends in Arkansas’ 52-0 loss in Fayetteville. Not even a healthy quarterback, cornerback and fullbacks would have tied them.

The game still had not slipped out of grasp in the early second quarter when, down 10-0, from Alabama 42 yard line Allen misread the Alabama defense and forced a deep pass over the middle to tight end Chris Gragg. Safety Vinnie Sunseri – with such a name, I’d expect him to play for Rutgers, the New Jersey school Arkansas plays next – intercepted the ball and returned it 13 yards. Allen, making his first start, could have made the far more simple throw to an open Knile Davis, who would have run it to near the first down marker.

It’s likely Tyler Wilson, Arkansas’ injured star quarterback, would have made the safe throw.

On a pass attempt on the next Arkansas drive, Allen stayed in the pocket a couple beats longer than he should have. He was sacked for an eight-yard loss, pushing the Hogs back to their own 20-yard line and killing the drive.It’s likely Wilson would have gotten rid of the ball quicker.

This isn’t a jeremiad on Arkansas’ unseasoned quarterbacks, who have done about as well as can be expected, all things considered. They had nothing to do with the spotty special teams play. They weren’t going to stop a 6-4, 320-pound Australian defensive lineman named Jesse Williams from putting the entire Hogs’ offensive line on the barbie. They weren’t the ones unable to get around the three preseason All-Americans on Alabama’s offensive line, or wrap up bruising tailback Eddie Lacy behind the lines.

Wilson would not have helped in these departments.

If Arkansas’ entire roster is healthy, it’s good enough to beat the Rutgers, Ole Misses and Auburns of the world – even if the coaching is much worse than it was last season, before Bobby Petrino’s attempted career immolation. Even with Petrino as coach, though, the gap between Arkansas and national front-runners Alabama and LSU was obvious.