FAYETTEVILLE — Brandon Mitchell’s move from backup quarterback to wide receiver was great while it lasted at Arkansas.
Times have changed for the worst and where he ends up at this point is anybody’s guess following the head injury suffered by starting quarterback Tyler Wilson.
After their shocking and possibly season-derailing loss in overtime to Louisiana-Monroe, the Razorbacks don’t have much time to wallow in misery: They host No. 1 Alabama (2-0) on Saturday, a team that has beaten them five straight times.
Arkansas (1-1) faces the very real possibility of facing the defending national champion and its nasty defense with either Mitchell or redshirt freshman Brandon Allen under center after a dismal showing against the Warhawks on Saturday.
“You’ve just got to throw that behind you,” Mitchell said. You can’t forget what happened because you’ve got to stay hungry, but we’re not even thinking about (Louisiana-Monroe) now. It’s like it never happened for us.”
Wilson made his first Southeastern Conference start in last season’s loss to the Crimson Tide, a game in which he was battered and bruised after being on the receiving end of hit after hit by Alabama’s swarming defense.
The first-team All-SEC quarterback took a similar beating in the first half of last week’s loss to the Warhawks. He didn’t play after halftime and Razorbacks coach John L. Smith said he was still experiencing “grogginess” two days later.
Wilson hasn’t practiced this week while waiting on clearance from doctors and his availability for Saturday’s game is uncertain.
It was Allen’s emergence during the summer and preseason camp that allowed Arkansas to move Mitchell to wide receiver. Allen struggled in his first extended playing time in last week’s loss, finishing 6-of-20 passing for 85 yards as the Razorbacks blew a 21-point third-quarter lead.
He also victimized by several dropped passes against the Warhawks, one of which resulted in an interception. Allen didn’t make any excuses for his performance, but he did say the Razorbacks had a false sense of security after his 13-yard third-quarter touchdown pass to Mekale McKay put them up 28-7
“Everyone’s thinking, ‘We’ve got this thing wrapped up,’ and we kind of let off the pedal a little bit,” Allen said. “And obviously that bit us in the butt, and they came back and we lost the game.”
Smith has remained confident this week in Allen, who has long been thought of as the quarterback of the future with the Razorbacks. Facing Alabama is another matter altogether.
“He knows he can play the game, we know he can play the game,” Smith said. “It was kind of an unfair situation for him to be place in at that point in time. By no means are we attaching any blame to his performance at all. He was OK; he needs other people around him to step up and play well as well and give him some help.”
Mitchell, meanwhile, has spent the bulk of his time this week at his former position of quarterback. The junior was Wilson’s backup last season and performed well in spot duty, completing 22 of 32 passes for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
Mitchell moved to wide receiver during the summer with hopes of seeing additional playing time. That move paid off in a season-opening win over Jacksonville State, a game in which Mitchell had four catches for 122 yards. He had no catches against Louisiana-Monroe.
He said he didn’t have any thoughts about wanting to return to quarterback during the second half of the loss, and Smith said he had no regrets about moving Mitchell to receiver or playing Allen.
Wilson’s injury, though, showed just how fragile quarterback depth can be, and Arkansas offensive coordinator Paul Petrino said Allen is taking 55 percent of the practice snaps there this week with Mitchell taking the other 45 percent — while also continuing to split time with the receivers.
“I’ve been a lot more tired in practice going back and forth with the 1s and 2s at quarterback and receiver, but it’s not anything I haven’t done before,” Mitchell said. “I’ve been with the quarterbacks since camp and all summer and into the season now.”
Whoever plays for the Razorbacks, Alabama coach Nick Saban isn’t taking them lightly.
“Nobody here should be feeling warm and cozy about the other team’s circumstance or situation,” Saban said. “We need to be thinking about what we need to do to be successful, regardless of who plays in the game. They have a lot of good players that are very capable of making plays and having success, regardless of who plays quarterback.”
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this report.