Arkansas Fight Panel Discussion: Week 3 - Razorback Passing Game, Defense, Alabama vs Texas A&M

Wesley Hitt

Gathering everybody to discuss the issues of the day

1. So, did you panic? Did you survive the flashback? Are the Hogs ok?

Drew: Panic? No. Intense feeling of deja vu? You bet. I'm convinced that the ghost of John L. Smith is haunting WMS. It was encouraging to see the Hogs regain their composure after Samford pulled ahead, though and basically dominate the rest of the game.

Brent: I definitely panicked. There was a point during the second half of the ULM game last year where I actually said aloud, to no one in particular, "We're going to lose this game." You could see which way the game was going (fumbles, penalties, a panicked QB and a lack of commitment to the running game), and it only got worse after that. That moment arrived again Saturday; the difference this time is from that point forward, we pulled a complete 180 and started playing sound football again. I think we're OK, but just OK. I'm planning to delve more into this later this week, but I believe the 1st and 4th quarters are more indicative of the talent on this team, but the 2nd and 3rd showed that we're not good enough to beat anybody when we're playing sloppy football.

Randy: My only question was when relentless running would commence. The third quarter was unsettling. First down fumble by tailback. Offsides defense. Wide-open pass allowed to tailback. Wide-open TD pass allowed. Two incomplete passes and punt. Incomplete pass on third and short, another punt. Dumb personal foul. Breakaway TD run allowed. Then with the Hogs trailing, two downs, two failed pass plays.

It's third and 11 at the Arkansas 24, 4 minutes left in the third quarter, trailing 21-17. Why weren't we running? Now we had to throw. The first five pass plays of the second half had flopped, including the first two downs of the "drive" AFTER Samford-freaking-SAMFORD had taken the LEAD over ARKANSAS A PRETEND SEC TEAM ERMAHGERD!

Brandon Allen found the oft-neglected Julian Horton for a gut-jolting, diving-save, 11-yard catch and barely-first down. Rest of game, I kid you not: Two passes, 26 rushes (for 190 yards), one victory kneel.

Are the Hogs OK? Tell me how often they are going to break out inexplicable strings of pass plays.

Graham: That same gut-wrenching feeling made its presence again, but it was good to see the Hogs come back and win. Arkansas lost this game a season ago which makes me feel a little more confident going forward. Although I am still leery about this team making a bowl game.

Adam: I pretty much had the exact same thoughts as Drew. I felt confident enough in our coaching to not panic, but I was starting to feel a little too uncomfortable. Is it not possible to have a blowout game at War Memorial Stadium anymore? I blame the wave. ALWAYS blame the wave.

Kevin: When Samford went ahead, my brain jumped to a scenario where Samford wins the game, and that jump didn't feel very good at all, so I hollered even louder for the Hogs to shut these guys down. Having set in those stands for the ULM game, yeah, I had a serious flashback. But the difference this year was that we had a coaching staff calling the right type of plays for the situation at hand, that is let us just run the ball and eat the clock on a way to a win. Glad to see that the team didn't panic like they did last year. Are the Hogs okay? Well, they are a lot better off having to take a harder look at themselves with a win in their rear-view mirror than a program-doubting loss to Samford.

Doc: I spent the third quarter just cussing.

Robert: Yeah, I panicked. I flashbacked (Flashed back?). It's a game I don't want to relive, and I'm just glad the Hogs were able to finish the game with a W. I think that they will be okay. No permanent damage, but my expectations for the season have been tempered a little bit.

Scottie: I actually didn't panic this go around, due largely in part to our run game being as good as it was. I felt like Alex Collins and J-Will could break a long run on any carry. When Truss scored on the 16-yard TD run, that feeling came back. Thank goodness for J-Will and AC, because nothing else was working and we basically gave up on the pass.

Zack: The Hogs are what they are, and that is a rebuilding team. A lot of us, me included, maybe lost sight of that after the ULL game. Still a lot of questions to be answered.

2. Were you surprised that the passing game was so focused on Javontee Herndon? He had five of the nine receptions, while Hunter Henry only had one after leading the team last week. What should we make of that?

Adam: Coach (from the fancast) loves it everytime that Herndon gets the ball. That's HIS guy. But when you see a quarterback unable to turn his head just a little to see what else is out there, it makes you a little nervous. Plus, his quick reliance on scrambling doesn't make me have any hope for receivers to have any chance of getting open after the play breaks down. I'm going to chalk this up to bad WMS memories of last year and the ghost of Alabama still chasing him.

Scottie: Herndon seems to be the go-to guy so far, so I wasn't too shocked. Julian Horton has been virtually a no-show through two games. That needs to change. But yeah, there's no reason Hunter Henry should be catching his first ball late in the third quarter. None. I think we all saw a little of the Brandon Allen from the ULM game last year, too. He looked flustered and panicked on several different occasions.

Randy: Samford covered the tight ends on their very-vanilla routes. Allen locked in on Herndon a few too many times. Horton might not be shifty, but when he got wide open, Allen ignored him like the defense did. If any other wideout could make plays, he would get a chance.

Brent: Yeah, Brandon Allen's locking in too much. I hope that's a reaction to the one-on-one, one-handed wins Herndon has made in the last two weeks -- Allen thinking "this guy catches everything I throw to him, so I'm just gonna keep throwing to him." That can be coached out, and the film session when Allen finally sees Julian Horton running WIDE ASS OPEN on the flea-flicker will help. I am a little bit worried, though, that Samford laid out a blue print on how to stop us: lock up in man coverage, shade to Herndon's side, put a big DB on Henry and then gear up to stop the run.

Zack: Give me two guys rushing for 130 plus yards a game, and I won't concern myself with the passing offense.

Doc: It's okay to not worry about the passing game when playing a team you can run against nearly at will, but that won't last much longer. They'll need to be at least efficient through the air sooner rather than later.

Graham: After the success in big plays that Brandon Allen and Herndon had after the first week, no wonder Allen made one read and chunked it Herndon's way. And I'd attribute the lack of production of Hunter Henry to he and Allen's inexperience. Also, I think Brent alluded to a good point, one that should certainly cause concern in the future. Did Samford provide the game plan to stopping Arkansas' offense?

Drew: Brandon's doing the same thing that Tyler did last year with Cobi, and hopefully the coaches will address that this week. Herndon has done an outstanding job of positioning himself as the go-to receiver, but throwing to him in double coverage while Horton (or whoever) is wide open will eventually burn us. Overall, I was surprised at how few looks the TE corps got this week compared to last - TEs combined for nearly half of the total receptions against ULL, but only 2 total this week (and averaged nearly 20 yards/rec, to boot). I don't know if that was due to play calling, tight coverage, or Brandon just not doing his checkdowns, but if the TEs are going to be that effective, there's no reason to not go to them more.

Kevin: I wouldn't call myself surprised, but maybe mildly disappointed that Allen wasn't getting his other receivers involved in the game. If he has a mental lock on just one receiver, a future defense is going to have a pretty easy job of shutting our passing game down. I want future defensive coordinators to look at tape and have a lot to worry about when it comes to the passing game. Maybe this Southern Miss game will be the game that Allen shows he can find other receivers.

Robert: I wonder if the offense is being simplified. Does Brandon Allen only have one option on a given pass play? I think he's growing and as long as he's not throwing interceptions I'll be pretty happy.

3. In both of the first two games, the defense has looked really weak at times, but has really clamped down when it needed to. Can the Razorbacks survive like that? How much should we keep in mind that Trey Flowers and Jarrett Lake didn't play?

Zack: No, we have to be more consistent. Flowers is a playmaker and makes the unit better as a whole, but we're not beating real teams that way. However, it's not more of the same as last year, though, I think this unit is laying the foundation for years to come and we will see improvement over time.

Randy: Because Jarrett Lake was suspended, Arkansas had flipped outside LBs Braylon Mitchell and Martrell Spaight. Mitchell, who started game one at strongside LB, moved to weakside to replace Lake. Spaight started his first game in place of Mitchell on the strong side. Samford already had planned to pick on the linebackers; this late development played into the visitors' hand. Almost everything they did well took advantage of the linebackers being out of position, or oblivious in pass coverage.

Samford's only long drive was in the first quarter. The Bulldogs mixed quick sideline passes vs. very soft coverage with runs and throws aimed at making the linebackers stop them. Even with two penalties, Samford never had a problem in going 75 yards.

If Arkansas has to make weekly changes at linebacker, the defense will continue its slow starts. Everyone who started game one was a first-time starter, too. Lake was a first-time starter. He worked hard to get to that point. Then he did something to get benched for a game. The lack of discipline, for someone who should be grateful for any chance after the team's horrid 2012, was the biggest warning sign I came away with.

Scottie: We can't survive with our 1's missing time. I heard Jimmy Dykes say in the press box, "the difference between the 1's and 2's is as wide as our shoulders." I'd like to think that makes sense. There is an evident falloff in talent between the 1's and 2's. I don't think we can beat SEC level competition with our 1's on the sideline and suspended.

Graham: It's good to see the defense stand up when it has to, though no fan wants to see them put in those situations against inferior teams. The bigger story is what is going on behind the scenes. Jarrett Lake was, from all reports out of camp, a guy that the whole team should be emulating. So what's going on that he didn't even make the trip? Was it a subtle jab at playing games at War Memorial?

Follow my rhetoric here... Bret Bielema wants his team to be like Lake. Lake did not make the trip to Little Rock. So, by the Law of Syllogism (If A=B and B=C then A=C), Bielema does not want his team to make the trip to Little Rock anymore. Boom! Law school would have been too easy.

Doc: Glad to see we have a resident conspiracy theorist on staff. :)

Drew: It's going to be hard to make a determination of what the defense is actually capable of until the Rutgers game. Trey Flowers being out shouldn't have made a difference, because the D-line is supposed to be one of our strengths. Lake, on the other hand, was an important factor; the linebacker position was going to be tenuous this year, at best. That was before injuries to Otha Peters and AJ Turner, as well as setbacks with the JUCOs who were signed in December - Martrell Spaight didn't get to take part in spring training and Myke Tavvares apparently isn't ready to go yet. I think missing Rohan Gaines was a big deal, too, especially considering how weak we are at safety.

Adam: It gave me solace knowing that several of our key players on the defensive side of the ball didn't play on Saturday, giving me an excuse. With the offense of Texas A&M and Johnny "Cash Money" Manziel coming up in a few short weeks, I shudder to think of what could happen unless we start to show some progress.

Kevin: Right now, the best aid to the defense is the fact that our offense has been able to play keep-away rather effectively. I think we had the ball 37 minutes in the first game and 35 minutes in this latest game. It is hard to tell how much a difference Flowers and Lake would have made. Maybe we'll get a better idea of that when they play against Southern Miss.

Robert: This defense looks really good when they get penetration, and really bad when they don't. It seems like this defense won't get a coverage sack all season. If they can continue to survive off of creating havoc in the backfield, they will still have a pretty good season. That being said, depth is an issue. We may have trouble if we're expecting our 2's to go up against another SEC teams 1's.

Brent: We were missing, arguably, our top guy at all three levels of the defense: Flowers, Lake and Gaines. But you know what? That shouldn't matter, at least not to the extent that it seemed to, because Samford is an FCS team, and only a slightly better-than-average one, at that. Against Georgia State (which is terrible) in Week 1, Samford ran for less than 3 yards per carry. Against the Hogs, they ran for 4.6. Were there extenuating circumstances? Sure. But these things are troubling.

4. Southern Miss is on a 14 game losing streak. Is it fair to expect a more dominantperformance than we saw against Samford?

Adam: Yes. On all that is Tebow holy, yes! I need dominance. Give it to me, BERT!

Kevin: Yes! Good teams don't let the Samfords and the Southern Misses of the world make a game of things. They go out and take care of business early, which is what I hope we do. The Samford game was a disappointment in that we didn't have the comfort of letting a lot of our backups play. Hopefully that will change next week and we can see some A.J. Derby, for example, and other guys who need some experience on the field.

Brent: It is absolutely fair to expect a more dominating performance. If we eliminate the turnovers and penalties -- or if they just don't come at such soul-crushingly bad times -- I think the Hogs win by 21-plus. (Early line is -22, by the way. How 'bout them handicapping skills, y'all?) I saw some of the Nebraska-Southern Miss game, and to call the Golden Eagles hapless would be kind.

Graham: Arkansas averaged over six yards per carry (both Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams were over seven). That was dominating. While the passing game was only a yard better per play this past week. Not so dominating. And we all noticed when the Razorbacks got away from the run game is when the game started to go awry. This is no passing team, and for it to put up any sort of "dominant" performance, they have to stick to what they know.

Drew: I'd definitely like to see a more dominant effort on both sides of the ball. I'd really like to see the offense crack 40 points for the first time this season. A defensive shutout is probably wishful thinking, but a blowout win before the trip to New Jersey might give the team some confidence.

Robert: "Arkansas fans shouldn't have much to worry about in this game." That's a real quote from me about the Samford game. That being said, fans can expect a more dominant performance and shouldn't have much to worry about when the Hogs play Southern Miss, though if they beat us, they might have to make some kind of Golden Eagle movie.

Randy: Last week, Nebraska intercepted four Southern Miss passes and returned two for scores. QB Allan Bridgford did complete two bombs against the vaunted Black Shirts. He was sacked once. USM has some good, young receivers. Don't be surprised if the Golden Eagles rack up some air miles.

How many football programs ever have fired a head coach after one season (no, JL Smith does not count)? Ellis Johnson (DC for Bobby Petrino at Arkansas for a few days in 2008) was so bad, USM axed him 342 days after making him a first-time head coach. Things are not getting prettier in Hattiesburg, and the Porkers will be closer to full speed.

Scottie: On offense, I think we can expect another Samford-type performance in the run game. Brandon Allen will be better next weekend. On defense, our secondary will be tested again. Southern Miss is averaging 44 pass attempts/game through two games. I like us to win 38-10 in pretty dominant fashion.

Zack: It's fair to expect a win, at this point, I don't care how. 3-0 sounds awesome.

5. The media this week is going to be all Bama/A&M, all the time. Does it matter to Arkansas who wins?

Drew: In the long run, it probably doesn't matter who wins. Best case scenario for the Hogs is for the Alabama defense to absolutely abuse Johnny Autograph - it needs to be a real humbling experience for him. And if the ESPN cameras catch him getting into a shouting match with his O-line after a sack, all the better. The last thing we need is for that dude to come to Fayetteville thinking he's invincible.

Randy: No. After this game, the Aggies get to spend a week focused solely on pass defense (playing SMU) before coming to Fayetteville. It might be good for the Hogs' chances if A&M beat the Tide again. That would give the Money Badger (Johnny Manziel) two more weeks of ego inflation. In the meantime, Arkansas' captains need to practice coin flip calling. Whoever gets the ball first in this game is likely to score.

Kevin: Personally, I want Alabama to win and knock the snot out of Johnny Football. As for what would be best for the Hogs, well, we might get a deflated Aggie team if they come to Fayetteville having lost to Alabama. Then again, we could get an over-confident Aggie team if they come to Fayetteville having beat the Tide. Either way, we'll have a handful. Our defense is going to have to play with their heads on fire to stop Johnny Football and company.

Brent: No. I can't imagine right now that it does.

Adam: Who are these Alabama and Texas A&M teams you speak of? It only matters who wins to us if we beat them. Personally speaking, I just want Texas A&M to lose a slow, agonizing defeat. I don't think Arkansas really cares who wins. Every game from now on (even Southern Miss by the looks of it after last week's game) will be tough. One game at a time.

Robert: I think Arkansas would rather see A&M win. A 4-0 A&M team with a lot of swagger would be easier for Arkansas to sneak up on and beat. Though, in recent memory, Arkansas hasn't played an Alabama team with a loss, especially not a Nick Saban Alabama team. Alabama with a chip on it's shoulder might be pretty scary.

Scottie: It matters more if Texas A&M wins, not so much if Bama does. If Bama does, they stay at #1, but if A&M wins, Arkansas gets a shot at potentially a top-3 team nationally at home. DWRRS will be electric for that game even if we slip up at Rutgers. To me, I think it matters more if A&M wins. The target on their backs would be bigger than ever.

Doc: I'd say whether or not Arkansas beats Rutgers will have a huge impact on the atmosphere at the A&M game, but I'm not sure how much the result of this game will. Obviously, if the Aggies are undefeated it will be a higher profile game nationally, and that's always more fun. I'm always in favor of being a part of high profile games, so that part of me hopes A&M wins. But I've picked Alabama, and think Arkansas might have a better shot against A&M if they've been knocked down a peg. They've had this game circled since the day the schedule came out.

Zack: I don't think the game matters. It could set up for something cool, but unless we can pull out an upset over both of them, it doesn't matter too much. As we saw last Saturday, we've got our own crap to worry about.

Graham: As long as Arkansas goes undefeated in conference play, they'll find themselves playing in Atlanta no matter who wins on Saturday. Woo Pig!


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