Arkansas Fight Panel Discussion: Week 5 - Rutgers Review, A&M Preview, Johnny Manziel Thoughts

Jim O'Connor-USA TODAY Sports

Gathering our contributors' opinions on the topics of the week.

1. Is it fair to say the Rutgers loss was simply due to any one single thing? Or was it the combination of so many things going wrong?

Adam: Many things. We all know them.

Randy: Rutgers needed every Arkansas mistake to recover from 24-7. They didn't only trail by 17; they were forced to punt twice while -17. Arkansas's viable formula for winning: 1) positive turnover margin (+3, check), 2) shortening the game with ball control (only 3-min time of possession edge, nine punts = fail), and 3) leading in the kicking game -- fail, because Rutgers beat the Hogs 106-2 in punt return yardage. Punting failures were the most damaging, in my view.

Don't punt to a dangerous returner in the middle of the field x2 = Arkansas victory. On those two punt returns, Arkansas's momentum unraveled. Up to then in the third quarter, Rutgers's offense had run 12 plays for a net 9 yards. Punting out of bounds isn't illegal; it's smart.

Runner-up: Jarrett Lake's sideline push of Gary Nova helped Rutgers score right before half, bailing the Knights out of a pending third and 21. This was the worst of Arkansas's six penalties. Also damaging: Mitch Smothers's holding, which erased a 7-yard gain by Alex Collins. Instead of second and 3 at the Rutgers 45, it was first and 20 at the Hogs' 38. The Hogs had been marching in response to Grant's TD punt return. Not scoring there opened the door for the fourth quarter disaster.

Trent: There are scores of issues that need attention, but bad decisions cost Arkansas the game. Specifically three. Lake's decision to hit Gary Nova out of bounds, Bielema's decision to have Sam Irwin-Hill punt from deep inside his own territory, instead of having Hocker do so, and DJ Dean's ill-fated decision to help the wrong teammate in his botched coverage of the 4th and 12 touchdown strike. The upside is all of those are correctable. The negative is that their existence in the first place is maddening.

Graham: I have a hard time pinning any game, win or loss, on one aspect. Doc alluded to it in his immediate reaction column shortly after the game; the loss was a perfect storm of everything going wrong. When the rugby punt failed horribly in the third quarter, I had a feeling the stage had gotten too big for this young team. The coaches are serious when they talk about a learning experience. This experience could go a long way later in the season in some of the games, like an Auburn or even Ole Miss on the road, to learning how to win.

Zack: Everything seemed to have gone wrong as soon as the lead was "comfortable". You go up 24-7 and an hour later you're tasting defeat, can you pin point anything that went right? The play calling deserves some blame, so do the stupid penalties, and I'm still screaming for Austin Allen's redshirt to come off.

Kevin: Put in an order of third string quarterback starting on the road, along with special teams breakdowns (the punt returns), stupid play (the personal foul before the half), a tough Rutgers defensive line stacked at the point of attack an inability to be much of a threat in the passing game, a gassed defense in the fourth quarter, and a bad selection of play calls for the final offensive possession and you have this loss. When looking at it this way, it is just short of amazing that we lead most of the game! Rutgers had a combo of factors that does often result in a loss (turnovers, sacks, concussed quarterback, injured running back, fans giving up), but still not the turd burger and crap fries that was the Arkansas combo.

Scottie: I think we can chalk this one up to being too conservative on offense after taking the 17-point lead. Beginning of the second half we looked great. We were attacking and aggressive on offense, then got up 24-7 and became very conservative with the football, almost was as if Chaney and Bielema said, "ya know, I think that's enough today on offense." Can't ever be too conservative with a lead, especially on someone else's turf.

Brent: The most popular target among the fanbase seems to be the coaching staff, specifically the conservative offensive playcalling. Sorry, can't buy that. If one of those Derby rockets to nowhere (when he misses, he misses BADLY) had landed in the arms of a confused Rutgers defender, the chorus would be "why were we passing in the first place?" If you think back to the drives that did pay off Saturday, the coaching staff almost seemed to be dragging the offense kicking and screaming to the end zone: fake punts, halfback passes, reverses, wildcat looks. That isn't aggressive playcalling, it's gimmickry. We depended on it to get the points we got, and when you're dependent on offensive artifice, you'd better be sound in every other facet. Arkansas was not. That's not to say the staff is blameless, but the punt team problems, the defensive lapses, and the inability to make the defense respect the forward pass were the bigger issues.

Drew: It definitely wasn't "one single thing." If anything, it was an issue with execution. Horton dropping that pass on 3rd and 20 on our final drive. Bailing Gary Nova out by dropping multiple interceptions. And, my sole complaint about Bielema going too conservative: electing to punt on 4th down with the ball past midfield in the 4th quarter - especially considering that even though we pinned them on the 2 yard line, it only took them about 1:45 to drive 98 yards for the go-ahead score. Failing to execute in those 5 situations made the difference on Saturday.

Two other things: I was wrong about the Rutgers rush defense. It was much better than I expected, although Derby's performance wasn't quite good enough to prevent the Scarlet Knights from stacking the box. Also, it's been a long time since I've seen successful fake punt by the Razorbacks - that thing was drawn up beautifully. Plus, JWill throwing a TD to Hunter Henry? So much for me thinking that we had seen all we would see out of the offense in the first 3 games.

2. What should we think about the Arkansas defense? At times in each game this year they've looked dominant, and at times they've made it look too easy for opponents.

Zack: Maybe that we should be optimistic for the future? The distant future. Because this Saturday isn't going to be fun.

Graham: Like I've said in earlier conversations, the sporadic play is what we should expect to see all season. When the defensive line gets a opportunity to pin their ears back it looks like a top shelf SEC unit. The problem comes when they can't get pressure on the quarterback, the linebackers and secondary are forced into pass coverage and leading to gaping holes in zone coverage.

Randy: Rutgers's first 61 offensive plays, 4-yard average. Last 18, >8 yards per play. Arkansas's defense had played a normal game's worth of downs (including three penalties) when Rutgers stood at its own 2-yard line with less than 10 minutes to go. The Hogs lack depth in the back seven, the people who have to cover receivers. They're going to look bad when tired, especially when the pass rush disappears as it did on Rutgers's two late scoring drives. Guaranteed: If Arkansas had been effective running with the football on offense, the defense would have held up long enough to win.

Adam: When you're tired, you're tired. Each side of the ball depends on the other to give them time to rest. When you can't make a first down, well, coming back from a 17-point deficit doesn't seem to look that hard.

Kevin: I don't think they were used to playing all that much in the fourth quarter. The offense has had the ball most of the season when it has come to that part of the game. When they absolutely needed to shut the opponent's offense down, steal back the mighty mo, they simply couldn't replicate what they were doing in the first half. Is this a conditioning issue? There is also this: right now our secondary is only as good as the defensive line. If the quarterback has some comfort in the pocket, he is going to find a receiver likely standing or running all by his lonesome. I don't see many coverage sacks in our future.

Drew: While the defense did look pretty good for most of the game, Rutgers' go-ahead TD drive was way too easy for them. It's still an issue with depth and confidence, and likely will be for the rest of the season. On the bright side, I don't remember the last time I saw us get a pick-six before yesterday.

Scottie: The strength is up front (which everybody knows), and although they dropped a few sure picks our linebackers are improving (Spaight and Peters looked pretty good). The secondary was picked apart by the first capable quarterback they've seen. It's about what I expected.

Trent: The defense will go only as far as its front four carries it. That, and the offensive philosophy of its opponent. Any team comfortable completely abandoning the run can look forward to wild success as long as they have a merely serviceable quarterback. Opponents who stubbornly stick to a running and play-action attack will give the Razorbacks a chance. Knocking Paul James out of the game Saturday was the worst thing that could have happened to Arkansas.

Brent: I'm clueless here. I haven't had the stomach to go back and re-watch, but as it was happening it seemed like we quit getting a pass rush about midway through the third quarter. Not sure why; as many linemen as Arkansas rotates, they shouldn't have been winded, and in the first half, the front four looked unblockable. This defense can be OK, but it will only go as far as the D-line takes it. Having Otha Peters back will help the LB corps, but our secondary remains shaky.

3. If Brandon Allen can't go again this week, what, if any adjustments would you like to see from the Arkansas offense?

Adam: Survival. That's all I can ask for this weekend.

Drew: It's a complicated situation. The message board crowd bemoans how bad Derby is, and then gets mad when we lean heavily on the run. Can't have it both ways. I personally don't think that Derby did all that poorly on the road, but there's a reason he's the backup and not the starter. We're going to have to prove early in the game that we can throw it to prevent A&M from stacking the box. That means we're going need to start throwing on first down, and we need to get the TEs back in the game.

Scottie: How about take a shot downfield (20+ yards)? One of the select few longer pass plays Arkansas ran was Jonathan Williams' TD pass. Does that mean you have faith in your halfback moreso than Derby? Take a shot downfield. Find Hunter Henry more than twice a game. You want to keep the defense on their heels.

Graham: With the threat that Derby provides at quarterback (none), it is only a matter of time before one of the two running backs or Derby ends the game on the sidelines due to injury. If Derby is unable to prove early in the game that he has no more control of the offense than he did last week then go ahead and burn Austin Allen's redshirt. What's the harm? Arkansas appears to have recruited well for the future at the quarterback, and this Allen brother is only going to be marginally worse than what is there now.

Trent: I'd like to see Austin Allen. Assuming that is not in the cards, I would like to see more misdirection. More pulling offensive linemen. More intermediate routes. If we're going to stick to a power running game, I want to see Kiero Small busting facemasks. Finally, I want to see a little more of Alex Collins getting a direct snap.

Zack: I'd like to see the adjustment from #11 to #8, but I won't. I get what we're doing with that, but this "1-0" thing isn't going to happen again anytime soon if we're playing a quarterback in whom the coaching staff can't even seem to find any faith in. Makes me cringe looking at Ohio State when their Heisman caliber QB goes down and his back up comes in for two games and performs better than the Heisman guy.

Doc: It's hard to imagine Arkansas winning this game without scoring at least 40 points, and there's been absolutely no evidence to suggest they're capable of that. That being said, this is college football, the Hogs are at home, and there's always a chance that A&M might not play as well as they're capable of playing. But the Razorbacks certainly can't make as many mistakes as they did against Rutgers.

Brent: Does better blocking count? The offensive line play has been inconsistent throughout the season and against Rutgers it was just plain bad. Scheme-wise, I'm not sure what we can do. There must be some threat of a vertical passing game. From what we've seen, Derby's accuracy problems (and they are big problems), seem to me more mental than physical. He's shown the ability to drop it in a bucket 20 yards away on a flag route, then on the next pass he zips one in the general vicinity of a pudgy majorette. I'm not sure I've ever seen anything quite like it. As SEC fans, we've witnessed our share of noodle-armed QBs, but Derby has brought a special brand of hot-and-cold to the mix.

Randy: Not much is going forward when the defense can get away with overloading the line. A.J. Derby made some plays but was inaccurate enough throwing to give the offense long odds of success. On several plays Arkansas failed to run when the defense had backed off. How many times did the Hogs establish the run, then throw with play-action? Usually Rutgers had Arkansas running into run defense, throwing at a pass defense. Somehow, the Porkers have to get better at selling the fake and burning the defense when it guesses wrong.

Arkansas showed conviction in its run game at Rutgers. Before the last desperate drive, the Razorbacks ran 18 times on first downs vs. three passes. Those 18 runs gained 3+ yards (minimum acceptable) nine times. Total yards on first down runs = 57, 3.2 average. Ran into a brick wall a few too many times.

Kevin: If Brandon can't go, I hope they will have worked more with Derby on improving the short passing game where our running backs can be more involved. And give Derby flashcards of our tight-ends, so he can walk around campus all week looking at them. We need these guys more involved in the offense.

Doc: I have a hard time understanding why Derby has been such a prototype drop-back passer. He's supposed to be a great athlete. I'd like to see him move around more.

4. Does Arkansas have any chance of keeping up with A&M this week?

Scottie: I hate to say it, but I don't think so. Arkansas has to get out and score early, really get the crowd energized to hang in. If we fall behind early and the energy is taken out of the stadium it could very well be a long, miserable night.

Graham: In a word, no. But to be a little more optimistic, the only way the Hogs keep up with the Aggies is if the running game is established earlier, putting together four 10-minute touchdown drives. The only other factor I can see increasing the likelihood of a win is if a certain quarterback gets suspended by the NCAA or Kevin Sumlin.

Adam: There's always a chance. But watching the A&M and Alabama game a few weeks back only tells me I will most likely need to watch this game hiding under the bed with only one eye peering through my fort of sheets.

Randy: If the Razorbacks ruin the porous Texas Aggies defense with long, physical drives, keeping the visitors with lots of green between them and the end zone, anything can happen. Get a lead, disrupt Manziel's flow by keeping him sidelined for long stretches. Then Arkansas can take a lead into the fourth quarter and watch Manziel throw six touchdown passes when A&M must give up on balance.

Trent: No. Johnny Manziel has a better chance of not being a d-bag.

Brent: We just gave up 350 passing yards to Gary Nova.

Kevin: If I really believed they didn't have a chance at all, I doubt I would watch the game. I plan on watching it, so I guess some part of me believes that the offensive line will be powerful enough for us to establish our running game, that the quarterback (whoever he is) is able to keep them from stacking the line with some early passes, and so we play keep away from Johnny Football just enough to keep him off the field long enough to keep the score close. We'll know by the end of the first quarter if this is the scenario for the game or not. If it is, the Hogs have a chance. If not, no chance.

Drew: A&M's run defense is abysmal, so I think we have a good chance to score some points on them. I've seen nothing to suggest our secondary has a prayer against their wideouts, though. Johnny Football gets all the attention, but most of it should probably go to his receivers.

Zack: aTm should probably just stack the box and call it a day. Because unless we can execute long clock-eating drives, Manziel will be on the bench by halftime.

5. This is the week where it's relevant for us to talk about Johnny Manziel, anything you'd like to say that you haven't had the chance to publish over the last several months?

Adam: Who?

Randy: Johnny Manziel vs. A.J. Derby, Manziel and Derby, hmm. I'm thinking this is what the term "field day" was invented for. My wife asked me how Brandon Allen could hurt himself scoring a touchdown and miss weeks, when Johnny Football gets hit many times a game and never misses anything. I reminded her that Allen hit the earth when he dived to score against Southern Miss, and being tackled by a planet is worse than anything a mere mortal can do.

Graham: He, Reggie Bush and Darren McFadden are the only three players that I never to miss a play because you never knew what would happen with the ball in their hands. He's brought plenty of headaches to those associated with the Texas A&M program, but Johnny has also brought along millions of dollars and national relevancy to the Aggies. I'd take him if he wanted to come play for my team.

Zack: I love Johnny. He's living his life, and you're mad about it. And he doesn't give a single hoot.

Kevin: I think we can all admit that he would be far less annoying if he wore Razorback red and had a Hog on his helmet. It is different, as Aggies will tell you, when he is our S.O.B. But he isn't ours, so I naturally hope he is due for a dud of a game, and that dud comes at Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Then again, his dud of a game might just be good enough to beat us, especially if the Hogs start beating themselves with stupid penalties and costly errors.

Scottie: We can all agree the kid is a hell of talent and football player. I want Johnny to entertain Saturday. I hope we win though. So how about this: I hope Johnny puts up big offensive numbers, but we come away with a field goal victory and knock A&M off its high horse. I think that's fair.

Brent: Haters gonna hate, ballers gonna ball. Johnny's a baller. I couldn't care less about how he conducts himself -- he's not my kid, he's not my teammate, he's not my buddy. He's arrogant. He's gifted. He's hateable. He's charismatic. More than anything though, he's one hell of a football player -- one of the most exciting I've ever had the pleasure to watch. But if his lifestyle choices are going to lead to the downfall so many think is inevitable, I sure wish the meltdown would start around 2 a.m. this Saturday.

Trent: Not really. He's an incredible talent, but I was more impressed with Robert Griffin. Sumlin does a terrific job of maximizing what he gets out of Manziel.

Drew: He's the Justin Bieber of college football. There, I said it.

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