It was another tough loss for the Razorbacks, who fell to 3-3 (0-3 SEC) on Saturday against No. 7 Alabama. However, this 3-3 feels quite a bit different than last season’s 3-3. This game wasn’t necessary for Arkansas’ bowl hopes, but the Hogs must still find two conference wins amid a difficult schedule.
Here are the S&P+ stats for the game, and we’ll walk through them as we review the keys to the game presented in the preview. Remember that I’m using a simplified S&P+ calculation that doesn’t take drive efficiency into effect, so these numbers aren’t the same as those used by Football Outsiders or Football Study Hall, although they are accurate relative to each other.
|Pass Downs SR||34.62%||18.75%|
I titled this post "Everywhere but the Scoreboard" because, indeed, Arkansas won this game everywhere but in the final score. The Hogs were more efficient through the air and on the ground, and the defense was smothering. The Tide gained 227 yards, its lowest offensive output since 2008.
Let’s walk back through Bill Connelly’s Five Factors.
When Arkansas played Texas A&M, the Aggies led the NCAA with a success rate of 55.3 percent. Arkansas held them to just 43 percent. Alabama came in fourth in success rate (53.5 percent), and the Hogs held them to less than half of that. Arkansas has now held its last four opponents under their season average for Overall S&P+ and Success Rate.
Spike rate played a factor in this one. Alabama didn’t get many yards, but the Tide didn’t go backwards quite as much. Arkansas threw 19 incomplete passes, suffered three sacks, lost two critical fumbles, and had nearly a quarter of its running plays get stuffed for no gain or a loss.
ADVANTAGE: Arkansas by a hair. Hogs silenced Alabama's offense, but had too many spikes.
Key #5: Hold Alabama’s offense below 9.5 isoYPP rushing and 15 isoYPP passing.
Pretty close to the goal. Not bad overall by the Hogs, as Alabama not only had a low success rate, but didn’t many big plays out of those that were successful. Alabama’s best play from scrimmage, a 47-yard "pop" pass to O.J. Howard, did not lead to a score as Alabama missed a field goal.
3. Starting Field Position
Key #3: Win the field position battle, and go at least +1 in short fields.
Ouch. This is probably where the game lost. It led to a failure at Key #2 (we’ll get to it) as well. Over a sequence in the second half, Alabama’s starting spots were 35, 44, 48, 48, 43 and 49. During that same stretch, the Hogs were starting at the 15, 15, 43, 15, 12 and 15. Alabama punter J.K. Scott may be the game’s MVP, although Arkansas’ odd refusal to actually field punts really helped Scott out, as end-over-end punts typically roll for extra yardage.
4. Finishing Drives
Key #4: Record at least one methodical drive.
|Points per Opportunity||2.2||4.7|
Arkansas got its methodical drive, and two more for good measure. The problem here is obvious: the scoring opportunities. Scoring opportunities are possessions that move inside the opponent 40. Arkansas did this six times (starting there twice), but the sequences ended as follows: fumble, botched field goal, punt, touchdown, punt, touchdown. Only 2.2 points per opportunity isn’t good. Alabama missed a field goal as well, and despite all the Tide’s failures, that was their only error once they crossed the Arkansas 40.
ADVANTAGE: Arkansas. The scoring opportunity figure is bad, but the blame for that can be assigned elsewhere.
Key #1: Win the turnover margin by at least one.
Arkansas lost the turnover battle for the first time in 2014, giving it away three times and only gaining two. Both of Alabama’s turnovers were muffed punts in the first quarter, while Arkansas had a fumble through the endzone by Kody Walker, a fumble by Alex Collins, and an interception thrown by Brandon Allen at the end.
Key stat of the week: Yards per point
Key #2: Record fewer than 15 yards per point, and hold Alabama to more than that.
Ballgame. That’s it. You can’t pull an upset with those numbers. What is concerning is that this is the second straight game Arkansas has topped 20 yards per point. A figure of 20 YPP or higher is usually indicative of losing a winnable game. The Razorbacks had to work much harder to get their 13 points, and had moved the ball enough to score about 22 points, if the Hogs recorded a reasonable 15 YPP. But a fumble through the endzone, a botched field goal, and two drives that stalled on the edge of field goal range – to go along with awful field position all game – meant that Arkansas had to work for all 13 points much harder than it should have.
If you’re wondering about a statistic used, here’s a glossary.
A masterful defensive effort by this Razorback team and defensive coordinator Robb Smith went to waste in defeat. We hadn’t had a chance to see much base defense with all the Air Raid teams on the schedule, but the Razorback defensive front took this game over. The line got constant pressure and plugged all the gaps, while the linebackers cleaned everything up and patrolled the short passes. The Hogs couldn’t quite contain a nifty Blake Sims in the pocket, and he made some plays when he was on the move, but all in all this was another great performance by a defense improving every single week.
The offense needs to shake it off and get ready for Georgia. Arkansas didn’t hire Bret Bielema specifically to beat Alabama, but it’s worth noting that Arkansas’ style plays right into Alabama’s strength: stopping the run from base defense. Alabama is consistently the best in all of football and stopping pro-style rushing attacks, so it’s no surprise that the Tide mostly stopped the Arkansas running game. It’s worth noting that Brandon Allen’s 246 passing yards were the second-most by an Arkansas quarterback ever against a Nick Saban-coached team, behind only Ryan Mallett’s 357 yards in 2010. That includes eight seasons at Alabama and five at LSU. Allen wasn’t perfect, but he’s not the problem. Arkansas’ receivers had issues getting open, as has been the case since Jarius Wright, Joe Adams, and Greg Childs graduated in 2011.
We’ll check in on the stats for Georgia on Tuesday, but the eye test says Arkansas should win. Before you sigh and say that we should have won these last two, keep in mind that neither the eye test nor the advanced stats said Arkansas should have beaten either of its last two opponents, and the Hogs nearly did anyway. Georgia is similar with its pro-style offense, but the Dawgs will favor the run a little more. Both teams have serviceable but not flashy quarterbacks. The primary differences are that Georgia’s receivers aren’t as good as Alabama’s, Georgia’s running backs without Todd Gurley are not as good, and Georgia’s defense isn’t as good. If Arkansas can stop inventing new ways to lose football games, the Hogs should still make a bowl.