I wrote in the preview that there are no moral victories, and that a Hog loss is a disappointment. Well, that was disappointing. Giving up 31 second quarter points is beyond bad. No moral victory doesn’t mean that there aren’t positives to take away, and we’ll get to those. But first, what went wrong.
No Brooks Ellis. I was worried that missing Ellis would hurt, and boy did it. Josh Williams wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t that great. Ellis is a glue guy. He makes sure the coverages look fine, he covers the middle of the field, and he’s a physical tackler. Williams is a pretty good tackler, but Nick Chubb dragged him for extra yards a few times. The defense (especially coverages) looked out of sorts in the first half, and one has to wonder if missing the defensive captain was the primary reason. The loss of Ellis largely negated any advantage Arkansas had accrued by not having to face Todd Gurley.
Mental fatigue. Alabama thrashed Texas A&M 59-0, but the Crimson Tide may get some credit this week as well. Arkansas didn’t look ready to play, especially on defense. Have to wonder if the heartbreak of the last two games played - and the pure physicality of the Alabama game last week - played a role in Arkansas’ quick collapse in the late first quarter.
Excellent gameplan by Georgia. Both Georgia coordinators get gold stars for this week. On offense, Mike Bobo’s plan was to attack the Razorback defense where it was weakest: the boundary side pass defense. Georgia went after Rohan Gaines early on. Georgia has two good receivers: Malcolm Mitchell (mostly shadowed by Toliver) and Chris Conley (mostly covered by Collins). Mitchell had one catch. Conley had five for 128 yards and a touchdown, most of that coming early on. Good gameplan by Bobo. On the defensive side, DC Jeremy Pruitt knew that Arkansas’ line was big but not very mobile, so the Dawgs blitzed corners, safeties, and OLBs against Arkansas’ tackles and tight ends. Hunter Henry whiffed on multiple protection blocks against blitzers, and both Dan Skipper and Brey Cook were beaten at least a couple of times. Those were left on an island and they didn't do a good job. Excellent design by the Bulldogs to get pressure on Brandon Allen.
Penalties and turnovers. I’m on record for saying that the officiating did Arkansas no favors. In the first half, Arkansas committed three penalties, and Georgia scored a touchdown within two snaps of all three. Andre Ware was moralizing at Tevin Mitchel for his unsportsmanlike call in the second quarter, but the SEC Network never showed a replay of what he did. At one point, they showed Mitchel coming off the field, but cut away to a different shot before anything happened. If anyone knows, please tell me. Arkansas’ turnovers had more effect and are less excusable. Alex Collins ran the wrong play, ran into Allen, and fumbled in a pitiful sequence, and Allen threw two picks and lost a fumble. He was blindsided on the fumble, but the first pick was into double coverage and the second, while tipped, wasn’t a great throw.
I’m off the Chaney bandwagon
I’ve been one of Jim Chaney’s most outspoken supporters to date. I’ve said that most complaints against playcalling should actually be complaints against execution. However, the second half has me off the bandwagon. Now, mind you, this doesn’t mean I want him fired or anything, but it does mean I’m willing to be more critical of him. Why? Because the second half passing game plan looked beautiful. Why it took 18 and a half games to figure out that sending the tight ends and tall receivers deep down the seams to ward off the safeties and running the speedy slot men underneath on crossing routes is the way to go is indefensible. I get it: Georgia was playing less aggressive on defense, but Arkansas' playcalling looked different. It utilized the tight ends. It gave Keon Hatcher and Jared Cornelius opportunities to get downfield.
Arkansas’ tight ends are matchup nightmares. Both of them. Not only are they big and fast, but they have amazing hands. Sending them downfield – not down the sideline – but down the middle of the field is going to draw attention. With the attention off Hatcher and Cornelius, those two are free to come across the middle (since linebackers are playing the run first) and can snag crossing routes and get some YAC. Allen can mix deeper throws to the tight end and underneath crosses to the slot receivers. This was the essence of the Petrino offense. When I first starting writing my old Fayette Villains blog in August 2013, I wrote that Jim Chaney comes from the same coaching tree as Bobby Petrino. I’ve had egg on my face for claiming that Arkansas would keep a lot of Petrino concepts, but there they were. They've been in the playbook all along. If we don't see more of that this season, I'll be done with Chaney.
Why has that not been Arkansas’ passing game approach all along? Maybe it will be from now on. But the Hogs threw over the middle more in the second half than the rest of the Bielema era combined, it seemed.
I’m going to post the full game numbers. Usually, when it’s a blowout (28 points in the first half, 21 in the third quarter, and 17 in the fourth), numbers are left out as "garbage" time, but I’ve posted above what went wrong as Georgia built a 38-6 halftime lead. I did separate out most of the numbers by half.
The three-headed monster is down to one man. Arkansas was excited for the three-man rotation of Jonathan Williams, Alex Collins, and Korliss Marshall. Marshall is suspended for three to four games and has been battling some minor injuries all year. Collins has been totally ineffective in these last two games. Lost in the bad rushing performances in the last two games is that the lead back, Williams, has actually run really well:
Until Collins gets things figured out – Bielema said he is "in a rut" – Willliams needs to be total lead back, getting 25-30 carries per game with Collins spelling him with 10 touches or so.
Run execution after the opening drive was bad. Arkansas had 15 successful rushing plays in the game, and eight of them came on the opening drive. That’s bad. We’ve talked about Arkansas not being able to run in the second half against Alabama and Auburn, but Arkansas had a rushing success rate of 30.4 percent (7 of 23) over the final three and a half quarters. For the third time this season (Alabama, Auburn, Georgia), decent passing numbers kept the overall offensive numbers from tanking completely. However, Arkansas doesn’t want to have to rely on the passing game that much.
THROW THE BALL TO THE TIGHT ENDS. The X’s and O’s of how to this are diagrammed above, but here are some numbers to back it up:
John Henson is done. I hate to rag on a player, but the guy’s on scholarship for kicking and he can’t kick. That’s kind of an issue. The missed extra point wasn’t all his fault, as there was significant pressure straight up the middle. However, on an extra point, you can’t pause and then kick a line drive kick, and that’s what Henson does. For the second extra point, he was replaced by Adam McFain and the kick went through fine. I expect McFain to handle all kicking duties from here on out. One coach to keep an eye on is Rory Segrest. He’s done a fine job with the defensive line, but he also handles most special teams situations. He was fired by the Eagles after Philadelphia was awful on all special teams, so this is an issue that has followed him. Arkansas has to block for kicks better than what we’ve seen. D.J. Dean has to catch punts instead of letting them take huge bounces, costing Arkansas field position.
The defense got out-talented. After all the raving over Robb Smith, the Hogs gave up 250 first-half yards and couldn't get a stop against the Bulldogs. As pointed out above, Georgia OC Mike Bobo called a great game, and when two good coordinators clash, the one with more talent is usually going to win. Nothing schematic about the defense's struggles bother me. It's an issue that can only be fixed with talent, and that process is ongoing. The D will rebound.
The offense still needs an identity
Brandon Allen has attempted 85 passes in his last two games. Let's put that into perspective. Ryan Mallett never threw 85 passes during a two-game stretch. Tyler Wilson threw 86 passes over the Alabama and Texas A&M games in 2011 and 98 over the Rutgers and Texas A&M games in 2012. That's it.
The problem is, of course, that the passing game has been somewhat necessary because the running game isn't generating enough offense. Arkansas has one run of more than 11 yards in the last two games. One. Now Georgia and Alabama play some really good defense, but the four remaining SEC teams on the schedule - LSU, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and Missouri - are ranked in the top half of the conference as well in most defensive categories. UAB is the only team on the schedule that Arkansas is going to be able to plow over.
So how should the Hogs handle this? For three of the four conference games, Arkansas has fallen off schedule quickly and looked awkward on offense. The playcalling is almost schizophrenic: the Hogs will try to get back to smashmouth football and then suddenly abandon it. The worst-case scenario, as it played out in the second quarter - is the dreaded run, pass, pass sequence, where a short run on first down is followed by an incomplete pass, leading to a third-and-long.
Arkansas has been ineffective passing from under center for two games. Here is my humble solution: stop trying it. Arkansas runs best from smashmouth formations and passes best from shotgun. The Hogs have spent two games trying to throw from under center to "fool" the defense but it is backfiring. Arkansas is at such a schematic disadvantage when throwing from under center that it largely negates any benefit from "fooling" the defense. One of the things that makes Bobby Petrino a great offensive mind is that he doesn’t outfox himself. Think about it. On about 80 or 90 percent of plays, the formation gave away the run/pass call. Petrino figured that it was better to be in an advantageous formation than to try to trick the defense. I feel like Chaney (or maybe it's Bielema) is overvaluing the concept of "formationing" a defense. If you watched the Georgia game, you probably saw it. Georgia's blitzers and defensive ends didn't appear to be fooled at all by play-action. Neither did Alabama. Texas A&M was only fooled on a couple of plays. On most passing plays against Alabama (and the first half against Georgia), Arkansas would have been better served by throwing it from shotgun. I'll chart Arkansas' passing by formation and have it for the UAB Preview on Tuesday but I expect that's what we'll see.
Meanwhile, I expect to see some playcalling changes against UAB. I'll be disappointed if Arkansas comes out and runs it 60 times and wins 49-14 or something, because that's not going to be what happens in the final four games, two of which need to be won. An offensive identity needs to be shaped.