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Arkansas Fight Panel Discussion: Texas Tech Final Thoughts; Looking Toward Northern Illinois

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

John Weast

1. The Tech game went about as perfectly according to plan as Arkansas could have hoped. Was there anything that happened that surprised you?

Drew: We actually made plays in the secondary. It wasn't great, but I wasn't expecting a touchdown every time I saw a pass in the air, which is what I've felt the last two years. I think the difference with Robb Smith is pretty apparent.

Adam F: The secondary certainly played better than I expected. Tevin Mitchel and DJ Dean looked solid to the middle of the field, and Robb Smith was comfortable with a three-man cornerback rotation on the outside (Washington, Collins, Toliver). Some tackles were missed, but that's what Tech does. The pass coverage gets a high grade from me.

Mitchell: That we forced 3 turnovers! We really needed those first two.

Josh: Agreed. Maybe by mid season this defense will become one that can give the offense some extra possessions. I don't see them being a dominant stifling crew, but just forcing a few three and outs and coming up with the occassional turnover will give this team a better chance.

Ryan: I thought the secondary as a whole looked improved. While they still need to improve tackling, overall I was impressed.

Adam P: The "sticking to our game plan" surprised me a little. We've talked in the past why our coaches seem to forget "what got them to the dance." Not this game, my friend.

Devan: I honestly didn't expect them to dominate the game the way that they did. Everyone in the stadium knew Arkansas was running it before every play in the second half Saturday and Tech couldn't do a single thing about it.

Tyler: Personally, the back 7 on defense surprised me the most. Yes, Davis Webb threw for 250+, but the defense had double-digit PBU's and 2 INT's. I was pleased with the coverage and tackling of the back 7.

Mark: How we handled adversity. It had been a full two seasons since we overcame real adversity in a game. I figured we’d be able to run, but actually seeing us run with just dominance…maybe that was a little bit of a surprise if only because I had worried myself into thinking Tech would pull out some defensive wrinkle.

Robert: Rallying after the unfortunate play on the punt. When Jared Collins touched that ball, all the mirth and excitement went out of me for a moment. I was afraid the team might just lay down at that point. I will say I would've been more surprised if the defense had shut down the Tech offense right there or just forced a field goal, but we are building.

Scottie: The pure ease at which Arkansas ran the football. I think we all knew Arkansas would have success on the ground, but not to the point where eight and nine yards rushes were the norm. The defense made plays, too. That was unexpected, but we're already seeing Robb Smith's defensive style pay dividends.

Trent (BVC): Lots of little things surprised me. I was surprised when Collins wasn't run down from behind during his 84-yard run. I was surprised at Brandon Allen's willingness to take off and try to make a play with his legs instead of running for his life. I was surprised at the number of times our defense got their hands on a Davis Webb pass. Lots of little pleasant surprises.

Jamie: The way the defense stood up against both the pass and the run.  Much better tackling and the routes that were wide open vs. even Nicholls were much better covered against a better passing team and we even had the 2 interceptions. This was the defense we need to see to beat an SEC team (or 2?) this season.

2. What's your reaction to Arkansas only throwing 12 passes?

Scottie: Didn't even need to throw that many.

Drew: I would have preferred 0, because of Real American Football and stuff.

Mitchell: Why the Hell did we through the ball 12 times? Probably cost our running backs 100 more yards on the ground.

Adam F: "Three things can happen when you throw the ball, and two of them are bad." -Darrell K. Royal

Adam P: With the way our run game was working, it probably should've been even lower. All that matters is us having more points than the other. How they get there, I care not.

Devan: Nothing more than very smart play calling. Why pass the ball when you're getting almost 7 yards a rush from anyone who runs the ball? It wasn't because Arkansas couldn't pass the ball Saturday, there just simply wasn't the need.

Tyler: Going into the game, I would've thought the Hogs would've thrown at least 20-25 passes. I think Arkansas could've thrown 5 times and won though.

Robert: Going back to 2007, Bielema coaches teams are 25-4 when they have less than 21 pass attempts. When they have more than 20, they are 36-29. All 5 wins at Arkansas have had under 24 pass attempts.

Mark: Like I’ve said, I love this brand of smash-mouth football. Love — LOVE — that our final 30 plays were runs right up the gut. Balance is the key, of course, and Coach B’s history indicates he understands that. But for what we needed to do to win on Saturday, 12 may have been too many passes.

Trent: I think it's fine. The Hogs will probably be at their best with Allen passing the ball 15-30 times a game. He threw it ten times in the first half, and the second half was a strange situation because Bielema shut it down and played keep-away so early. The drive that ran out the clock accounted for nearly a third of the second half.

Jamie: Loved it.  I love those moments (or the entire game) when everyone in the stadium knows you're going to run, and you do it anyway.  When you need to keep your young defense off the field for as long as possible on the road, why not?  There's no better way to break a defense's spirit than to run them to death.

Josh: They did not need to, I think with all the talk about retro and throwback games with the history of Arkansas and Tech, Bielema joined in with a game plan that went back to his Wisconsin days. This may have been the point where he said screw it, we tried the true balanced offense stuff, lets just go back to running it until the stop it. When a team does, like Alabama, Miss St, LSU, Ole Miss, then the playaction game will be there, but no need to otherwise.

Ryan: The Hogs had a really successful game running. I remember in the upset of Auburn in 2006, Mitch Mustain was 7-10 passing.

Doc: That's the game it reminded me of as well for that reason. I just try not to compare Nutt teams and Bielema teams for fear of Internet crazies.

3. Arkansas' defense may still have some tackling issues, but they did have 11 pass breakups against Tech.  What do you make of that?

Adam F: I'm guessing that 11 pass breakups equals the cumulative total of the 2012 and 2013 seasons. It's been a while since I've seen Arkansas defensive backs challenge receivers like that.

Drew: I don't really know how to comprehend what a pass break up is.  I'm just going to assume it's a good thing based on the context of the question.

Robert: Eventually, pass breakups turn into interceptions.  The Arkansas defense got 13 picks in 2009 and haven't been able to match that number since then.  That was a defense that ranked 99th against the pass. Let's at least try and match the 2009 defense.

Adam P: It's real easy to pick out the bad in our defense. But seeing some of the plays by Tevin Mitchell, Rohan Gaines, Brooks Ellis, and others really made me happy. You can't win every down.

Ryan: Progress. First time in a long time I've seen Arkansas DB's actually look back to find the ball and play it.

Mitchell: Considering that Tevin Mitchel accounted for the first 2, I'll point to his return as the reason. He really seemed to jazz up our pass coverage. Of course there is our improved linebackers who accounted for 4 that I can think of. On the flipside, Tech did throw the ball 45 times.

Devan: I actually really liked what I saw from the defense. They played several freshmen on defense and those guys played remarkably well. They made the offense one dimensional and forced Tech to be perfect throwing the ball, and they couldn't do it. Really they only gave up 21 points to that offense because the first 7 was caused by a special teams miscue. It's been awhile since we've seen defensive backs turn around when guarding a receiver and then intercept the ball like Toliver did in the fourth. That's promising.

Tyler: Tackling can always be better. Arkansas definitely wasn't as bad as Tech. The pass breakups were a great sign for a questionable secondary. The Hog defenders were in the right places and make ball-hawking plays multiple times.

Trent: They made the breakups in part because they had the opportunity to do so. Arkansas smartly dropped eight and nine into coverage against a quarterback that likes to thread the needle yet isn't his strongest against a zone. Good plays, but probably better scheme.

Scottie: You can see the aggressive style of play on defense Robb Smith was talking about all spring and in fall camp. Some of the plays that were made by Arkansas defensive backs Saturday haven't been seen since the days of Batman Carroll and Ken Hamlin. It was surprising.

Jamie: We still have games against A&M, Miss St, Ole Miss and Mizzou who like to throw the ball all over the field.  No group on our team needed more confidence than our pass defense and they gained some on Saturday.

Josh: They played a physical game on some fast, shifty Tech WRs. Against A&M, Alabama, and Ole Miss it will be more about size and strength versus their receivers. It will be in those matchups where we can gauge just how much  the secondary has improved.

Mark: What’s important is that we’re making progress. Saturday marked the first time I’ve seen our DBs make proper plays on the ball in, well, it’s been a while. So, PROGRESS.

4. Now we're getting ready for MACtion against Northern Illinois. What's your biggest concern with this game?

Jamie: The let-down / looking ahead game.  This coaching staff doesn't take me for the kind that allows players to get too far ahead or look back for too long, but you always fear that the kids will be celebrating too long, or too excited for the game in Dallas. A team like this doesn't get the luxury of a bad half of football.

Trent: The unknown. A sluggish start. A worrisome injury. A momentum changing play for the Huskies. Or a confluence of all three. The Razorbacks should be able to control the game from the opening kickoff. My concern is what happens if they don't.

Scottie: Being overly confident is a worry I have this weekend. I also thought it might be an issue vs Texas Tech, but it turned out well for Arkansas in the end. Arkansas is on its first two-game winning streak since the 2012. Basically, I hope we don't have the big head after two blowout wins..

Adam P: I think the Texas Tech game took away all of my worries for the game against Northern Illinois. I didn't want the Hogs to get a big head over beating poor Nicholls State. They went to Lubbock and took care of business. I think they're extremely focused, so I don't see anything Northern Illinois can do to us that will knock us off our game plan.

Drew: I didn't bet enough on the opening -8 line.

Adam F: NIU isn't one-dimensional. They mostly run the ball (320 rushing yards per game, 8th NCAA) but they can pass it as well. Auburn sucked the linebackers in and threw over their head. Without a running threat, the Hog linebackers covered the middle well against Texas Tech. Can they do the same against a legitimate rushing team?

Robert: Drew Hare. Jordan Lynch is gone, but Drew Hare is running the show now. He got his first start against UNLV last week and was the only NIU QB to be given any passing plays. He threw three touchdowns including a 54 yard touchdown with the game on tied in the 4th quarter. He hasn't thrown any picks on the season and is ranked 6th in FBS for QB rating.

Ryan: That this will be a bigger test than Texas Tech. Northing Illinois has a history of upsets on the road.

Mark: NIU is better than many casual fans may realize. Its star QB is gone, but the Huskies are 3-0 with road wins over Northwestern and UNLV. Granted, neither of those two programs are any good right now, but still. Ryan was right when he suggested on Monday that NIU just may represent our toughest non-conference opponent. Glad it’s at home…and at night. Just in case.

Mitchell: That we will overlook our opponent now that we have an FBS win. One win like this is an outlier at this point. We need to approach this game for what it is; absolutely necessary for us to make a bowl game!

Devan: That Arkansas will fall flat after a dominate performance against Tech. I don't think it will happen but they have to come out with the same energy that they did at Tech because this NIU team is no pushover.

Tyler: It sounds crazy to say that a team that just recently broke a 10 game losing streak could become too confident, but that's my worry. That matchup with A&M in JerryWorld on national television looks nice right now. Hopefully the Hogs are focused on NIU first, though. I trust Coach B to keep everyone humble and hungry.

Doc: The coaches all say the right things but we won't know until Saturday how much the players are buying the whole "no, really, NIU is good" bit. We'll see.

Josh: Just that they will come out flat. First night game at DWR the place should be rocking. Hopefully the sound system is worked out or it will be more of a screeching, reverb, feedback kind of thing.

5. Will Arkansas throw the ball more or less this weekend than they did against Tech, if it matters?

Ryan: More, because NIU has a more balanced defense, which will force Arkansas to mix it up on offense.

Drew: I honestly don't understand passing.  It seems too illogical. Why people pass when they can just run kind of blows my mind.  It's that simple. Just keep running. Good things happen when you run, bad things happen when you pass.

Adam F: More. Much more, actually. NIU's pass defense is hideous. Northwestern threw for 300 yards and UNLV had nearly 400. And they're scrappy up front, so they may force us to take to the air early. If it's a close game in the fourth quarter, we may end the game with 15 straight runs or so after they are worn out, but I'll be disappointed if Brandon Allen doesn't hit at least one bomb.

Adam P: I want to see that we have the POTENTIAL to have both areas of attack on offense, but when you have the two(three?)-headed beast of JWill and Budda, who cares?

Devan: Most teams are not going to allow Arkansas to just run it down their throat without consequence. But if NIU loads 9 men in the box, and Arkansas can still get 7 yards a carry, why throw it?

Doc: I'm not sure Arkansas can get 7 yards a carry against NIU if they put 9 in the box. They'll probably have to throw a little more, but not much. If Arkansas gets an early lead, it won't be too much at all.

Tyler: I think we definitely see more than 12 passes. Arkansas should be able to run the ball effectively, but I see a much more balanced attack this weekend. I don't think Arkansas will necessarily be forced to throw, but there will be more opportunities where that is the best option against NIU.

Robert: NIU has a very fast defensive line which is good at dealing with the speedy skill players and spread em out type play in the MAC. They ranked last in tackles for loss on run plays last season. While they have done better with that this year, they haven't exactly seen "momma's boys" quite like the line they will be matched up against on Saturday. The run will be too effective.

Mark: I think we’ll have to throw the ball a little more. But if we have to attempt 30-plus passes, it’s probably a sketchy, nerve-wracking night. Whatever it takes to win. Just no reverse pitches, please

Scottie: I going to say more. I expect NIU's run defense to be better than Tech's, which really isn't saying a whole lot. But the Huskies are giving up just 2.4 yards per carry through three games this year. However, Presbyterian, Northwestern and UNLV's run game ain't exactly the caliber of Arkansas', so we'll see.

Trent: I think they will throw it more because Bert will not be as concerned with NIU being able to come back from a significant deficit in a short period of time. This will enable him to take a few more chances.

Mitchell: They will throw the ball more because they shouldn't want Brandon Allen to get too lazy before the TAMU game. This is the game where we need to dial up some good PA plays and really figure out where our passing game is at.

Jamie: I'm not sure it matters. I guess I expect a similar game plan to the Tech plan. I love the coverage that running stats like the ones we put up the last two weeks gets us, but we missed at least 2 opportunities for passing TDs against Tech (the flea-flicker and the end-zone pass to Drew Morgan). Even the Brandon Allen rushing TD was a passing play that he read well and ran in for the score, so there were opportunities for more sizzle in the passing game.

Josh: It really does not matter. That 12-15 pass attempts a game number is fine with me. Wins are most important part, I really think Bielema has given Chaney and Allen too much free reign at times. Just stack it up and run it down their throats, save all the tricky stuff for when you really need it against Alabama, Georgia, Missouri, etc. After getting what he needs on the Oline, it will be back to the old days of not trying to outscheme opponents every play. Some teams, and coaches can do that effectively, but that is not this team's identity.