The Razorback defense played one of its better games under Robb Smith and the offense balanced explosiveness and efficiency in a 42-3 win over Texas State.
Did we learn anything? I’m not sure. Texas State has only played one other game: Ohio, a team the Bobcats beat 56-54. Ohio has since beaten Kansas by 16 and given Tennessee a tough time, finally falling 28-19. So I thought there was a chance Texas State could provide a surprisingly tough challenge for the Hogs.
The Texas State team I saw Saturday looked mostly lifeless. That looked like a team picked to finish 10th in the Sun Belt (as the Bobcats were), not a team that upset Ohio on the road (as the Bobcats did). That leaves three options: first, Texas State’s win over Ohio was a fluke; second, Texas State has designs on competing in the Sun Belt, not upsetting Arkansas, so they treated this as a money game and gave limited effort; or third, Arkansas is much better than we thought. I suspect all three may have some truth to them, although I’m not sure how much of each.
I also suspect that the “weather” shortening of the game by five minutes (the rain was always going well south of Fayetteville) was a mercy rule presented as a weather shortening to help TSU save face about being mercy-ruled. The entire sequence was odd, especially because the decision to shorten the quarter was not announced to the crowd via the PA system.
Nevertheless, I like Everett Withers, and wish him nothing but the best in bringing TSU - a high-potential Sun Belt program - to the top of the conference.
In advanced stats, we typically don’t use all the stats from blowouts. The general rule is to use all the stats until the game ceases to be competitive. Football Study Hall’s Bill Connelly and other more professional stat gurus than myself have hard-and-fast rules about when stats do and don’t count as “garbage time.” I prefer to play it on a game-by-game basis: in this one, I decided to stop all stat gathering after Rawleigh Williams’ third-quarter touchdown gave us our final margin of 42-3.
From here, we can see a dominant defensive performance. Texas State had a 24-yard pass play in the third quarter: that was their only double-digit gain of the game. Quarterback Tyler Jones, who completed 40 passes for 418 yards against Ohio, completed 11 for 83 yards against the Hogs. Despite the opponent quality, it was great work all around for the defense.
Time for a nitpick: Arkansas lost the field position battle for the second straight game. This time, it came despite forcing FIVE three-and-outs... out of seven counted drives. There are some excuses: Texas State’s punter was decent, and regular returner Jared Cornelius was out with a bad back, but the Hogs need to do better in field position. SEC defenses won’t allow you to drive 80 yards consistently. Two pick-sixes in two weeks is nice, but winning field position is also nice.
The easiest fix is fixing kick returns. Dominique Reed is very fast, but fast doesn’t automatically make one a great kickoff returner. Reed failed to reach the 20 in both returns because his vision is poor and he takes too long to reach his top speed. The Hogs can’t keep starting inside their own 20 following a kickoff.
Alright, now time for the good news: the offense.
There’s a lot to glean here. First, Arkansas ran pretty well and passed very well. Again, the caveat is that Texas State’s defense is among the worst in the Power 5, but it’s good to see the offense clicking.
By down, we see that second down continues to be friendly, and Saturday was especially ridiculous. Seventy percent of second down plays were successful, and those plays averaged 16.3 yards gained each. The Hogs averaged 12.1 yards gained on second down.
By quarter, we see that the first quarter was more about explosiveness (thanks mostly to Austin Allen’s beautifully-placed 73-yard pass to Keon Hatcher), while the second quarter featured textbook efficiency. The offense clearly dipped in the third quarter, but all of those plays were on one mega-drive that lasted 8:54 and ended in the game’s final points.
Those second-down numbers are straight ridiculous. Remember, passing splits include two scramble runs by Allen, along with a six-yard loss on a sack-fumble.
Again to nitpick: the third down numbers remain concerning. Arkansas is now up to four third-down conversions via pass... all season. Allen found Hatcher on Pass Play #4 and Cody Hollister on Pass Play #21 for the only passing third-down conversions of the game. That was good enough for a 50% success rate on third-down passing for this game, but four passing conversions in three games isn’t good: winning SEC games frequently requires you to convert four or five third-down passes in a single game. Hopefully the Hogs can get this straightened out.
Cornelius’ injury and the relative cupcake opponent allowed the Hogs get Hollister more snaps, and he played well. Reed caught a 32-yard pass and had a 15-yard run on a jet sweep but was otherwise ineffective. He’s very boom-or-bust, and his boom will definitely be needed. Hatcher remains nearly uncoverable.
Williams remains fantastic. He got a bit of a breather, but 19 carries is still a load. I was surprised to still see him out there on that third-quarter drive. Kody Walker’s success rate was so high because he got a lot of short-yardage carries and converted all of them. Overall, he remains a far-less-effective option than Walker on standard downs, which is a problem, because 25 carries a game for Williams is unsustainable. Devwah Whaley finally got some work, but his best carries came in garbage time and aren’t reflected here. Still, if you’re looking for optimism with Whaley, note his 3.7 line-yards per carry. That means he did great job (better than Williams, actually) at taking what his line gave him. He didn’t break any long runs, and his situational efficiency was questionable, but he kept moving forward. That’s a good sign for an efficiency back.
That’s pretty much it. A big game with Texas A&M looms, and the Hogs should go all-out for it, especially given that the game is sandwiched by Texas State and Alcorn State. The preview for the Southwest Classic comes out later this week!