clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Arkansas vs. Louisiana Tech Advanced Stats Recap: Surviving Your Toledo

Bret Bielema said this was a game his previous teams would have probably lost. He’s right.

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

I believe this one still counts as a win.

Arkansas looked utterly lethargic in its season opener before 69,000 fans at Razorback Stadium, but found a way to go home with a 21-20 win over a Louisiana Tech program probably due for about seven wins in the Conference-USA.

It could be worse. Mississippi State lost to South Alabama (a team that’s a couple of touchdowns worse than Louisiana Tech), Kentucky lost to Southern Miss, Mizzou barely competed against West Virginia, while top-10 SEC programs LSU and Tennessee were embarrassed, with LSU taking a loss and heating up Les Miles’ seat again.

It also could be worse because Arkansas lost this game last year. Sports message board commenters noted that unlike Brandon, Austin Allen actually won two state titles, so he was probably more clutch. Perhaps they were right. Either way, while Brandon’s fourth-and-goal pass against Toledo sailed out of the back of the end zone, Austin’s found a not-as-wide-open-as-he-should-have-been Jeremy Sprinkle to secure the Razorback win.

Still, this 2016 team is a long way from that 2015 one. But there’s reason for optimism and pessimism after week one.

Offensive MVP: Keon Hatcher. His 12.7 yards per target and 85% success rate easily led all receivers. He finished with six grabs for 89 yards on seven official targets. He’s back.

Defensive MVP: Randy Ramsey. His energy off the edge gave Arkansas’ pass rush a lift in the second half and breathed new life into the defense. He also may be the key to gameplanning for spread offenses. I feel like Robb Smith wanted to save this fact for the TCU game, but the cat’s out of the bag now.

The “Five Factors” make up the bottom part of this chart. It goes as you might expect: Arkansas had a higher success rate, but couldn’t buy an explosive play (longest play from scrimmage: 18 yards). Louisiana Tech had a lower success rate but was more explosive.

The game really turned on two key stats. The first is seen above: points per scoring opportunity. A “scoring opportunity” is a drive that crosses the opponent 40. Louisiana Tech missing two field goals was important, but the fact that Arkansas even forced the two makes made all the difference. The same storyline we saw in the Appalachian State/Tennessee game replayed itself: if you’re gunning for the upset, you need touchdowns, not field goals. I was honestly surprised when Skip Holtz opted to kick the field goal on fourth-and-goal to make it 20-14 in the third quarter. That did Tech no good, and it ended up costing them the game.

In the “Keys to the Game” from the preview, I mentioned that staying in standard downs should be top priority. The Hogs ran 78% of plays from standard downs (51 of 66). Louisiana Tech only got 70% of plays on standard downs (38 of 54). That played a huge role.

With that in mind, here’s the second game-changing stat:

Louisiana Tech Passing Downs Success Rate

1st Half: 67% (4 of 6)

2nd Half: 11% (1 of 9)

Remember, passing downs are second and 10+ or third/fourth and 4+. The Hogs not only forced more passing downs, but they kept the Bulldogs out of successful plays in the second half.

To recap the overview: Arkansas’ offense was not explosive enough, and the defense struggled until some second-half changes - including playing Randy Ramsey - helped stiffen the Razorback defense on passing downs, forcing field goals when Tech needed touchdowns. Eventually, Tech’s last chance to put the better team away came and went, and Arkansas drove and finished the game off like good teams do when the door is left open.

Now let’s see the stats.

Jarred Craft’s 31-yard run just before halftime skews Tech’s rushing stats. The Bulldogs had just two successful rushing plays in the second half and finished the game with a meagre 2.7 line-yards per carry. After a 9-yard touchdown run in the first quarter, quarterback J’Mar Smith ceased to be an effective running threat.

Arkansas’ longest run was just 14 yards, which makes the yards per play and isoYPP numbers look bad, since those are boosted by big runs. However, Arkansas did a better job of consistently getting at least something. Those 3.2 line-yards per carry aren’t great against a Group of Five team, but if you’ll recall from the preview that stat was arguably Tech’s strength defensively last year.

Not a strong performance through the air, but keep in mind that four sacks are included as pass plays in these totals. Austin Allen did really well when given time to throw, completing 69% of his passes and looking generally accurate. His interception before halftime was a very poor decision and major gamechanger (Arkansas may have been on the verge of breaking the game wide open), but it’s something that a young quarterback is liable to do every now and then.

Arkansas failed to hit any deep passes (longest completion was 18 yards), something that’s going to have to change when the Hogs face better offenses and have to keep up. Hitting deep balls was a huge part of Arkansas’ ability to compete in shootouts last season. More on this coming up in the offense splits.

Tech’s passing numbers aren’t overwhelming, although they are better than Arkansas’. Even so, Arkansas was facing a redshirt freshman quarterback making his first start, and although Arkansas didn’t make him look like Cam Newton, they didn’t make him look like Jeremy Johnson either, which doesn’t bode well for the games against much better quarterbacks.

Game splits

Oh boy, it’s this problem again. Back in 2014, I criticized Jim Chaney when Arkansas’ offensive numbers consistently looked like this: awful on first down, great on second down. The problem, as I diagnosed it back then, was a lack of a deep threat. Not having a deep threat usually leads to problems trying to throw on first down. Sure enough, Arkansas didn’t hit any deep passes and couldn’t throw on first down.

My solution back then: run the ball on the first down and then try to get creative on second down. To Dan Enos’ credit, he seemed to figure this out by the fourth quarter:

Arkansas Pass Rate on First Down

First Three Quarters: 41% (9 of 22)

Fourth Quarter: 14% (1 of 7)

Sure enough, Arkansas had a 57% success rate on first downs in the fourth quarter, compared to just 40% in the previous three. Adjustments!

Yikes, those first- and third-down passing numbers are awful. Second and fourth down were fantastic. The Hogs need to develop a deep passing game soon, though, or defenses will be onto them like they were back in 2014.

The third quarter is a big LOL for the passing game. Offensive line was the main problem, but Tech just schemed well and the Hog receivers were covered. Only after the run was reestablished could Allen throw the ball again.

This is why Keon Hatcher is my MVP. Drew Morgan did okay and Jeremy Sprinkle was there when needed, but Hatcher was uncoverable. Not a great game for Cody Hollister, who has immense physical talent and little production to show for it so far in his career.

For those wondering why Rawleigh Williams’ numbers don’t quite add up, I removed his final two runs (after Walker’s fourth-down run sealed it), since Arkansas was running out the clock at that point and the outcome was already decided.

Second down remained the most friendly to the run game, but the contrast between first and second down here is not nearly as stark. Again, the Hogs would have been more efficient if they would have run more on the first down (and, probably, thrown more on second down).

Individually, it was a decent performance for Williams. He carved out small gains here and there but didn’t break anything. That will come. It was good enough just to see him back playing football. I was surprised that he carried the entire load (I would have liked to see more Kody Walker, personally). Lacking sufficient data on Walker and Devwah Whaley, I’ll hold off making running back comparisons for at least another couple weeks.

Other assorted observations:

  • Great job, Toby Baker! Baker averaged 47.5 yards per punt, allowing Arkansas to keep field position from getting out of control even as the offense was floundering.
  • I doubt we see the same offensive line next week. Hjalte Froholdt and Colton Jackson did not have good games, and that’s putting it mildly. Froholdt did play better in the fourth quarter, mostly because I didn’t notice any defenders shooting his gaps. Bielema said La Tech’s stunts confused them, but if you thought that was confusing, TCU is up next.
  • Don’t get me wrong, this game was bad, but four SEC teams on Arkansas’ schedule were worse this week. Missouri, Auburn, Mississippi State, and LSU do not seem capable of throwing a forward pass (please don’t try to explain to me that Drew Lock threw for 280 yards... Mizzou was awful). This bodes well for Arkansas. Florida, also on the schedule, didn’t look too hot either. Take solace in that and try to forget Alabama’s 52-6 romp over USC... and while you’re at it, try to forget Texas A&M’s utter ruination of UCLA’s offensive line.