It was more methodical than spectacular, but the Hogs got the job done against New Mexico State. It was more of a challenge than an FCS game will provide, but the win won’t change much about the perception of your team. Here are a few things this win did teach us though.
1.Receivers, Especially Nance, Are Emerging.
It’s taken a few games, but Austin Allen is starting to get some timing down with three recievers, Jonathan Nance, Deon Stewart, and Jordan Jones. Right now the best of that pack is Nance, who has become a solid deep threat in Jared Cornelius’ absence. Nance caught six passes for 58 yards and two scores against New Mexico State. That brings his season total up to 15 receptions for 258 yards and four touchdowns.
The first touchdown from Nance came from a long post route in the endzone. The second was on a short slant, and something we saw a lot of this weekend. Allen threw a lot more quick passes on short drops. That is something that Arkansas has needed to do with their offensive line struggles, and is something that required good timing with Allen and the receivers. It looks like as we hit a tougher stretch of games, they have started to get the timing on those throws down.
2. Kicking Field Goals Just Isn’t Going to Happen
There were three times in this game where Arkansas had 4th down in what is conventionally field goal range. Arkansas kicked a field goal none of those times.
The first time the fourth down attempt was pretty reasonable. Arkansas had 4th and 4 at the 26 yard line and was up 11. In a two position game I can understand not wanting to give the other team momentum on a 43 yard field goal miss. Allen hit Cheyenne O’Grady for a 10 yard pass and the Hogs later scored.
The next drive, up by 18, Arkansas had 4th and 1 at the 13 yard line and the ball pretty centered. Arkansas again elected to go for it instead of a 30 yard FG, and got the first down and eventually a TD. In the 4th quarter again up 18 they turned down a 40 yard attempt and didn’t make it.
After TCU, Bielema said he would go for it on fourth down every time if he had to and apparently he wasn’t bluffing. When asked about not going for it, Bielema said he read about analytics that suggested he go for it.
I’m all for being aggressive and going for it on 4th and short, but you need a field goal kicker at some point, and these games are partly about development. The first 4th down attempt I understand, but you need to give Connor Limpert a shot a field goal at some point. There isn’t going to be a better, low stress situation for him to get his first attempt.
3. Yup, the O-Line Still Struggles in Short Yardage
Okay, we’re not learning this now, but it’s still true. The offensive line still has a hard time getting a push in short yardage situations. The most clear look of that came in the third quarter on a 16 play drive. The problem is half of those plays took place inside the 10. Arkansas had six runs from David Williams (only one went for more than two yards), a New Mallett jump pass that drew a pass interference, an incomplete pass under pressure, and eventually Allen hit Nance for a touchdown on a slant.
Several of those runs had no holes to run through and little push up the field. It’s definitely feeling like beating a dead horse saying the offensive line struggles, but it’s so odd to see a team that does pretty well running the ball (Arkansas averaged 4.5 yards per carry) can’t get that push when the endzone is there. The steamboat package with New Mallett helped some, but a team that prides itself on physical running has to improve at just lining up and getting that push.