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So Are These Early Starts Going to Keep Being a Problem?

Arkansas’ 1st quarters have been ugly this season.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Arkansas Nelson Chenault-USA TODAY Sports

We’re halfway through the year and a concerning trend has popped up for Arkansas. Their starts have been absolutely awful. After just over nine minutes against Alabama, the Hogs already found themselves down 21. While it’s not unusual to be down early to Alabama, it’s that it felt an all too common feeling from the rest of the year. The Hogs were down 14 early to Texas A&M, the Hogs gave up an early score to Auburn, and North Texas was up 17-0 before the Hogs could string a drive together.

Overall Arkansas has been outscored by 41 points in first quarters this year. In the past four games they’ve been outscored 62-7 in the opening frame. Offensively things have been especially ugly. The first quarter against Texas A&M where the Hogs finished with negative yards was especially ugly but was indicative of 1st quarters all season. Arkansas is averaging 3.69 yards per play with a 36% success rate. In the remaining quarters their averaging 5.82 yards per carry and have had a significantly higher yards per play in quarters 2-4 in every game except for the Auburn one.

This wasn’t a trend from last year. Arkansas’ first quarter offensive S&P+ in 2017 was 21st in the country, and their second highest quarter. Defensively it was 81st, which was by far their best quarter for a defense with a penchant for wearing down. If anything the problem was the opposite, Arkansas would start well and fade as the game went on.

So has this trend been brought on from the new staff? A look back at SMU doesn’t really have a conclusive trend. The Mustangs outscored opponents by six points over the course of the year (-15 if you take out the FCS outlier), which isn’t a huge trend. In fact they left the first quarter tied four separate times last year. A look at their offensive S&P+ numbers shows the first quarter was their third best quarter because for some reason third quarters were an incredible outlier.

  • (109.9) 44th in the 1Qs
  • (118.0) 20th in the 2Qs
  • (90.6) 105th in the 3Qs (seriously, what happened here?)
  • (116.4) 18th in the 4Qs

In 2016, SMU’s teams easily had their best numbers on both offense and defense in the first quarters of games. So this issue is something completely unique to both this group of players and this coaching staff.

So How Do Things Get Fixed?

Raise Ty Storey’s Confidence

Quick and short throws. Avoid plays that are long developing and could raise the risk of sacks (which plays into the second point) and get Storey in a rhythm as quickly as possible. If that means you tight end screen and five yard curl a team to death than so be it.

Stay Ahead of the Sticks

There are multiple things at play here. First is that penalties need to be eliminated. Arkansas hasn’t been awful with them this year but when they do get them it’s basically a death signal for the offense. Play calling also plays a role as well. Find plays that minimize risk, for the first time all season Arkansas seemed to do a good job of that against Alabama. We talked about how Arkansas had jumpstarted their offense earlier in the week, and should continue to do what worked. Finding the tight end quickly or letting Rakeem Boyd do his thing in a power set worked well. Don’t over complicate things and put a quarterback that can’t get you out of third and long into that situation.

For the Love of God, Don’t Screw Up on Special Teams, or Better Yet, Don’t Put Them Out There

Squib kick on a kickoff if you have to. Just don’t do something that puts your offense back on the field almost immediately after. Maybe it’s time to go against the book on a fourth down call. So what if it might not benefit field position? It’s not like punting the ball has done anything different there. Give the offense a chance on a 4th down that could give them more momentum and confidence. What’s the worst that could happen if you don’t get it? It’s not like it would be worse than any of the past four games.