It’s weird to walk away from a 31-point loss and not feel like it was really that bad. But this one really wasn’t. Arkansas’ offense continued to struggle, but with Ty Storey in command, we at least saw flashes of what Chad Morris wants this offense to be. And the defense was flat-out impressive, holding Auburn to a meagre 225 yards, Arkansas’ best performance since the 17-0 shutout of LSU in 2014.
But special teams. Oh my goodness. Here’s a snapshot of the special teams:
- Kickoff return touchdown
- 48-yard punt return
- 36-yard punt return
- Blocked punt
- 22-yard punt that was nearly blocked
- Missed field goal
This is your weekly reminder that Chad Morris does not see fit to have a special teams coordinator. Bret Bielema didn’t have one, either. The last Arkansas coach to have a dedicated special teams coordinator — Bobby Petrino — had fantastic special teams in Fayetteville. Funny how that works. Arkansas sportswriters really need to press Morris in his next press conference about who is in charge of special teams, who’s working to fix the problems, and how they’re doing so.
All EV scores are relative to Arkansas.
- -4.63 Noah Igbinoghene 96-yard kickoff return (3rd quarter)
- +3.33 JaTarvious Whitlow stuffed for no gain on 4th down (2nd quarter)
- -2.78 Chase Hayden fumble (1st quarter)
A few observations:
- Special teams catastrophes cost Arkansas at least 10 points. Count ‘em up: 4.6 points for the kickoff return, 3.3 points on two punt returns, and minus-1.2 for the missed field goal (Connor Limpert recovered 0.6 points by making his other attempt). Those plays don’t include the two bad punts (one blocked), which are given to Auburn’s Field Position EV. Arkansas has to get this shored up or any chances at springing an upset in SEC play go out the window.
- Arkansas’ defense was impressive once again. A relentless pass rush led by Randy Ramsey picked up four sacks and made Jarrett Stidham uncomfortable all game. Arkansas’ defensive line has suddenly gone from team weakness to team strength in one offseason. The Hogs held Auburn to minus-15.3 Offense EV and a minus-10.6% Adjusted Third Down Conversion Rate. That essentially means that Auburn’s offense was responsible for about 15 points fewer than you would expect based on their starting field position, and Auburn’s offense had a third down conversion rate about 10.6% worse than you expect based on how far they had to go. John Chavis’ defense has now held each of the Hogs’ first four opponents to negatives in those statistics.
- The run game found a little bit of success. We’ll look in detail at the rushing numbers in a second. Storey showed impressive escapability and finished with 10 non-sack rushes for 60 non-sack yards.
- Auburn had zero respect for the Hogs’ ability to throw. Auburn has one of the nation’s elite defensive lines, and supported it with heavy blitzes in all passing situations. The Hogs couldn’t buy Storey any time to throw and right now, there just isn’t the rapport between Storey and his receivers for someone to come open that quickly. A couple of screens and sprintouts found modest success, but that was about it. The good news is that the back half of the schedule is loaded with teams with defensive fronts far worse than Auburn’s.
Sizing up the running game
Have a day, Rakeem Boyd. Boyd had the best night among running backs. His 45-yard run and 33-yard screen reception were Arkansas’ longest plays of the day.
Looking at the season stats, Boyd has now caught Devwah Whaley in the critical EV per Rush stat, and is Arkansas’ most explosive back by far (33% opportunity, 11.8 yards per opportunity). Whaley still is the most efficient option (62% success), but his total lack of explosiveness is a problem for an offense that is having trouble sustaining drives. Boyd injected some life into the offense on a couple of drives against Auburn. He should be getting 10+ touches per game moving forward. Chase Hayden, meanwhile, is second in efficiency (57% success), but he’s dead-last in explosiveness (17% opportunity) and is now the only back to lose a fumble.
The Hogs face Texas A&M. The Aggies gave Clemson a good game, but the Alabama game got away from them on Saturday in a 45-23 loss in Tuscaloosa. Quarterback Kellen Mond can run and throw, but their defense and run game are inconsistent. It would be nice to see Arkansas keep it close, but limiting special teams disasters will be required for that.