This was ugly for Arkansas. Really, really, really ugly.
Sometimes when a team gets embarrassed in what was expected to be a game of evenly matched teams, the film will show it maybe wasn’t as bad as it first appeared to be. That wasn’t the case in the Hogs’ 56-3 defeat at Auburn on Saturday night.
Here’s SEC Country’s film session breakdown of how things went so wrong for the Razorbacks:
Where’s the edge?
Arkansas coach Bret Bielema summed up this game well in his postgame press conference with this: “When we don’t have an edge, we don’t have a defense.”
The Hogs certainly did not have an “edge” on many occasions against the Tigers. And no, he’s not referencing attitude. This was about scheme, execution, technique and discipline among other things. Coaches and players alike are to blame. It’s what set up Auburn to compile the most rushing yards (543) the Hogs have ever given up in a game.
So, what exactly is Bielema talking about when he references the edge of the defense? Maybe the best example came on the Tigers’ first offensive play — a 78-yard touchdown run by freshman wide receiver Eli Stove.
Stove comes in motion across the formation and takes a handoff from quarterback Sean White, with a fake to running back Kamryn Pettway carried out soon after. No one on Arkansas’ defense reacts to Stove coming in motion, giving the offense leverage on the left side and leaving the Hogs without a player to “set the edge” and force Stove to cut inside when he gets the ball.
Once defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. crashes too far down the line of scrimmage and the linebackers are stuck accounting for Pettway, the Tigers have two blockers in front of Stove and only a cornerback and safety to traverse. The result is an easy score.
Look at the left side just as Stove gets the ball. The Hogs have no chance just based on alignment.
Without knowing the details of Arkansas’ defensive strategy, which the coaching staff won’t be revealing, it’s impossible to know who deserves the blame for this one. Maybe cornerback Henre’ Toliver should’ve followed Stove across the formation or outside linebacker Dwayne Eugene should’ve recognized it and shifted over himself. It’s also possible Wise was supposed to be accountable for turning Stove back inside, but if that’s the case, he’s likely being asked to do too much.
Whatever the reason, Arkansas had no edge. And with it coming on Auburn’s first offensive snap, it’s almost a certainty the Tigers knew that would be the case.
“That first play that goes to the house, you know they couldn’t wait to get off the bus and run that play,” Bielema said. “So, we’ve got to take a really serious look at some of the things we’re doing.”
There’s no denying that, and that’s evidence the Hogs were clearly out-coached from the outset. But there were also clear player mistakes in attempting to create an edge.
This 41-yard first-quarter run by White is a perfect example. Defensive end Karl Roesler crashes down to hit Pettway on a zone-read running play just as White pulls the handoff and keeps it himself. Roesler’s decision to not accounted for White left the Hogs with no edge and resulted in another easy big gain for the Tigers.
Here’s the point where Roesler has a decision to make. If he stays outside, it’s unlikely the play results in more than a decent gain.
Both of those big plays came in the first quarter, setting up Auburn for a huge night, as the Tigers rushed for 183 yards on 10 carries with 3 touchdowns in the opening 15 minutes.
Here’s an example of how these early runs helped open Auburn’s entire offense. Watch safety Santos Ramirez crash down toward the line of scrimmage, weary of another run getting around the edge of the defense. But it’s a play-action pass, and the Tigers’ Stanton Truitt runs right by Ramirez and comes wide open for a 45-yard touchdown pass from White.
The run defense wasn’t the only thing that started poorly for the Hogs. They also had several crucial momentum swings not go their way during key moments in the first quarter and half.
It started with a dropped interception by cornerback Ryan Pulley that almost certainly would’ve gone the other way for a touchdown. The Hogs were trailing just 7-0 at the time midway through the first quarter. To win on the road against a quality SEC West opponent, those plays have to be made. Auburn later scored on what was a 10-play, 91-yard drive to go ahead 14-0.
Arkansas followed that drive with a bad turnover by Austin Allen. The junior quarterback attempted a pump fake 11 yards downfield and fumbled on a third-and-19 play he was never going to convert. Auburn took over at Arkansas’ 27-yard line and scored two plays later.
Early in the second quarter came Allen’s knee injury. The defense had just come up with a stop and the offense appeared to have Auburn off balance for the first time with effective play-calling. Then Allen was hit low by defensive end Carl Lawson, buckling his right knee and forcing him to the sideline for the remainder of the series. Allen did return later and played through the third quarter with what has now been described as a sprain.
But Allen coming off the field zapped the Hogs’ rhythm and killed the drive at midfield as they punted three plays later. The Hogs eventually fell behind 28-0 later in the quarter and, obviously, never recovered.
Offensive line decisively overmatched
The offensive line has been absolutely dominated in Arkansas’ three SEC West losses this season. The opponents deserve some credit. Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M are all widely considered among the best defensive lines in the country. But this is life in the SEC West. If Arkansas wants to be competitive in this league, it must be decidedly better up front. Pushing around Ole Miss, which somehow has a worse run defense than the Hogs, isn’t enough to avoid criticism.
Here’s run and pass blocking examples from Saturday that show why the offensive line continues to be a major issue.
Watch the line of scrimmage here. Before running back Devwah Whaley even takes the handoff all four defensive linemen and an outside linebacker are at least a yard into the backfield. Then right tackle Brian Wallace blocks absolutely no one as a linebacker runs right by him to make the tackle for a 2-yard loss. Whaley has no chance.
Here’s a screenshot of another negative play on first down to put Arkansas behind the chains. This time, Wallace is the only lineman doing a decent job and even he is only holding up his man at the line of scrimmage, not creating a push. The other four are pushed into the backfield and running back Rawleigh Williams III has no running lane whatsoever.
Allen was sacked 3 times in the first quarter alone and Arkansas has now surrendered an SEC-worst 21 sacks on the season. It’s just a matter of regularly being totally overmatched.
This play is a perfect example of where the Hogs have been weak. Center Frank Ragnow actually does a great job of picking up a blitzing linebacker and left tackle Dan Skipper does a decent job against his man. However, the rest of the offensive line — left guard Hjalte Froholdt, right guard Jake Raulerson and right tackle Brian Wallace — hardly provides any resistance in getting to Allen.
The defining run
If one play had to be used to describe the game, this touchdown run by Pettway is perfect. The 240-pound back rolls right through Arkansas safety Josh Liddell on his way to the end zone. Give Liddell some credit here for trying to go low and take on Pettway. But he stood no chance, much like his team.