FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — There haven’t been many positive things to say about the state of the Arkansas football program over the past week. An embarrassing 28-7 home loss to TCU has much of the fan base demanding athletic director Jeff Long reconsider the job security of coach Bret Bielema.
But are things really as bad as they seem as the Hogs prep to face SEC West rival Texas A&M next Saturday? In some areas of the team, yes. However, some weaknesses that were exposed in the loss to the Horned Frogs appear to be very correctable.
Here’s SEC Country’s breakdown of four areas Arkansas was lacking against TCU that could definitely be fixed immediately:
Less thinking, more reacting for Austin Allen
According to offensive coordinator Dan Enos, something was amiss with Austin Allen’s throwing motion against TCU. Enos blamed those mechanical issues on a couple of underthrown deep passes late in the third quarter that could’ve been game-tying touchdowns if thrown well. He didn’t get into the specifics of what was wrong.
What it looks like is more of a mental issue than anything. Allen is thinking too much. That’s causing him to hold on to the ball too long, messing up the timing off the passing game. That may be a result of not trusting his receivers, trying to avoid interceptions, putting too much pressure on himself, or all of the above. Regardless, he needs less thinking from the pocket and more reacting, which is also something Enos pointed out.
Here are two examples from the TCU game where Allen doesn’t react quick enough:
Allen throws the ball way too late here. You can’t see it on the broadcast, but wide receiver La’Michael Pettway comes open downfield and then Allen throws the ball. That’s too late. Allen has to trust Pettway in the 1-on-1 matchup, throw the ball and let his man run under it. This was not Pettway’s fault, regardless of what color commentator Gary Danielson said or what Bielema said after the game (He basically called out Pettway for falling down.).
This is all on Allen. There was good protection, the receiver got open and Allen just didn’t throw the ball early enough. He threw it 61 yards. That’s as far as he can fling it. If he’s on time, Pettway has a chance. Because he wasn’t, Pettway is trying to slam on the brakes and falls down. He outran Allen’s arm, which is on the quarterback.
In the second instance, Allen is again late with the throw — this time to Deon Stewart on what would’ve definitely been a touchdown. The broadcast does a good job of showing and explaining exactly what happened here. Stewart ran one of the best routes you’ll see and Allen threw too late. It was almost as if he waited to see if Stewart would beat his man before throwing it. He needs to throw it as Stewart is hitting his double move at the 30-yard line, and that’s a touchdown.
This is fixable, though. Allen has the muscle memory down, he just needs to trust his guys, even if they don’t warrant the trust. The quarterback has to continually give his receivers a chance, no matter what.
Here’s an example from Allen last season of what it should look like:
This throw is perfect and thrown before the receiver comes open. If Allen starts playing like this again, the passing game can get back on track. There’s no reason to believe he can’t do it against Texas A&M coming off a bye week.
Consistency at wide receiver
As mentioned above, Allen doesn’t trust his receivers. They didn’t give him much reason to early in the TCU game, throwing things off from the beginning.
The solution: play fewer receivers. More specifically, play the ones Allen does trust. The Razorbacks featured seven different receivers last week. The full first-team rotation in practices has been eight or nine deep. No wonder Allen doesn’t have a rapport with most of his guys; he’s throwing to far too many.
Find Allen’s three most trusted targets — most likely Stewart Jared Cornelius, and Jonathan Nance — and give them nearly all the reps. A couple reliable backups would obviously be a bonus, but right now things just need to be simplified with the receiving corps.
Playing Chase Hayden
This one is a really easy fix: provide freshman running back Chase Hayden with more snaps. He played just two against TCU after rushing for 120 yards in the opener against Florida A&M. Yes, it was Florida A&M, but Hayden is Arkansas’ best chance at providing a spark on offense. He can turn nothing into a huge gain at any moment. And that’s exactly what the Hogs needed in the second half against TCU while Hayden was on the bench.
Bielema said as much Wednesday, pointing out he had a conversation with running backs coach Reggie Mitchell about why Hayden didn’t get more chances. That left everyone wondering why Bielema himself didn’t just put Hayden in the game. Going forward, he probably will.
Bring out the ‘Maserati’
Cole Hedlund’s days as Arkansas’ starting kicker appear to be finished after missing two attempts inside 23 yards against TCU. This coming after he’d been inconsistent for most of the last two seasons when starting. So, it’s time for a change.
Enter freshman Blake Mazza. Also known by Bielema as the “Maserati.”
Is Mazza going to go out and win the Groza Award? No. But the odds are strong he’ll hit his attempts inside of 23 yards. The walk-on has a fearless mentality. He was not shy about saying he came to Arkansas expecting to start immediately. He made a strong push to do just that before ultimately losing out to Hedlund, the practice All-American.
Mazza is confident, talented and currently Arkansas’ best in-game option.