FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ downfield passing attack has been virtually non-existent most of this season. Through 10 games, the Hogs have completed just 28 passes of at least 20 yards. That ranks No. 11 in the SEC and No. 78 nationally. This despite Arkansas frequently being forced to air it out while playing from behind this season.
The ineffectiveness throwing downfield was particularly glaring during Arkansas’ 33-10 loss at LSU last Saturday. Senior quarterback Austin Allen missed two potential touchdown passes in the second half on throws that were at least 40 yards downfield.
Maybe that was just the rust of not playing in over a month as Allen was making his first start since sustaining a right shoulder injury Oct. 7. Regardless, the Hogs are attempting to remedy the issue entering their matchup with Mississippi State this Saturday (11 a.m. CT).
Allen is set to start again, a decision that was made easier after Cole Kelley was arrested Sunday morning and suspended indefinitely. Allen was replaced at LSU by Kelley, a redshirt freshman, in the fourth quarter of the loss at LSU.
“We threw a lot of deep balls today,” wide receiver Deon Stewart said following practice Tuesday. “I think [offensive coordinator Dan] Enos is just trying to get [Allen] used to throwing those deep balls. The past few games we haven’t really been connecting on them. I think Enos is just trying to get that corrected.”
The Razorbacks insist this has been strictly an in-game issue. In practice, they say there have been no issues completing deep passes.
According to Enos, Allen also read the defense incorrectly on a play that could’ve been a big gain downfield against LSU. So, in total, he missed three potential completions that could’ve helped the Hogs at least stay competitive in Baton Rouge.
“We’ve seen Austin make those plays,” Enos said. “Even when Cole was in there, he had opportunities and we were a little errant with the throws. Our deep-ball accuracy wasn’t very good and it’s kind of mind scratching because we’re very good in practice throwing the ball down the field and connecting on those deep balls.
“It’s something we talk about a lot as a quarterback group. It’s an area that needs to be improved and we’re going to work very hard at it this week.”
Many of Arkansas’ big gains in the passing game this season have actually been on short screen passes. The Hogs longest passing play of the season is a 60-yard touchdown from Kelley to running back T.J. Hammonds on a screen against Coastal Carolina.
The screen game has helped to burn aggressive defenses, which is what the Hogs are facing Saturday. But it doesn’t force a secondary to play further off the ball, like deep downfield passes would. It’s for that reason Arkansas can’t simply avoid throwing downfield altogether and is instead working to fix the issue.
“As a defensive coordinator, I always used to chart how many shots go back past 20 yards that you’ve got to have an awareness of,” said coach Bret Bielema. “So, I know for us to get the respect to maybe loosen up the coverage that could help us in the run game, we’ve definitely got to have X numbers of shots down the field. And, of course, we’ve got to connect on them when we’ve got them.”