ARLINGTON, Texas — Mistakes and blown assignments plagued No. 20 Arkansas (3-1, 0-1 in SEC) in its 45-24 loss to No. 9 Texas A&M (4-0, 2-0) on Saturday at AT&T Stadium.
At SEC Country, we went to the film Sunday to look at the biggest takeaways from the Razorbacks’ first loss of the season. Here’s our film session breakdown of the game:
Run defense uncharateristically gashed by the Aggies
The most surprising development from this game was Texas A&M’s success running the ball. The Aggies had 366 rushing yards and averaged 9.9 yards per carry.
That’s more yards in one game than Arkansas had allowed in the three previous games combined. A year ago, the Hogs were second in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game.
The last time Arkansas allowed more than 300 yards rushing: Auburn had 302 on Aug. 30, 2014, in a 45-21 win over Arkansas.
The last time Arkansas allowed more than 366 yards rushing: Texas A&M had 381 on Oct. 1, 2011, in a game Arkansas won 42-38. The Hogs haven’t beaten the Aggies since, dropping the last five in the Southwest Classic series.
So, how did the Razorbacks’ run defense suddenly go from stout to laughable? A combination of two things: scheme and A&M’s execution.
Arkansas was clearly outcoached in this area. One of the best examples came on A&M quarterback Trevor Knight’s 48-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. Knight scored with only 13 seconds left in the half to tie the game at 17. It was one of several big plays from Saturday the Razorbacks are undoubtedly kicking themselves over.
Looking at the play, the Aggies sent a running back in motion out of the backfield just before the snap. Hogs middle linebacker Brooks Ellis shadows the back, which left no one in the middle of the field to account for Knight. If that sounds simple, it’s because it is. The safeties were stacked behind teammates defending receivers in the slot, leaving them too far outside to prevent Knight from breaking free and too close to the line of scrimmage to prevent a touchdown. The Aggies saw an opening in the defense and exploited it.
Knight, who rushed for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns, wasn’t the only Aggie running wild Saturday. Running backs Trayveon Williams (153 yards) and Keith Ford (60 yards) also had a lot of success.
This play is a good example of just how well A&M executed. The left guard and center combine to clear out defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter, and the center also gets enough of Ellis to take him out of the play. This springs Ford for a big gain. The Aggies executed their run-blocking assignments really well all night. As boring as that sounds, sometimes it’s that simple.
A&M’s goal-line strategy pays off
Following the game, Arkansas players and coach Bret Bielema mentioned how Texas A&M used a unique strategy they hadn’t previously seen to keep the Hogs out of the end zone on two separate goal-line situations.
Arkansas ran the ball eight times inside the A&M 2-yard line. Seven of those plays went for no gain or a loss and the other gained only a yard.
The Aggies used their defensive linemen to take out the legs of the offensive linemen while the linebackers leaped over the top to stop a run up the middle. It was particularly effective in stopping quarterback Austin Allen on a pair of quarterback sneak attempts in the third quarter.
Here’s a look at one example:
The offensive line has to be better than that and find a way to get a push, or Allen has to realize there’s a wide-open hole just to his right.
But there’s also plenty of blame to go around for the struggles on the goal line. For instance, running back Rawleigh Williams III made a costly mistake on this play:
Watching it from that view, it looks like A&M defensive end Myles Garrett makes a great play. However, close inspection shows he only had the opportunity because Williams chose to bounce the run outside rather than follow a lane behind his fullback (No. 34 Kendrick Jackson) into the end zone.
Offensive line struggles continue
There’s no reason to spend much time on the offensive line again this week. The issues — particularly protecting Allen — have been the same all season with not much apparent improvement. The unit struggled more than ever to get a push in the running game against A&M, as evidenced by the Hogs’ inability to score on the goal line. The Aggies had 10 tackles for losses.
Allen was blasted on several occasions. The clip below shows one of the worst examples with tight end Jeremy Sprinkle and right tackle Brian Wallace at fault for allowing defensive end Daeshon Hall to get to Allen unimpeded. The result was a huge hit causing a fumble that was recovered by the Aggies.
Arguably the two most critical mistakes Arkansas made in this game were fumbles by wide receiver Dominique Reed and Williams.
Reed’s came with the Hogs leading 7-0 and driving in the first quarter. The play gave A&M its first of many key breaks.
Williams’ stung even more, directly taking points off the board. Had he held onto the ball, he almost certainly would’ve scored. The Hogs were leading 10-7 at the time and could’ve dealt a significant blow to the Aggies by taking a two-score lead in the second quarter.
A lot of Arkansas fans were upset by the ejection of safety De’Andre Coley as a result of a targeting call in the first half. The video shows it was clearly the right call. Coley made an unnecessary hit with helmet-to-helmet contact well after cornerback Ryan Pulley had knocked the ball away.
This play was significant not so much because Coley was lost for the game, but more as a result of it coming on third down deep in A&M territory. The Aggies should’ve been forced to punt. Instead, they continued the drive and ended up with a field goal.
The 4th-and-goal call
The decision to give the ball to wide receiver Keon Hatcher on fourth down inside the 1-yard line has been heavily scrutinized since the play was stuffed for a loss. But this one, as with most of the failed goal-line plays, wasn’t on the coaches.
The blocking was incredibly poor. Look at the push A&M gets into the backfield. That forced Hatcher to continue running wide as he never had an opportunity to turn toward the end zone. It’s unfair to blame the call, because running up the middle and play-action passes had already been tested on the goal line with no success.
Had Hatcher scored, Arkansas would’ve broken a 17-17 tie and seized the momentum late in the third quarter. Instead, Knight found wide receiver Josh Reynolds for a 92-yard touchdown pass two plays later and the Aggies rolled the rest of the way.
Allen making big-time throws
One of the few positives for Arkansas was the play of Allen. The redshirt junior quarterback was superb for most of the night despite taking a beating from the defense. He made a handful of throws that were NFL caliber. Below are clips of a couple of his best. Notice the tight window he fits the ball through, with three players in his face in the second clip.
Allen to Jared Cornelius
Allen to Hatcher
Hatcher at fullback?
Arkansas showed an interesting wrinkle in the offense by featuring Hatcher at fullback on a couple of plays. On one play (below), he does an outstanding job of serving as the lead blocker on a sweep. Pretty impressive for a receiver. He could also be used as a threatening option off play-action passes in this set. This will be something to look for going forward as the Hogs further try to utilize one of their best playmakers.