FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — There were a lot of positives for Arkansas in its 42-3 victory over Texas State.
Some of that had to do with how well the Hogs played, but a lot of it had to do with their outmanned opponent.
Coach Bret Bielema said after the win that No. 17 Arkansas (3-0) would “be pretty quick to turn the page” Sunday and begin focusing on its SEC opener against No. 10 Texas A&M.
But at SEC Country, we went to the film Sunday to look at the biggest takeaways from the Razorbacks’ rout before looking ahead to the Aggies. Here’s our film session breakdown of the win over Texas State:
Defensive line dominates
Arkansas’ defensive line was relentless while getting after Texas State quarterback Tyler Jones and helping shut down the running game.
It was a group effort, with several players on the defensive front making big plays. The unit combined for 4 sacks and held the Bobcats to just 22 rushing yards. Senior defensive tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter stood out as one of the most impressive players with 4 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 2 pass breakups.
It didn’t come as a surprise that the defensive line overwhelmed Texas State, considering this unit is arguably the Hogs’ best position group. But the way they did it with skill and depth was still very impressive. The Razorbacks had 12 different defensive linemen register at least 1 tackle. This group is clearly turning into one of the best defensive fronts, if not already the best, in the SEC. That’s not saying it is the most talented, just the most consistently impactful.
Here are a few of the most impressive plays from the defensive line against Texas State:
Jeremiah Ledbetter sack on 1st & 10 in 2Q
JaMichael Winston sack on 3rd & 7 in the 3Q
Deatrich Wise Jr. sack on 3rd & 5 in 1Q
Hatcher goes deep
Senior wide receiver Keon Hatcher is showing no ill effects from a foot injury that cost him nearly all of last season. He’s made several huge plays through three games and put his deep-threat abilities on display for the first time this season against Texas State. It came on a great pass from quarterback Austin Allen off play-action, but Hatcher’s post route was a thing of beauty. He beat the cornerback, who was trying to jam him, off the line and Hatcher might as well have been uncovered at that point as he easily gained enough separation to haul in what would be a 73-yard reception. The only shame was the play being overturned from a touchdown to down and the 1-yard line. He still had 96 yards and a score to help put this one away early.
Why the coaches love Williams
This play seems so simple and routine, yet it’s a perfect display of what makes sophomore running back Rawleigh Williams III so effective in the Hogs’ offense. Notice his patience as he waits for the running lane to develop and then uses his quickness to get through the hole for an 8-yard gain. Bielema has regularly bragged on Williams’ patience as a runner. This is exactly what he’s talking about.
Give credit to the offensive line here as well. The run-blocking was superb for the most part against Texas State. Frank Ragnow and Hjalte Froholdt, the pulling guard, do a particularly great job on this play.
Offensive line still struggling to pass protect
One area that remains concerning is pass protection. The left side of the line has been solid with tackle Dan Skipper and Froholdt. But the right side has appeared overwhelmed on several occasions. Right tackle Colton Jackson has struggled mightily and appears to on the verge of losing his job, as the Razorbacks rotated Brian Wallace into that spot on several occasions against Texas State. However, the film showed Wallace didn’t fare much better. Bielema mentioned after the game there’s a possibility Ragnow could even move to right tackle. Ragnow, who is arguably the Hogs’ best lineman and certainly the most versatile, already has played guard and center this season.
This is something that must be fixed if Arkansas wants to have success against Texas A&M. The Aggies are second in the SEC with 12 sacks this season and have one of the nation’s best pass rushers in Myles Garrett.
Here are two troubling examples of failed pass protection against Texas State. In the first one, Allen somehow manages to escape to complete a pass for a nice gain. In the second clip, Allen is hit as he throws, resulting in a fumble recovered by Texas State.
Right tackle Colton Jackson gets beat
Right guard Zach Rogers missed block
No Arkansas player has been more surprisingly impressive the past two weeks than sophomore cornerback Ryan Pulley. He was inserted as the starter opposite Jared Collins after Kevin Richardson II suffered a season-ending injury in Week 1 against Louisiana Tech.
Pulley has made the most out of the opportunity so far, with his best highlight coming on a 25-yard pick-6 against Texas State. He’s a player that can use his long arms to jam wide receivers off the line of scrimmage and possesses the overall athleticism to run with most anyone he’ll match up against. His play is critical for this team, as opponents are refusing to throw at Collins.
Defending the read-option
The read-option offense — with the quarterback able to handoff, keep or sometimes even pass — can be extremely difficult to defend for even the best of defenses. There are so many options for the offense that one wrong step or decision from a defender can lead to a huge play. This is something Arkansas is going to face regularly in SEC play against several quarterbacks that are exceptional runners. So it’s important the Razorbacks are able to stop it, and they did an outstanding job of that against Texas State. While it is a lesser opponent, it’s still promising.
Senior middle linebacker Brooks Ellis was extremely effective at preventing the quarterback from running in these situations. Arkansas will defend this style by quite frequently having the unblocked defensive end crash down and take on the running back. This typically will leave Ellis in a one-on-one situation with the quarterback should he keep the ball. Here’s an example of Ellis and defensive end Tevin Beanum defending the play to perfection against Texas State:
Limpert finds the end zone
Kickoff man Connor Limpert was much more consistent against Texas State than in previous games at preventing return opportunities with 3 touchbacks in 7 kickoffs. Arkansas had 2 touchbacks on 10 kickoffs coming into the game.
Only two of Limpert’s kicks failed to reach at least the goal line Saturday. One had the distance but sailed out of bounds before reaching the end zone. The other was a squib kick just before halftime. The truth is kicking it out of bounds or a squib likely beats the low, short kicks that previously had been seen regularly on kickoffs.
Limpert finally showing he has the ability to consistently boom kicks into the end zone might be something that is overlooked from Saturday, but it’s a promising sign.