FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ 21-20 victory over Louisiana Tech at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday has left many wondering just how good the Razorbacks are. Needing a fourth-quarter comeback to win as a 26-point favorite at home will do that.
But what exactly happened? Why wasn’t the margin of victory wider? Is Louisiana Tech really as good as Arkansas? Can the Razorbacks show improvement in Week 2 against TCU?
To answer these questions, the best place to go is to the film. SEC Country Arkansas writer Trent Shadid watched the game for a second time Sunday. Here’s his film session breakdown:
After watching Arkansas’ narrow win over Louisiana Tech again, I decided to take a closer look at four key things I believe played a major role in the direction and outcome of this game.
There are plenty of negatives for the Razorbacks, but I think the fans can take solace in the fact that I believe the most egregious of the mistakes are correctable.
If you’re a fan who would rather not read the negative and skip straight to what went right for the Hogs, scroll right past the “pass protection” and “Allen’s interceptions” portions of this post.
Let’s dive into the film.
Austin Allen was sacked four times Saturday and pressured on several other occasions. That’s obviously not what you want with a quarterback making his first-ever start. The regular pressure on Allen helped Louisiana Tech stay competitive.
The good news for Arkansas is that nearly every time the Bulldogs got to Allen it was a result of mental mistake up front. That’s much easier to correct than getting beat physically by a Conference USA opponent. When the Razorbacks were able to make the right decision and engage, the blocking was mostly good.
Here are some examples of where the Hogs failed in pass protection:
The first sack and the first of many mental mistakes up front
- Arkansas’ opening drive was rolling along nicely until a mistake in protection led to a sack and an 8-yard loss on first down. It looks like right tackle Colton Jackson, a redshirt freshman making his first start, completely avoids blocking a blitzing safety leading to an easy sack. Jackson almost certainly thought he would have help from fullback Hayden Johnson or tailback Rawleigh Williams III on the play, but that wasn’t the case. Both backs were carrying out a play-fake to the other side of the formation. This one is on Jackson. Cody Hollister dropped a pass on the next play and Allen threw an interception on third down. The negative plays seemed to be contagious at times Saturday.
Jackson fails to pick up the blitz … again
- Almost the exact same blitz as the first sack, just a different safety, but the result is the same. Jackson, for whatever reason, doesn’t even attempt to block a free-running blitzer. Running back Kody Walker is available in protection, but he’s on the other side of the formation. I suppose in both the cases it could be argued the running back should’ve recognized the blitz also and slid over to help. That’s a tough ask, especially with Louisiana Tech doing such a good job disguising its blitzes. After this performance, expect the Hogs to see plenty of edge blitzes off the right side of the line Saturday at TCU.
- Jackson wasn’t the only offensive lineman making his first start to struggle Saturday. Sophomore left guard Hjalte Froholdt, a converted defensive lineman, also had a rough day. In this case, he’s left blocking no one as an interior defensive lineman runs free and lays a heavy hit on Allen.
Mental mistakes extend to run blocking
- For the most part, Arkansas’ run blocking was solid, especially with the game on the line late in the fourth quarter. But there were moments of complete failure, like Froholdt missing a block on a linebacker who stuffed Williams for a loss.
While Allen didn’t get much help from his offensive line, he wasn’t free from mental mistakes himself.
Both of his interceptions came on throws he never should’ve made.
- Allen ended his first drive as the starter with an interception on third and 18. The down and distance is important, because that’s likely why he tried to force a throw into tight coverage well down the field. Louisiana Tech defensive back Xavier Woods deserved credit for great coverage and an even better play on the ball.
- However, he stared down his intended target, Jared Cornelius, and he probably should’ve ruled out throwing the ball in his direction before the play even began. Looking at the screenshot below, the matchup of Woods and Cornelius is circled. Woods is arguably the Bulldogs’ best player and he looked like it Saturday. Also note Woods has a safety behind him to help if needed. Based on what we see before the snap, Cornelius is likely the worst to throw to in this situation.
- After the snap, Cornelius is clearly well-defended, and don’t forget there’s a safety waiting outside the shot for help on throws well down the field. Meanwhile, tight end Jeremy Sprinkle, circled in green, has come wide open against one-on-one coverage from a linebacker. Sprinkle would’ve had to turn and run for 12 yards to get a first down on the play, but you have to give him a chance when one of the best tight ends in the nation is that open. At worst, he comes up short and the Hogs punt with a chance to pin it inside the 10-yard line.
- I think Allen deserves a little bit of forgiveness on this one. The coaches and players said after the game this was a route miscommunication. Watching it live it looked like Sprinkle was the player who made the mistake. Regardless, Allen stares to one side of the field the entire play and eventually forces into tight coverage on Drew Morgan. This was a huge play in the game, and maybe the biggest reason things stayed close down to the wire. The Razorbacks were leading 14-7 at the time and driving with all the momentum. The interception led to a game-tying score and Arkansas never regained control until the final minutes.
The Hogs’ defensive front was expected to be the strength of the team coming into the season, and it certainly lived up to that Saturday. The unit had 3 sacks, all coming at crucial moments. It’s important to remember Louisiana Tech was also looking to get the ball out as quickly as possibly on the majority of its pass plays in an effort to negate the pass rush.
The ultimate pass-rushing front puts the game away
- This was the best defensive play of the game for Arkansas. Louisiana Tech had third and 10 near midfield trailing 21-20 as the clock ticked under four minutes. The Razorbacks called on a unique package of defensive linemen with Jeremiah Ledbetter, Deatrich Wise Jr., Randy Ramsey and Taiwan Johnson. This has to be their go-to pass rushing unit. Ramsey is strictly a pass-rushing specialist while Ledbetter and Wise are likely the Hogs’ best, and certainly most-experienced pass rushers. I found it interesting that Ramsey lined up inside with Johnson and Ledbetter, who typically plays inside, came off the edge. The plan worked to perfection, as you can see, and Louisiana Tech never got the ball back.
Johnson’s sack on third and 10
- Johnson had a nice game plugging up the middle and staying active from the interior defensive line. Here, he sheds a block with ease and chases down a capable runner in J’Mar Smith for the sack. The result is the end of threatening drive and Louisiana Tech had to settle for field goal.
Randy Ramsey makes his presence felt with strip and sack
- The first big play from Randy Ramsey at defensive end, and there will be more, came on a first down pass from Arkansas’ 26-yard line. Ramsey bursts off the edge, gets off the block and makes the sack. It’s hard to tell in the clip, but Ramsey also forced a fumble on the play before Smith recovered almost immediately. The sack put Louisiana Tech behind the chains in what had been a nice drive late in the third quarter. Three plays later, the Bulldogs missed a 54-yard field goal, keeping the Razorbacks within one score and setting up the game-winning drive.
The game-winning drive
With everything on the line, Arkansas came through. The game-winning drive lasted 13 plays, covered 77 yards and consumed 7:37 as Arkansas took its first lead of the second half with 6:37 to play. Williams was a stud on the drive, carrying the ball seven times from 39 yards. After Williams set things up, Allen finished it off with big plays to Keon Hatcher and Sprinkle.
Allen shows toughness with critical pass to Hatcher
- The best play Allen made all day came as he had to use his legs to avoid a sack and put his toughness on display by taking a jarring hit while delivering an accurate pass. Hatcher did the rest, turning second and 13 into a first down.
Hatcher’s determined run after catch
- Hatcher wasn’t done make big plays on the decisive drive. Here he turns what probably should’ve been a 5-yard gain into 13 yards, running through three tackles and a couple of tugs at his dread locks.
‘Oh My Gosh’
- Coach Bret Bielema called the play, “Oh my gosh,” seriously, that’s what they call it. The reason being, it creates excitement. That’s exactly what it did for the game-winning score on fourth down Saturday. The design seems simple enough, but it’s extremely effective. Allen, and the entire offense except Sprinkle, rolls the play to the right side of the field on the snap. As the defense is flowing in that direction, Sprinkle streaks across to the other side of the field. It typically puts a linebacker in a position where he has to change direction quickly and run with Sprinkle. That’s a matchup Arkansas will take every time. It worked to perfection Saturday with Allen dropping a great pass to his standout tight end.
- It’s not the exact same play, but the game-winner was very similar to this score against Mississippi State last season.