ARLINGTON, Texas — Arkansas lost its 2016 SEC opener Saturday, 45-24, to Texas A&M inside AT&T Stadium.
Lots of factors contributed to the defeat. I’ll try to break some of that down in my Arkansas report card.
Austin Allen showed everyone just how tough he is with his performance in the face of relentless pressure from the Texas A&M defense. After it looked like he would leave the game with an injury in the first quarter, Allen came back and threw one of his best passes of the night. This guy could end up being a pretty special player.
Running backs: B-
It’s a little hard to judge the running backs fully considering the offensive line’s struggles, but Rawleigh Williams III looked good at times. His fumble on his way into the end zone was not one of them. True freshman Devwah Whaley now appears to be working his way into the No. 2 role after the last two weeks.
Wide receivers/tight ends: A
Keon Hatcher, Drew Morgan, Jared Cornelius and Jeremy Sprinkle are all showing themselves to be clutch performers.
Offensive line: F
Pretty dreadful overall. Allen can’t take beatings like he took Saturday the rest of the season or he’s going to end up seriously injured. That the Hogs couldn’t punch the ball into the end zone from inside the 5-yard line — multiple times — is on the offensive line. This unit simply must get better.
Defensive line: C
The defense gets Cs across the board because it seemed to play well in spurts, but allowed far too many big plays. That is a combination of scheme and execution. When your opponent averages 10 yards per carry, something is wrong from top to bottom.
Brooks Ellis and Dre Greenlaw had their moments, but once again, where was the relief?
This group actually seemed to play well through most of the first three quarters, but I can’t give a group anything higher than a C when it allows some of the big plays it did.
Special teams: C
Cole Hedlund made his only field-goal attempt — from 25 yards out — and Toby Baker averaged 39.3 yards per punt. There’s still nothing going on in the return game, and Connor Limpert didn’t record a touchback on any of his four kickoffs.
The defensive scheme was clearly a problem; just look at Trevor Knight’s long runs on QB draws. I thought Dan Enos called a great game, especially considering the offensive line he had to work with. The fourth-down reverse fail that gave Texas A&M the momentum to run away with the game was a curious call.
Even forgetting about the fourth-quarter collapse, Arkansas made lots of mistakes early that cost it opportunities to take big leads. And when your head coach essentially says that you quit, that’s never a good thing. This team still has some solid foundational pieces, but a lot needs to improve if Arkansas is going to get to eight or nine wins this season.