Matt Jones is the online sports editor for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette and Northwest Arkansas Newspapers.
Hogs looking for fourth quarter success
Arkansas running back Alex Collins is pulled down by Texas A&M defender Tramain Jacobs in the fourth quarter of Saturday night's game at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE Despite playing a solid first three quarters the last two weeks, Arkansas finds itself on a two-game losing streak entering Saturday's game at Florida.
The Razorbacks led Rutgers by 10 points and trailed Texas A&M by five entering the fourth quarter, but were outscored by a combined 21-0 in the final frame.
'It's something that we're focused on this week," quarterback Brandon Allen said. "We're really focusing on finishing the game off and finishing practice right. It's something you have to learn in practice in order to succeed in the game.
"You wish you didn't have to, but sometimes you do. I think we've gone through them already. It's in the past now and we're ready to close out a lot more games."
An inability to put points on the board was the only characteristic of the fourth quarter in the two losses. Against Rutgers, the Razorbacks couldn't move the ball, in particular on the ground, finishing with just 35 yards of total offense and one first down in the final 15 minutes.
"It was a road game that we were leading and we didn't handle the moment well," Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said. "I always talk to our players about handling the moments. And moments change….Obviously it showcased there at Rutgers.
"We were up there by a significant margin and we kind of lost track of what we were doing and how we were doing it. And all of a sudden they get a punt score, they get hot on a couple of offensive series and we lose the football game. We didn't handle that moment well, starting with me, but it was a teaching moment that hopefully we were able to learn from and when that opportunity comes up again in the future, hopefully we can capitalize on it."
Thanks in large part to a long run by Alex Collins, Arkansas was able to put itself in scoring position late against the Aggies. But a turnover on downs and a turnover by Allen in the final seven minutes foiled any attempts at a rally.
In part because Allen returned and in part because the defensive competition wasn't as good, Arkansas did better last week than against Rutgers, improving from 283 total yards to 483 yards of total offense. Still, the inability to close games with points considerably dampened any sense of improvement.
"I believe we need to learn to strain for 60 minutes," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "I feel like we play the first three quarters well, but haven't been able to finish those games the way we'd like to.
"From the Rutgers game to last week I felt like our energy level was higher. I felt like we made fewer mental mistakes. So yeah, I'd think we improved last week. That said, that same incremental jump we made last week, we're going to need to two-fold that to have success this Saturday."
The No. 18 Gators have one of college football's best defenses, ranking first in rush defense (53.5 yards per game), second nationally in total defense (202.5 yards per game) and eighth in scoring defense (12.8 points per game).
"Their defense backs up their statistics," Razorbacks offensive line coach Sam Pittman said. "They are really good in the back end and really good on the front end. There's not a weakness on their team. There's a reason why it's 53.5 yards rushing on them this year and 202 total yards. They're good and they play hard.
"From what I've seen, they're a little better (than their statistics)."
Much like its offense, Arkansas' defense has struggled late in games. The Razorbacks allowed a pair of fourth quarter touchdown drives at Rutgers and Texas A&M large chunks of rushing yards after halftime.
Regardless, players and coaches know the offense will need to make plays at Florida and they see few weaknesses on film.
"What challenges do they not present?" Chaney said. "They're physical at all levels. When I look at a defense I look at its first level, second level and third level. I always try to rank them one, two and three. This one is a difficult one to rank; they're all very good, all very physical. Coach (Will) Muschamp has put together a very talented defensive group and they will be a formidable foe to say the least. They're good and very fast up front and their secondary is very aggressive. It'll be quite a challenge for us."