Matt Jones is the online sports director for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A two-time graduate of the University of Arkansas, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association, and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Hogs see positives from run game
Arkansas running back Alex Collins breaks the tackle of Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix during an Oct. 19, 2013 game at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE For all the negatives in Arkansas' 52-0 loss at Alabama two weeks ago, the Razorbacks were able to leave Bryant-Denny Stadium with one positive.
The Razorbacks racked up 165 rushing yards on a Crimson Tide defense that ranked in the top 10 nationally against the run entering the game. Alex Collins' 77 rushing yards were more than Ole Miss, Georgia State and Colorado State had as teams against Alabama.
Primarily because its passing game only contributed 91 yards against the Crimson Tide, the run stats did little to help Arkansas on the scoreboard, but the success on the ground gives coaches optimism for an offense that hasn't scored in seven quarters.
"There was some production there, but we're still making some mistakes," Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "We're a little on edge technically and still not where we need to be yet running the ball, but I do believe our kids are trying play physically and downhill like we want to do. We're closer there to what we want to become than we are in the passing game."
Chaney said repeated reps in practice the last two weeks have been key to improving the ground game and cleaning up the mistakes made at Alabama.
"When you understand the details and practice that way, you inevitably get better," Chaney said. "That's what we're trying to get done."
There is hope the run game could open things up more offensively in November than it did in October for the Razorbacks' passing game, ranked last in the SEC. Auburn, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU don't present as imposing of defensive units as Florida, South Carolina and Alabama, who Arkansas combined to score 17 points against.
"I thought we did a lot of great things (rushing) at Alabama," quarterback Brandon Allen said. "There were a few things here and there we could have done better and it would have been a bigger play, but I think we opened up a lot of things against a good defense, and that's something we can only build on.
"I think we're going to have to stick to what we know and that's running the ball to open up the passing. Our struggles have been about the little things and I think if we get those cleaned up our passing game will come along and we'll be fine."
Allen, who last threw a touchdown in the second half of a game against Texas A&M on Sept. 28, said he saw improvements in Arkansas' passing game during the off week.
Allen said the time off has his shoulder, which he injured earlier this season, feeling the best it has since the start of the year. He also said he saw improvements in Arkansas' passing game, which hasn't produced a touchdown since Sept. 28 against Texas A&M.
"We've been pretty bad in most aspects of (the passing game) lately and we're trying to clean up some stuff, simplify some stuff and get back to the basics of throwing and catching, and hitting targets and protecting, and all those little things that come with it," Chaney said.
Arkansas will likely have to have a near flawless offensive effort to challenge Auburn (7-1, 3-1 SEC). The Tigers are averaging 37 points per game, while the Razorbacks are allowing 44.8 points per conference game.
"As an offense, it's on your to score enough points to win the game and on you to help out your defense," Allen said.
"We always think we can be successful. There is never a game we go into thinking we won't be successful. We did make a lot of strides and did some good things the last week at practice. I'm expecting good things for us."