Arkansas coach Mike Anderson recaps the Razorbacks' ...
Arkansas's Jonathan Williams (32) is caught after a long run by Samford's Jaquiski Tartt (6) during their game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock Saturday.
FAYETTEVILLE Most fans and experts figured Arkansas was going to have to show some resiliency to scrape by during one of its first couple of games; they just didn’t figure it would be this one.
A week after dominating a solid FBS opponent, Louisiana-Lafayette, the Samford Bulldogs of the FCS gave the Hogs all they could handle in Little Rock. The Razorbacks ultimately prevailed, ending the game with 21 consecutive rushing attempts to outscore Samford 14-0 in the fourth quarter and seal the win.
The Hogs dominated statistically, winning the total yardage battle 458-231, including both the passing (125-117) and rushing (333-114) totals. Two turnovers in Razorback territory and six penalties were the only reason Samford was able to stay in the game.
KEYS TO THE GAME
Arkansas must establish the run to open up the passing game.
Throughout the week, most wondered how much Arkansas was holding back. After 22 pass attempts in the season opener, most fans were hoping for Allen to top 20 passes again. In order to open up the passing game, the Hogs had to keep Samford on its heels by running the ball. The problem Arkansas ran into was that because of Samford stacking the box and shaky offensive line play for three quarters, Arkansas never really established the inside running game. Jonathan Williams had a 46-yard run on the second drive to set up a touchdown, but other than that Arkansas couldn’t gain more than three yards on most inside running plays, especially during the second and third quarters. The lumbering pace of the offense meant that in reality this equated to only about three or four drives, but for a while the Hogs were trying to throw the ball against an opponent that was teeing off.
As memories of the ULM game a year ago raced through the mind of Hog fans, the 2013 team did what the 2012 team could not: put its hat down and play smash-mouth football. Allen was 1 of 2 for 13 yards after Samford took the lead. The good news is that the team played through adversity; the bad news was that Allen was unable work much on the passing game.
Samford must hope Zach Hocker’s groin is still injured.
Kick returner Fabian Truss was one of Samford’s biggest weapons, and an excellent return man. Hocker’s first three kickoffs went for touchbacks until Bielema decided to have Hocker squib the ball down the middle. It worked when Arkansas kicked from the 20 following Collins’ celebration penalty, squibbing over Truss’ head. His only return was good, reaching the 30-yard line.
Arkansas must work on its linebacker coverage.
Arkansas must still work on its linebacker coverage. The clear weakness of the team was the linebackers in pass coverage, and Saturday did nothing to alleviate those fears. The Hogs were playing without their best combination of speed and linebacker IQ in Jarrett Lake, and a reduced pass-rush thanks to Trey Flowers not playing. Getting Lake back next week, along with Otha Peters in a couple of weeks, will be huge for these linebackers, but the corps fielded on Saturday was simply slow and didn’t react well to Samford’s passing concepts.
For the second consecutive week, two of the top three players in terms of catches for the opponent were tight ends or running backs. Samford’s leading receiver was WR Kelsey Pope (3 for 29 yards), but its next two by yards were tight ends Tony Philpot (2 for 21 yards) and Zeke Waters (2 for 20 yards, 1 TD). Running back Fabian Truss (4 for 7 yards) had the most catches. In all, Samford wide receivers had 8 catches for 64 yards, and tight ends/backs had 10 catches for 55 yards with a touchdown.
Non-receivers had so many catches because the Hogs have been using deep coverage and have been playing off the receivers. Samford had a number of easy passes underneath for short gains. Samford’s longest pass play was for 15 and had just two completions for 10-plus yards. ULL had just three.
In two games, opposing wide receivers have 17 receptions for 128 yards with zero touchdowns. Tight ends and running backs have 16 receptions for 162 yards and two touchdowns. The weakness in the coverage is clear. Chris Ash was noted for his ability to teach press coverage when he was secondary coach at Iowa State, and Wisconsin used a lot of press coverage, so I would expect that Arkansas is saving its more aggressive coverages for bigger games. They may be needed against Southern Miss, who is attempting 45 passes per game.
As far as I can tell from film review, I’ve only seen four different running concepts used with any regularity: off-tackle power, isolation, rocket and belly. We’ve diagrammed the off-tackle power (I called it a “lead” concept) before, and it was used heavily again. Isolation is a pretty common play where the fullback simply leads the back through the hole with no linemen pulling. Belly is similar to an isolation, except the play goes more to the outside. Arkansas does this a lot with one back and two tight ends (no Kiero Small so a tight end or Swanson usually leads).
And there’s rocket. I don’t know what the team calls it, but a “rocket” concept is the idea that you get the ball to your fast guy as quick as possible. For more on the rocket concept from the Flexbone offense (where it’s most popular) check out SmartFootball.com.
Flexbone teams like Georgia Tech or the service academies run the rocket by motioning one of the slotbacks and tossing the ball to the motion man. From the I-formation, the rocket becomes a very short toss to the tailback. You’ve probably seen LSU run the rocket, but now it appears to be a part of Arkansas’ arsenal as well. Alex Collins used the rocket to get to the edge quickly, and it looks like Collins will be the back that primarily uses this play.
On this play, however, it’s Jonathan Williams. As you can see, Williams had two lanes: the one behind Kiero Small (36) and also a lane to the right of Swanson’s block. Both look good, but Williams cuts to the right and picks up 8 yards.
I said I’d only seen four running concepts used regularly, but that’s not to say I haven’t seen four different plays. The Hogs use motion and formation changes to identify coverage, shift blocking, and disguise the concept to the defense. Here, the Hogs run the off-tackle power out of a “full house” formation, also called “diamond.”
Here, the dotted line represents the “inside” option behind Swanson that Williams could take if the defense overloads the edge. Williams rushed for 46 yards on this play, setting up a touchdown. Late in the third quarter, Arkansas would call this same play from the same formation, and Williams elected to take the inside run and gained four yards.
So changing the formation is one way to use the same concept and make it look different. Another option is to change how it’s blocked. Here’s a play call from the fourth quarter.
It’s the off-tackle power with two major changes. First, Kiero Small is not in the game, so left tackle David Hurd will pull and “kick out” the edge defender instead. By using a tight end on both sides, the majority of Samford’s defense has been pulled inside and will be “sealed” by the blocking. Second, Travis Swanson is pulling all the way outside rather than cutting up through the B-gap. The double-pull power off-tackle is absolutely devastating, especially when the defense has jammed the inside. Collins uses two great blocks to get past the jammed-in defenders, and gained 55 yards on this play.
THE COUNTER TREY
Keep watching for the rocket, isolation and power as the features of this offense. The part of the running game that we haven’t seen yet is the misdirection. All three concepts we’ve seen are smash-mouth ideas: they come right at a defense. Misdirection is the deadly complement to a smash-mouth offense or any running game.
The main reason we haven’t seen any misdirection is simple: against physically inferior teams, you can simply run the ball down their throat and there’s nothing they can do about it. But against the Alabamas, Floridas, and LSUs of the world, those plays will be harder to block, and faster linebackers will recognize which direction the fullback goes and flow that direction. At some point you have to run the ball the way it doesn’t look like you’re going to. That’s misdirection.
I don’t think the Hogs have run it yet, but I fully expect the counter trey to be the misdirection play of choice for the Razorbacks. The reasoning is simple, and it goes back to the “coaching network” of Bielema and Chaney. The offensive philosophy is collectively known as the “One-back,” and its running concepts were invented by Washington Redskins legend Joe Gibbs, while its passing concepts were invented at the college level by Dennis Erickson (Idaho, Washington State, Miami) and Mike Price (Weber State, Washington State). Bobby Petrino coached under Price at Weber State and under John L. Smith at Idaho (John L. copied Erickson’s playbook when he was his defensive coordinator at Idaho previously). Chaney comes from this philosophy as well, having coached under Joe Tiller, who got his offensive foundation from Dennis Erickson as well. Barry Alvarez (and Bret Bielema) used Joe Gibbs’ running game concepts at Wisconsin, so the offense under Bielema and Chaney (and Sam Pittman, who prefers Gibbs concepts as well) is actually a beautiful synthesis of related ideas.
At Washington, Gibbs popularized the off-tackle power that is Arkansas’ bread-and-butter now. To complement this, Gibbs also popularized the counter trey, which starts out looking identical to the off-tackle power. The only difference is that the backside guard pulls back away from the fullback and the running back follows him.
This is what it might look like. Note that Small’s block is the same as it is the power play. Williams’ first step is to the right, so both safeties and the linebackers react by “flowing” to the right, thinking it’s the power play. Then, Williams plants his right foot and makes a sharp cut back to the left. Brey Cook and Grady Ollison have pulled from the right guard and tackle spots and are leading the charge back to the left. Cook kicks out the defensive end, while Ollison acts as the lead blocker back through the left C-gap. Left tackle David Hurd gets to the second level and drives out the linebacker.
Of course, based on what we’ve seen from this offense so far, it would not surprise me if the Hogs run the play pulling Travis Swanson instead of Cook.
Another misdirection play is the end around, which we’ll diagram as soon as it’s run in a game (I’ve only seen one, late in the ULL game).