Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
NICHOLLS STATE AT ARKANSAS:
Coaches want to see fresh Hogs on the field
Arkansas offensive lineman Sebastian Tretola sets up to block Auburn defender Ben Bradley during a game Saturday, Aug. 30, 2014 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala.
FAYETTEVILLE -- Less stress might lead to more production for some veteran Arkansas players the rest of the season.
Coach Bret Bielema and his staff are looking to hone playing time at certain positions to reach maximum effectiveness with the Razorbacks preparing to face Nicholls State in Saturday's home opener.
Video review of Arkansas' 45-21 loss at Auburn showed some starters tiring in the latter stages of the second half of the steamy season opener, when the No. 6 Tigers outscored Arkansas 24-0 to pull away.
"What we're trying to tell our guys is look at it as a way we're trying to maximize you," Bielema said on Wednesday's SEC coaches teleconference. "We want you to be the best every play, and sometimes that means you've got to play less snaps."
The most notable area, Arkansas coaches say, is the offensive front, where the gap between starters Brey Cook, Luke Charpentier and Mitch Smothers and reserves Sebastian Tretola, Cam Jefferson and Frank Ragnow is already thin.
"We spent a lot of time talking about that, Coach B and our offensive staff, and I'm sure he has with Robb [Smith] and the defensive guys," offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said. "You're trying to understand your players and find out what is the optimum amount of snaps that they can play at the highest level they can play at. Once you figure that out, then you've got to be real careful of pushing them past that."
Tretola, a touted junior college transfer, took 26 of Arkansas' 60 offensive snaps at left guard in relief of the senior Charpentier against Auburn. That rotation is expected to continue.
"As long as it's even and close we'll play them both, and when it becomes one of them significantly better than the other one, then we'll play the other one the majority of the reps," offensive line coach Sam Pittman said.
Cook and Smothers also are subject to snap limits.
"Brey Cook is as good a kid as we have in the program," Bielema said. "He's buying in to everything we do, but I think for him to play a complete game we are asking a little too much for him in a great competitive environment. Rotation is going to be critical for us up front."
Bielema used Smothers as an example Monday.
"Mitch Smothers ... in the first half played really well, but there are certain guys, they get to that threshold, somewhere between 30 and 50 snaps probably is their tap out," Bielema said. "It's just that they can't play that same level for a 70- or 80-play game against some really, really good competition."
Bielema wanted to see Ragnow at center against Auburn, but after the rain began for the final 9:55 the coaches didn't want his debut to come with a slick ball.
Pittman and Bielema said video revealed Cook and Smothers showed fatigue later in the game.
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"Brey got a little bit tired there," Pittman said. "We certainly could have rested him maybe, possibly."
Pittman said he would have had to replace Cook with right guard Denver Kirkland, who took all 60 snaps and had his best game as a Razorback. Pittman hopes to have Ragnow and Jefferson ready to play more Saturday. True freshman Brian Wallace, Bielema said, is teetering on redshirt status, depending on injuries and need.
Bielema listed numerous freshmen Monday that he wants to see more from, including defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson, safety Josh Liddell, cornerback Henre Toliver, linebackers Randy Ramsey, Dwayne Eugene and Khalia Hackett, and receivers Jared Cornelius, Jojo Robinson and Kendrick Edwards.
Receivers coach Michael Smith said Edwards and Robinson are understanding the offense better and should merit more playing time.
Cornelius played 18 or 19 offensive snaps Saturday and was targeted once on a ball that went out of bounds. Sophomore Drew Morgan, who is looking for his first career reception, dropped his only opportunity in the rain.
"Hopefully we'll get an opportunity this weekend to play some of those young guys and get Jared and Drew and all those guys an opportunity to catch balls," Smith said.
Because Arkansas had pulled into a tie by halftime and was within seven points for much of the third quarter, making the decision to replace veteran players with youth -- even for a few snaps -- in the loud, hot and humid conditions at Auburn wasn't easy to make.
"When it's tight, you want to go with experience," Pittman said. "You're hoping that they're able to go. I never saw anything on the sideline that would tell me they're too tired to go. But on film, towards the end of the game, you could see that some of them were worn out."
Sports on 09/04/2014