State of the Hogs: Second-half letdown again

By: Clay Henry
Published: Saturday, November 11, 2017
Arkansas safety Santos Ramirez tackles LSU receiver Derrick Dillon during the second quarter of a game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas safety Santos Ramirez tackles LSU receiver Derrick Dillon during the second quarter of a game Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, in Baton Rouge, La.

— Ken Hamlin asked for more passion from the Arkansas defense during a midweek speech at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club.

The Razorbacks gave him that and more in the first half against LSU. They battled to a 7-7 deadlock for the first two quarters, holding the Tigers to just 135 yards, only 16 in the second quarter.

Safety Santos Ramirez said it was about energy in the first half, but the junior team captain from Shreveport, La., saw it slip away during the intermission.

“I'm not in every guy's head, but I got kind of worried at halftime when I saw some guys laughing,” Ramirez said. “I saw that focus leave us a little bit.

“We were excited (to be tied), but you have to have focus.”

Then Ramirez tipped his cap for the way LSU fought until the end in a 33-10 victory Saturday at Tiger Stadium. It was the tale of two halves, much like many SEC losses in coach Bret Bielema's five seasons at Arkansas.

“Those boys over there brought it for four quarters,” Ramirez said. “It seemed like we played only a half. As a team, you have to play all four quarters. That's the glaring thing. We thought we had the game won at halftime. In the SEC, you can't do that.”

Ramirez said that's “the moral” of the story and covers more than the LSU game.

“Tomorrow we have to see what we can improve,” he said. “I believe it's all about playing a four-quarter game. We haven't done it this year.”

Hamlin was an all-SEC safety for the Razorbacks, finishing his college career in 2002. He ranks third on the career tackles chart with 381, in just three seasons. Both players ahead of him played four seasons.

Hamlin said his comments at the TD club were no different than the message he delivered to the team when asked to speak before the spring game by Bielema, along with former players Quinton Caver and Eddie Jackson. Hamlin said players “thanked him” for his words.

“I told them that I didn't see the passion, the accountability from within,” Hamlin said. “I don't see the physical toughness. I told them I didn't know if they knew what it meant to have that Hog on their helmet.”

There was heart at times against the Tigers. And, the coaching plan was outstanding. Defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads had the front seven moving and it disrupted the LSU running game at times. Offensive coordinator Dan Enos used the illusion of jet sweeps and counters to slow down the LSU rush for play-action passes.

Despite poor field position for much of the game, the Hogs battled hard against a terrific LSU defense, just didn't have much to show for it in the end.

Speed back T. J. Hammonds, effective in the wins against Ole Miss and Coastal Carolina, was no match for the quickness of the Tigers up front. He carried only three times for a zero net. But David Williams and Devwah Whaley broke tackles and fought for extra yards running between the tackles. Williams had 81 on 13 tries, Whaley 55 on 12 runs.

Quarterback Austin Allen showed heart, but didn't hit the deep passes that Danny Etling, his LSU counterpart, completed that eventually sapped energy from the Hogs.

Quarterback Austin Allen showed heart, but didn't hit the deep passes that Danny Etling, his LSU counterpart, completed that eventually sapped energy from the Hogs.

Allen completed 13 of 23 for 140 yards. He was only sacked once. He praised his offensive line and his backs.

"Our guys battled," Allen said. "The backs broke tackles. They weren't going to let the first guy get them down."

Allen was battling back from a shoulder injury that he was told initially would end of his senior season. That was what doctors said after an MRI the day after the South Carolina game. It was different on the next MRI.

“They put dye in the second one,” Allen said. “The first one, they thought they saw a tear. I thought I was done and I might never play again. The second one was better.”

Allen was far from his best. He was short on two deep passes, a little long on a third. There were questions about his shoulder strength.

Bielema said Allen's shoudler looked “really strong” in a Wednesday practice when it was clear Cole Kelley wasn't going to be able to practice and be ready for his first game in his home state.

“Some of the throws today were not like (Wednesday),” Bielema said. “There were a couple of posts he'd wish were better.”

Allen said there was one that he didn't “step into it” properly.

“The second one, I tried to put all of it into it,” he said. “You can't miss those throws.”

LSU quarterback Danny Etling didn't miss. He found DJ Chark for touchdown bombs of 45 and 68 yards. Running back Derrius Guice had the other touchdowns, runs of 6, 33 and 1 yards.

The Tigers popped the balloon for the Hogs with amazing ease to start the third quarter. They drove 75 and 65 yards for touchdowns. The Hogs had only a field goal in between.

The Hogs had tied it with a magnificent drive to end the first half. They went 86 yards in 10 plays with Allen keeping for 8 yards to the 1-yard line. The Hogs lined up quickly and hammered it in with Devwah Whaley rolling into the end zone standing up with 16 seconds left in the half.

The total offense numbers in the first half matched the scoreboard. LSU led, 135 to 132. The Tigers roared to a 290 to 132 edge in the second half.

LSU's second drive of the third quarter was too easy. Guice had three carries for 56 yards in the 65-yard march.

“He's a great back and you can't give him anything,” Ramirez said. “We missed our gaps a couple of times. That's all it takes.

“Maybe there were a couple of missed assignments there. We did adjust.”

Tight end Jeremy Patton led the Hogs with four catches for 44 yards. He said the team was ready to go at the outset after Allen gave the pre-game talk.

“He tried to encourage us,” Patton said. “He's a great leader. He was very poised out there today. He made the right reads, played smart. He was calm and consistent.”

Allen wanted to tell his teammates how much it meant to come back after missing four games.

“This game means a lot to me,” he said. “It means a lot to everyone. Before today, we had three left. That's what I talked about. I gave them my thoughts.

“I had fun getting back out there. It didn't go our way. We couldn't hold the momentum.

“Our defense did a great job of keeping us in it the first and second quarter. They really played well.

“As for me, there was a point that I didn't think I'd ever suit up again. Five weeks ago, I didn't know.”

Is he 100 percent?

“I felt good enough to play,” Allen said.

Bielema said Kelley's “turf toe” injury was badly discolored on Sunday, worse than expected on Monday. He struggled through Tuesday's practice but wasn't involved Wednesday and Thursday.

There was no commitment on the next two weeks as far as the quarterback rotation.

"There is a role for both of them," Bielema said.

Ramriez said it was a little out of character for Allen to speak in pregame.

“We were really fired up,” Ramirez said. “You don't hear that much from him. You rally behind your quarterback.”

Patton said on a scale of one to 10, Allen's speech “was a 10. He doesn't usually come out of that shell like that so when he does it's inspirational. We weren't expecting it. He's a calm and composed guy but he told us how he felt this morning.”

In the end, the Tigers imposed their will.

Sophomore linebacker De'Jon Harris said there was a lull after the halftime break that's hard to explian.

“We came out flat and I don't know why,” said Harris, the team leader with 12 tackles.

“We had a lot of energy in the first half. But LSU had it in the second half and we didn't.”

Ramirez said they might have been lulled to sleep.

“In the first half I think we came out thinking this was not LSU,” he said. “But they didn't stop fighting. They kept coming for four quarters and we didn't.”

There was a point in the final seconds that Rhoads began the mental preparation for the last two games with the defense. The Razorbacks host Mississippi State and Missouri in hopes for a 6-6 finish that will lead to a bowl game.

“Coach Rhoads got us together,” Ramirez said. “He told us regardless of what happened today, win No. 5 comes next week. Then, the next game we are going to win and go to a bowl.”

To turn that trick, Ramirez knows what it will take: four quarters of football. And, they will have to do it twice. That would make Ken Hamlin happy.

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