State of the Hogs: Tempo part of Arkansas offense now

By: Clay Henry
Published: Monday, October 16, 2017
Arkansas quarterback Cole Kelley argues with an official during the first half an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)
Arkansas quarterback Cole Kelley argues with an official during the first half an NCAA college football game against Alabama, Saturday, Oct. 14, 2017, in Tuscaloosa, Ala. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

— Auburn coach Gus Malzahn may have done a double take when he watched the Arkansas-Alabama game tape on Sunday.

There was Arkansas, in an up-tempo offense against Alabama. It was only a few years ago that Arkansas coach Bret Bielema argued against that style of play, citing risks for the players.

But, down 24-0 at halftime, Bielema told Dan Enos, his offensive coordinator, to stick with the two-minute scheme they used to finish the first half.

The idea was to prevent Alabama to substitute defensive personnel based on down and distance. And, the Hogs caught the Tide in one substitution issue with a lineman near the sideline as the play was snapped.

Bielema had given game officials the heads up before the game that the Arkansas offensive plans included at least some up-tempo possessions, during which the Hogs would not substitute so that the Tide would not be allowed to change personnel, either.

“They held up the play once for Alabama to change personnel,” Bielema said, noting he then talked to game officials again to remind them not to hold the snap for defensive changes.

Neither Bielema or Enos would reveal whether or not that would be the plan against Auburn this week, but it could include up-tempo.

“We've had it in,” Enos said. “We work on it. That's (Bielema's) call when we use it.”

Bielema said with the way the first half ended – with an offensive drive – made him go to it more in the second half.

The up-tempo -- both with the quarterback in shotgun and under center -- helped make reads simpler for redshirt freshman Cole Kelley so that Alabama would stay in the same personnel. Kelley completed 23 of 42 passes for 200 yards in his first start. It sounds like he might get a second. Austin Allen, out with a shoulder injury, is doubtful for the Auburn game.

“I'd say right now he's a couple of weeks away,” Bielema said of Allen's possible recovery. We hope he's a quick healer.”

Kelley drew praise from Bielema and Enos.

“It was his first start at quarterback and there were no signs of flinching,” Bielema said. “We just need to do a better job around him, coaches and players.”

Kelley was sacked five times and threw one pass interception. His competitive fight was always front and center, but it jumped off the page when he threw incomplete on a slant pass to Cheyenne O'Grady on the goal line on the last play of the first half. Kelley hustled to the official on the call protesting for a pass interference call.

Bielema declined to question the call, noting, “You want me to pay $10,000 (for a league fine)? I was afraid Cole was going to get (a penalty). He's 6-7. That official, let me say, is not tall in stature. Cole is a competitive guy. Two weeks ago we were in two-minute (offense) and he and Sosa (Agim) got into it.”

That competitive nature is what Enos loves about Kelley.

“He played good,” Enos said. “He handled the environment. He communicated well. He made plays. We can clean up some things.

“But, he played with poise. He played with confidence. I liked his demeanor, how he responded. I loved the competitive nature. He stood in and took some hits and delivered some throws.”

The competitive fire was something Enos saw in Kelley in the recruiting process.

“There are things you recruit to,” he said. “First, how is the quarterback physically and what are his abilities? After you check all of those boxes, you look at the intangibles and the mental side. Will he compete?

“The best thing Cole did at Alabama, he competed to win the whole game. I guy like that you can build on.”

The communication between quarterback and coach was good during the game.

“I've been coaching or around quarterbacks for 27 years,” Enos said. “I've been in a lot of coach-quarterback dialogues. What is the quarterback seeing and can he tell the coach. What I'm saying is that the communication I got from Cole told me the moment was not too big for him. He was communicating what he saw and it was verified.”

As far as last play of the half and Kelley challenging the official, Enos said, “That's why we recruited him, his competitive nature. He tries to make every play count and he thought the guy grabbed and held and wanted to talk to the official. I've rather have that than not.”

It's clear that the players rally to Kelley.

“I did sense in fall camp that the team is confident in Cole,” Enos said. “He's really likeable. The guys respect his work ethic. He tries to have a relationship with players, both sides of the ball. His attitude is infectious. He'll joke about himself.”

Enos said Allen worked well with Kelley during the week leading up to the game and during the game.

“Austin was great,” Enos said. “He was disappointed he couldn't play. It was a big game in his senior season. But he was really helpful to Cole and to me, too, during the game.”

The Hogs made significant changes in the offensive line for the Alabama game. Only left guard Hjalte Froholdt stayed in the same spot from the week before.

Johnny Gibson, who battled back from a knee injury at South Carolina, started at left tackle ahead of Colton Jackson. Gibson had played right guard and right tackle in previous weeks.

Frank Ragnow moved from center to right guard with Zach Rogers starting at center. Brian Wallace was the starter at right tackle for the first time this season. He had started the final seven games at that spot last season.

Still, the Hogs lost most of the physical battles against a stout Alabama defensive front.

“Running the ball comes down to getting movement up front,” Enos said. “You either play on your side of the line of scrimmage or their side. If you are able to play on their side, you are able to run it.”

Simply put, Enos said, “We were over matched and it had nothing to do with the changes we made (in the offensive line).”

Bielema said after the game it was a decision mainly based on wanting “more bulk” in the offensive front and putting Gibson where his most comfortable, left tackle. But, he wouldn't say if that was the plan this week.

“We still like a line that has Jackson, Froholdt, Ragnow, Gibson and Wallace,” Bielema said.

Enos said he's yet to see an SEC defensive front that gives his bunch a break. Auburn is no different. Defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is a Saban disciple. He runs a 3-4 front with some of the same stunts, twists and blitzes that Saban uses at Alabama.

“Auburn is very similar to Alabama,” Enos said. “Steele is from that tree. The defensive line is good with their hands. They get in gaps.

“What I know, in this league, that's what you sign up for. Every SEC defensive line is good. We thought South Carolina was good, but after the game we found out they were better than we thought.

“Since I've been here there has not been a week where you say we've got a week off. You better take care of your body, get some rest and do the right things to be ready for a physical game each week.”

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