State of the Hogs: More action, less talk needed on goal line

By: Clay Henry
Published: Saturday, September 9, 2017
Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen (8) hands the ball to running back Devwah Whaley during a game against TCU on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Fayetteville.
Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen (8) hands the ball to running back Devwah Whaley during a game against TCU on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2017, in Fayetteville.

— There was talking in the Arkansas interview room after TCU dominated en route to a 28-7 victory Saturday.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema was followed by his four captains — quarterback Austin Allen, safety Santos Ramirez, nickelback Kevin Richardson and center Frank Ragnow. All were stand-up in accepting blame for the way the Horned Frogs throttled them in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

But the best lines were delivered by Ragnow. The senior on many preseason All-America lists came through with an All-America performance in his interview. He said the time for talking is over.

Actually, Ragnow told his teammates that in the locker room after they failed again in the fourth quarter, exactly what they had said since last season that they would not do.

“I told the guys after the game we gotta quit talking about it,” Ragnow said. “We have great coaches and great players with good game plans, but it’s time to quit talking about that and start putting some action behind it.”

Ragnow was most disappointed that the Hogs couldn’t score from point-blank range. He said the two critical drives that ended with missed field goals should have never come down to placekicker Cole Hedlund. Afterward, Bielema said several times that Hedlund is all but done.

The Hogs had second-and-4 at the TCU 5-yard line late in the first quarter before Hedlund was wide left on a 23-yard field goal. Arkansas had first-and-goal at the TCU 3-yard line late in the third quarter before Hedlund’s 20-yard try banged off the left upright.

There wasn’t much good for the Hogs after that. The noise the ball made as it hit the left upright was easy to hear as it bounced off the construction site in the north end zone. That noise was followed by a chorus of boos throughout the stadium.

I’m not sure if Bielema was talking about the boos, but he was right when he said later that there was “a tidal wave of emotions” in the fourth quarter. Eventually, the Arkansas defense slumped when it became clear that there would be no answer for TCU’s light, hard-charging defense with three safeties jamming the line of scrimmage.

The Arkansas plan was to attack the Frogs at the perimeter. That’s where they were the lightest, with a pair of ends under 250 pounds. But the three safeties in TCU coach Gary Patterson’s fast defense always showed up on time to destroy the blocking patterns. Patterson is famous for developing the 4-2-5 scheme with those three safeties and it looked superb against the Hogs.

There was one glimmer of hope midway through the fourth quarter when the Hogs got to the edge for a big play. However, tight end Austin Cantrell was called for holding on a 22-yard run by David Williams around the left side with the score still 14-7. There seemed little doubt since three members of the Big 12 crew of officials slung flags at him from all angles.

“They filled the gaps quickly with the safeties,” Allen said. “They came low and they communicated so well. They were always in the right spots and they didn’t miss many tackles.”

Ragnow wasn’t sure it was always safeties. He thought there were some plays by the corners, too.

“We call them corner cats,” he said. “They seemed to have a lot of those early. We thought we had that figured out. You have to be able to keep going when they do something like that.”

The Hogs did not. They made just 129 yards on the ground, hardly what they thought they could do entering the game.

“I’ll have to look at the tape to know for sure, but it looked like they had a lot of movement going up front,” Ragnow said. “They were playing a lot of (line) games, but that’s no excuse.”

The Frogs were as advertised, much improved on defense after a rare losing season under Patterson last year. They don’t look like a 6-7 team anymore. And, they can run the ball. The Hogs cut down on big plays, but all that did was give the Frogs a huge edge in time of possession because of a running game that found soft areas in the heart of the defense.

Dre Greenlaw was one of the positives for the rebuilt 3-4 defense. He was credited for 17 tackles. Greenlaw and Ramirez were terrific, but there were few plays made by the defensive line. They seemed to be swallowed by TCU blockers.

As far as the offensive line play, it was clear the Hogs weren’t getting the push needed for the running game. They were woeful on the goal line.

“I’m very disappointed,” Ragnow said. “Last year, we had some of the same type problems (on the goal line). That’s where we should be at our best. We stress that.”

Ragnow gathered the team to start the fourth quarter. He said the message was similar to what the Hogs told each other throughout the winter, spring and summer when accountability was the key term.

“I just told them we are going to win this game,” he said. “I said this is our quarter.”

That’s when the Hogs failed to crack the goal line. The truth is that the die might have already been cast. After gaining 13 yards to the 3-yard line, tailback Devwah Whaley ended the third quarter with a 1-yard run followed by no gain.

On third-and-goal from the 2-yard line, Allen tried a boot leg with his tight ends fighting through the back side running along with him. There was Jeremy Patton short with Cantrell on the back line. Unfortunately, Cantrell was a little too deep when he hauled in Allen’s pass, well across the out of bounds line.

“I really couldn’t tell where he was,” Allen said. “I just tried to put it on him. It’s a game of inches.”

It didn’t seem like that at other points in the game. The Hogs rarely had separation in the passing game to give Allen solid options. If the receivers were open, it might have been by only inches. Allen didn’t want to throw into coverage and held the ball.

“We got a couple of screens and some bootlegs early,” Bielema said. “There was some pressure but not a lot. We just didn’t have routes open at times.”

Later, Bielema said perhaps some decisions will be made to reduce the number of receivers working with the top unit in practice.

“We’ve got to get sudden in the passing game,” Bielema said. “Guys were not getting separation. Maybe we are working too many wide receivers. We have to decide on our main guys.”

The game plan was to hammer away at the TCU flanks. There is size in the middle at the two tackle spots, anchored by 326-pound Ross Blacklock.

“They have those two inside guys, but we thought we could lean on them on the edge,” Bielema said. “They are light at defensive end. We thought we could wear them down.”

The Hogs have an open date to prepare for Texas A&M in two weeks.

“It’s a long season,” Allen said. “It’s not over.”

Richardson added, “We have a good record after bye weeks.”

It’s the kind of talk Ragnow didn’t seem to want to repeat or hear. Richardson heard that message loud and clear in the locker room.

“We can’t talk about beating this team or that team right now,” Richardson said. “We have got to be that team we’ve talked about in the fourth quarter.”

Bielema said it’s “disappointing” that they weren’t against the Frogs.

“I wish I had words to describe the way I feel and this team feels,” Bielema said. “A lot of things I’ve seen in practice, I didn’t see today.”

Ragnow gave it one more shot at trying to put to bed the loss.

“I think you have to take it as a man, every single one of us,” he said. “We’re going to have doubters, maybe people who don’t believe in us, but we have to rally as a group. I think the Texas A&M game is going to show who we are as men, how we respond to this game.”

Yes, that’s not just talk. There can be no talk about how the Hogs are going to score touchdowns when they reach the goal line. It’s the one place where there can be no talking.

The lack of action on the goal line speaks for itself and everyone knows it.

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