Increased role for Chase Hayden among offensive tweaks

By: Jimmy Carter
Published: Wednesday, September 13, 2017
Arkansas running back Chase Hayden carries the ball during a game against Florida A&M on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Little Rock.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas running back Chase Hayden carries the ball during a game against Florida A&M on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Little Rock.

— Just like in the opener, Chase Hayden entered the TCU game on Arkansas’ third offensive series.

Unlike in the Florida A&M win, the freshman running back never got back on the field, unless you count him standing on the outer edges of the offense’s huddles during timeouts.

Hayden picked up 1 yard on just 2 carries in the 28-7 loss to the Horned Frogs after running for 120 yards and a touchdown in the opener, a performance that earned him SEC Freshman of the Week honors.

“Certainly, that’s a mistake on our staff that we’re going to get corrected,” offensive coordinator Dan Enos said. “Chase Hayden needs to play a lot more. We told Chase that and he will certainly play, in our next ball game he will get more carries.”

Hayden is arguably the most electric playmaker on the offense. The 5-foot-10, 191-yard pounder was a home-run threat in fall camp and carried that production over into the opener.

Running backs coach Reggie Mitchell handles running back personnel, making the calls on when to substitute and who to put in the game. He followed the same game plan he did against Florida A&M by giving sophomore Devwah Whaley the first series, senior David Williams the second and Hayden the third, but went entirely with Whaley and Williams after that.

“Obviously as the game unfolded, I was surprised he wasn’t in there more and had a conversation with coach (Reggie) Mitchell about that,” coach Bret Bielema said. “I get it, they were bringing some pressures and we want to protect the quarterback and as a young player that’s an area you’ve got to gain most.

“But on the same account, we’ve just got to get him better at those things because I think he gives us a really good opportunity when he’s got the ball in his hands, too.”

Hayden isn’t the only offensive player the staff wants to have a more defined role going forward after the second-lowest scoring outing in Enos’ tenure at Arkansas.

Arkansas has a logjam of depth at receiver and tight end. The glut of bodies competing for playing time has meant less reps for each individual, an issue the staff wants to address during the bye week and leading up to the Texas A&M game after quarterback Austin Allen opened the year by throwing for 135 and 138 yards, the two lowest passing totals of his career.

Allen hasn’t been perfect. Enos indicated the senior’s form on his deep throws was off and that he needs to “play faster, in my opinion. He’s thinking too much.”

But establishing better chemistry with him and his receivers will also be a focal point of the next few weeks.

Saturday, Bielema indicated he wanted to identify five receivers to get the majority of the practice time with Allen. Injuries and the sheer numbers at the position have made developing a core handful of receivers challenging.

Wednesday, he mentioned senior Jared Cornelius, who is finally fully cleared to practice, redshirt freshman Jordan Jones and sophomores Jonathan Nance and Deon Stewart as four who would predominantly command the practice reps with the starting offense moving forward.

“We need to settle in on the guys that are going to be with the ones,” Enos said.

“I really wanted to emphasize our ones working with our ones if at all possible,” Bielema said. “It’s something I really believe in, something we’ve done in the past. It’s just been hard to do that.”

Sophomore La’Michael Pettway is a notable absence from that group. Through two games, he has one catch for 7 yards on 5 targets. Allen tried to connect on a deep ball with him Saturday, but Pettway fell down while trying to adjust to the pass.

WR Targets/Catches-Yards

Jonathan Nance — 6/6-100

Deon Stewart — 7/3-31

Jarrod Barnes — 2/2-30

Jared Cornelius — 4/2-8

Jordan Jones — 2/1-8

La’Michael Pettway — 7/1-7

T.J. Hammonds — 1/0-0

Brandon Martin — 1/0-0

Pettway, sophomore T.J. Hammonds, true freshmen Jarrod Barnes and Devion Warren and junior Gary Cross will work with the twos.

Hammonds has split time between working at running back and receiver, but that may change.

“We need to maybe get him more in one spot permanent,” Enos said. “There’s a lot on his plate. We need him to be a real consistent wide receiver right now and we’re going to give him opportunities in this bye week and next week to step up and get a bigger role as a wide receiver, because we need his explosiveness out there.”

At tight end, starter Austin Cantrell, sophomore Cheyenne O’Grady and junior Jeremy Patton will work with the starters. The Razorbacks took 6 tight ends to Little Rock for the opener. Cantrell is entrenched as the Razorbacks’ best blocking tight end, while O’Grady and Patton are the position’s best receiving options.

TE Targets/Catches-Yards

Cheyenne O’Grady — 4/4-41

Austin Cantrell — 4/2-16

Jeremy Patton — 2/1-32

“(They’ll) work with that one offense to work on the timing with Austin as well,” Bielema said.

“(Want them) adjusting to the speed of the game,” Bielema said. “… I’m excited where that group is, but we do need to be big in big moments.”

Arkansas’ offense looked like it had a long way to go based on Saturday’s performance, but the staff is counting on getting its more athletically gifted playmakers more involved and establishing a smaller rotation are part of the fix.

“The ability to make a play when it matters is really big,” Bielema said.


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