Razorbacks report:

Hogs keep big plays in check

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Thursday, September 21, 2017
Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is shown prior to a game against Florida A&M on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Little Rock.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Rhoads is shown prior to a game against Florida A&M on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Little Rock.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Paul Rhoads pointed to the reduction of chunk plays as a primary focus for the Arkansas Razorbacks defense after he took over as coordinator last winter.

Through two games the Razorbacks have made huge strides in that area.

Arkansas is the only team in the country that has not allowed an offensive play of 30 or more yards. The longest play given up by the Hogs has been a 26-yard run with a muffed punt by Florida A&M's Chris Faddoul.

"When you don't give up the big plays, then you have an opportunity at the end of the game, much like we did last year, to pull it out at the end," linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said. "When you're giving up big plays and long runs, it does a couple of things. Obviously they're scoring and also it kind of deflates you.

"If you just keep playing, keep them in front of you, at some point we've got a feeling they'll screw it up."

The longest offensive play against Arkansas has been a 23-yard pass by Florida A&M, while TCU's longest gain was a 22-yard Kenny Hill pass to Shaun Nixon.

"That's one of our main goals for every game, eliminating big plays, limiting them to two or less," end McTelvin Agim said.

"The stats, they don't lie," linebacker De'Jon Harris said. "The less big plays we give up, 25 yards or less, and less missed tackles in games, then we most likely won the game last year."

The Razorbacks are fourth in the country with only three plays of 20-plus yards allowed. Miami (Fla.) and Central Florida -- who have only played one game -- and Michigan State have allowed two gains of 20-plus yards.

The Razorbacks are tied for sixth in the country in allowing only 16 plays of 10-plus yards.

Going 1-0

The Razorbacks have had trouble getting off to a 1-0 start in conference play over the last decade, mostly due to the rise of Alabama and the entry of Texas A&M into the SEC in 2012.

Arkansas has started 1-0 in the SEC only once since 2006, when the 2010 team defeated Georgia 31-24 in Athens, Ga., on Sept. 18.

The 2006 Razorbacks opened 7-0 in SEC play before falling to LSU.

In the 10 years since, the Razorbacks have gone 0-4 against Alabama, 0-3 against Texas A&M, 0-1 against Auburn, and 1-1 against Georgia in league openers.

The Razorbacks are 10-15 in all-time SEC openers.

Hostile response

Part of the recovery from Arkansas' loss to TCU has involved Bret Bielema stressing that the Razorbacks are very close to being a quality team. The team leaders have been reinforcing that idea.

"We've really had to come together," said senior center Frank Ragnow, a team captain. "Obviously the public has been pretty hostile towards us, which I'm not saying that's bad or good, but we've just really tried to rally as a team and realize that hey, we're still a good ball team and we've got to respond."

Defensive end McTelvin Agim tweeted Monday, "the hate is very apparent, believe me we feel your energy."

Asked about it Wednesday, Agim said, "We understand that everybody wants to win. We want to win, too. So we felt as a team we feel the negativity. We feel everything.

"We feel the energy coming from everyone outside the organization. I was just putting it out there, we understand. We're here every day. We understand. We want to win too."

Making the calls

Sophomore De'Jon Harris, in his first season as a starter at middle linebacker, is calling the defensive signals.

"I'd say 90 percent of the time he's right on point," inside linebackers coach Vernon Hargreaves said. "I think the guys have confidence in him, which is really big."

Harris said he likes making the calls.

"I'm just relaxed," he said. "I don't panic. I try to keep my poise and do what I do."

PK confidential

Bret Bielema has said either left-footed Connor Limpert or right-footed Blake Mazza would be the place-kicker against Texas A&M based on two weeks of practice, but he's not tipping his hand.

"I don't want to air mail our game plan," Bielema said on Wednesday's SEC teleconference. "We have a left-footed kicker and a right-footed kicker, so I prefer to keep that to ourselves until Saturday."

Williams back

Texas A&M tailback Trayveon Williams is expected to return to the starting lineup against Arkansas after an ankle injury kept him out of last week's 45-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette.

Williams ran for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns in the Aggies' 45-24 victory over Arkansas as a freshman last season. The 5-9, 200-pounder averaged 12.8 yards per carry against the Razorbacks.

Williams, former Oklahoma transfer Keith Ford, sophomore Kendall Bussey and freshman Jacob Kibodi give the Aggies four quality options at tailback.

B-Day bummer

Freshman receiver Koilan Jackson underwent surgery for a torn knee ligament Wednesday, two weeks and a day after suffering the injury at practice. Jackson turned 18 on Wednesday.

"Just a bummer," Coach Bret Bielema said on Wednesday's SEC teleconference. "We wanted to get the swelling out of it the best we can, and he'll undergo surgery and start that road to recovery."

Melanie Jackson, the player's mother, gave a thumbs-up after the surgery, writing on her Twitter account, "Koilan made it through his ACL surgery like a champ. Praise the Lord! Now on to the road to recovery. Thanks for your prayers and concern."

Key bye

Matt Stinchcomb of the SEC Network, speaking at the NWA Touchdown Club on Wednesday, said he thought Arkansas' early bye week should be beneficial.

"I think this year for Arkansas, you might have caught your bye week at the right time, with a bunch of new receivers needing to work with Austin Allen," Stinchcomb said.

The former Georgia offensive lineman, who covered Texas A&M's 45-21 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette last week, said Saturday's meeting in Arlington, Texas, is crucial.

"This is a pivotal moment, I think, for both of these programs," he said. "It's maybe the most pivotal matchup in Coach Bielema's tenure."

Worth noting

• The Razorbacks are 8-1 in games that follow losses of 10-plus points during Bret Bielema's five seasons.

• The first game played between Arkansas and Texas A&M was in Arlington, Texas, on Oct. 31, 1903. The Aggies won 6-0. Six of the last eight games in the series have been played at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, with the Hogs winning the first three between 2009-11 and the Aggies winning the last three from 2014-16.

• The ESPN broadcast team at AT&T Stadium will be Bob Wischusen on play by play, Brock Huard as color analyst and Allison Williams as the sideline reporter.

Sports on 09/21/2017

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