State of the Hogs: One word described Arkansas' loss perfectly

By: Clay Henry
Published: Saturday, September 23, 2017
Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen (8) is sacked late in the second half of an NCAA college football game by Texas A&M linebacker Otaro Alaka, rear, and defensive lineman Landis Durham, right, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen (8) is sacked late in the second half of an NCAA college football game by Texas A&M linebacker Otaro Alaka, rear, and defensive lineman Landis Durham, right, Saturday, Sept. 23, 2017, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

— Arkansas is 0-for-5 in the Bret Bielema era against Texas A&M.

It's a lot of the same stuff. Three times the Razorbacks happened in overtime after winning the toss; the Razorbacks gave up a quick score and could not answer.

It happened like that again Saturday when the Aggies won 50-43 at AT&T Stadium. It was enough for Arkansas quarterback Austin Allen to provide the perfect summary.

“I've seen it before,” Allen said. “It really sucks.”

Allen would unload that last word three more times. Like the first time, they were entirely appropriate.

Asked about the way the Hogs reclaimed the lead three times in the second half, Allen didn't want anything to do with kudos for fighting better than against Missouri, Virginia Tech or TCU. They didn't score a single point after halftime in those three losses.

“We don't go out there to play,” he said. “We go out to win. It really sucks.”

Allen also was asked about how the team would bounce back.

“If anyone comes in to that locker room not ready to work on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, then something is wrong with them," he said. "There are still nine games left. There is a lot of football left to play, and one game doesn’t define us. It sucks right now, but we have a lot of football left and we’ll be ready for New Mexico State.”

There were attempts to bring a positive take from both Allen and his coach. Bielema was asked about his introduction comments the day he was hired. He said he “came here to win the SEC.” A reporter asked if he still felt he could.

“The SEC West is one of the toughest divisions in football,” Bielema said. “A&M has one victory and we don't.”

Bielema followed that take with some positives.

“We needed to make some corrections in the red zone,” Bielema said. “We did that. Give credit to A&M with what they did on offense.

“We are still working on putting up stakes on defense.”

When Allen was asked a similar question, he went to the defense of his coach.

“It's what he's building, but it's been a lot of tough losses,” Allen said. “He's a heckuva coach. He's building a program. There is trust in him within our program. The outside world doesn't see everything.”

There was one player who hadn't seen the way the Hogs had it slip away. Senior transfer David Williams, the running back who got the start, did understand the wacky way the game ended.

"It was a crazy game," Williams said. "I’ve never been a part of anything like that. It’s just sad how it ended because we worked so hard and we fought so hard, we just made a couple mistakes that affected the whole game.”

Williams said it's not a physical problem.

“We’ve just got to get the mental aspect down," he said. "I think that we have the physical aspect down. We can do what we want when we want, we just need to get there, mentally. That’s probably the biggest thing.”

Allen had praise for Williams, with good production in the ground game (11 carries, 68 yards, two TDs) and in the passing game (two catches, 28 yards).

"We love him," he said. "Guys want to be around him in the locker room. He's a tough football player. He can make plays for us. All the guys love him."

One of the other positives mentioned afterwards was Nance, the junior college transfer making plays at wide out.

Nance said the wideouts worked to get more separation during the bye week after a tough day against TCU.

“One-on-one coverage to make sure to get Austin (Allen) a chance to throw us the ball," Nance said. "Last week, we were having a tough time getting open. We emphasized that and sticking to our routes. We did way better this week with that.”

Nance knew the Hogs had some plays saved for the fourth quarter.

“I knew we were going to have some big plays coming up," he said. "I knew it was (cover) four and the corner was going to play me soft. The safeties had run support, so he was going to be filling in a little bit more instead of getting over the top. I knew I was going to be able to get past the corner and the safety.”

There were positives in plenty of areas. After playing poorly in the kicking game against TCU, there was improvement in several areas for most of the game. The Hogs covered kickoffs and punts well until the last five minutes. Plus, new placement specialist Connor Limpert appeared adequate, at least putting through extra points in solid fashion (although no field goals were attempted).

The kicking game did collapse at the end. Limpert made the mistake of kicking to Christian Kirk, one of the nation's top returners, when the Hogs took the lead with 5:21 left. Kirk sprinted 100 yards for an answering touchdown. Then, after Allen led the Hogs 75 yards in four plays for another lead with 3:39 left, Limpert's sky kick to the A&M 38 was returned 13 yards across midfield because of poor tackling. That setup a tying field goal with four seconds left in regulation.

Allen's passing was improved over the first two games. Despite losing Jared Cornelius to an Achilles' injury to take the only experienced wideout, Allen seemed in sync with his new receivers.

However, Allen came up empty in overtime. He was a little late in pulling the trigger for Jeremy Patton on a second down throw into the end zone. Patton made the catch, but couldn't get his feet down in the end zone.

"We've had issues there," Bielema said. "We had that happen in another game, so we have to go back over that and understand the importance of keeping your feet in bounds."

On the next play, Allen tried to force the ball between three Aggies for Patton on seam route. Safety Armani Watts, beaten by Allen and Nance in the fourth quarter for deep balls, dove for the interception, the lone UA turnover of the game.

The Hogs made 457 yards, but gave up 501, mostly because of big plays. Kirk had an 81-yard touchdown catch from freshman quarterback Kellen Mond. Mond also ran 79 yards on an option keeper and had a 50-yard throw to Damion Ratley. So after giving up no big plays against Florida A&M and TCU, the UA defense was victimized for four over 40 yards by the Aggies.

Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said the game was a constant "cat-and-mouse game" as Arkansas switched coverages in an attempt to contain the run or the pass. The run was the big problem. The Aggies gained 285 on the ground.

Arkansas inside linebackers Dre Greenlaw and De'Jon Harris led the defense with 14 tackles apiece, but sometimes had a tough time finding the dive back, or ran around blocks.

The Hogs played without nickel back Kevin Richardson, injured against TCU. That caused them to stay in base defense for much of the game, rotating strong safety Santos Ramirez and free safety Josh Liddell on slot receivers. Neither was involved much in the run game. Liddell made three tackles, Ramirez just one.

Defensive end McTelvin Agim, effective at times against TCU, had a tackle for lost yardage early in the game, but was negated much of the day. Agim finished with two tackles. Austin Capps was the leader among down linemen with three. Starting nose tackle Bijhon Jackson had only one stop.

Bielema said the team was “crushed.” The play that seemed to be the crusher was a pass interference penalty on a third-down incompletion in overtime.

UA freshman defensive back Kamren Curl had Jahmon Ausbon's jersey as they went down the sideline. They'd done the same dance often during the game with no calls. The back judge flipped his flag towards the play as Mond threw well short of the receiver.

“Curl gave up a 50-50 ball earlier, but he'd done a nice job,” Bielema said. “At the end of the game, it's tough to get that call against him. That was a big call and it changed momentum in overtime.”

Asked about that call again later, Bielema said, “There are always going to be a couple of calls you send in on Monday (to the league office). I hate the timing of that play and the effect it had on the game. It was significant.”

Bielema said he asked for clarification before the Hogs got their chance in overtime. The official who made the call wouldn't oblige.

“I didn't get to talk to him,” he said. “The official in front of him was the one I got.”

The Hogs tried three different combinations in the offensive line. Paul Ramirez played left and right tackle. He seemed to find a rhythm late, but partly because Allen started to step forward in the pocket.

Bielema discussed the change in O-line personnel, although the front still allowed seven sacks.

"I think two things first. We went to different personnel," Bielema said. "I think you know

when we made the switch to get Paul in at tackle and jumped Johnny (Gibson) down to guard, and I know it was a rough start on that one series, but then they started getting pretty good. I think we had to get rid of the ball a couple of times as well and, Dan made an adjustment there getting to get the ball out quicker."

Allen said things settled down as the game progressed.

“They were taking guys flying past me,” Allen said. “So that left some room to step up and make some plays. That gave me a pocket and some guys like Jonathan Nance made some plays.”

That was another appropriate time to bring in the perfect summation for the day. Allen said it was time to find a way to move the team and fight back for the lead.

"Heartbreaking. We’re right there. Fought back in the fourth quarter. I thought we played hard the whole game. I thought the team bought in to that fourth quarter mentality, and we scratched and clawed our way back in it. It just wasn’t there.

“There was no other option but to respond,” he said. “We'd seen that before and it sucked.”

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