Chavis says lessons to be learned for players, coaches after Tide humbling

By: Matt Jones
Published: Monday, October 8, 2018
Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis talks to players during a game against Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis talks to players during a game against Alabama on Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— Firsts become scarce for coaches who have been around for as long as John Chavis.

But Chavis, the 30-plus-year SEC veteran, had never had a defense start as poorly as his Razorbacks did in a 65-31 loss to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.

The Crimson Tide scored a 76-yard touchdown on a crossing pattern from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to tight end Irv Smith Jr. on the first play of the game, and gained 136 yards in the first three plays, leading to a 14-0 score just minutes into the contest.

By halftime, Alabama had 453 yards and a 41-14 lead.

Arkansas allowed 639 yards to Alabama, the fourth-highest total in the Razorbacks' program history. The Crimson Tide's 65 points were tied for the most Arkansas has given up in an SEC game - the most since a 65-43 loss to eventual national champion Auburn, led by Cam Newton, in 2010.

"I am gonna start with the way I feel," Chavis said as he led off his weekly meeting with reporters Monday. "I will make this perfectly clear: I'm disappointed, but I'm not disappointed in our players by no stretch of our imagination. We've got to coach them better, get them prepared better. We have got to play better and that's where we are.

"We've never started a game where we played three plays, they gained (136) yards and scored 14 points. From there on it didn't get much better. What we've got to do, and we're already in the process of putting that behind us a lot of lessons to be learned for me, our staff as well as our players."

Arkansas head coach Chad Morris said Alabama consistently "out-leveraged" his team Saturday, leading to 22 plays of 10 yards or more. The Razorbacks' defensive struggles were most evident against Tagovailoa, the nation's leading passer. Alabama averaged 28.1 yards per completion.

"We got out-leveraged starting on the first play of the game and it happened several times throughout the game," Morris said. "Against a team with that caliber of speed, it doesn’t take much to get you out-leveraged.

"When we did have opportunities to make plays, make stops, and it didn’t go our way on a certain play, we were unable to let that play go and play the next play. I thought we let one bad play lead to another bad play. We didn’t create turnovers. That’s one of the things we always talk about is creating a minimum of three turnovers."

Morris said the defensive issues Saturday were a combination of his team not making plays, but also an indication of the athleticism of Alabama's offense. The Crimson Tide are averaging 56 points and have scored 45 offensive touchdowns through six games.

Chavis, who has faced Alabama 31 times as an assistant coach, said it was the best offense he has seen from the Crimson Tide.

"They are very sound in all areas," Morris said. "...I think that when you play off of somebody and you give a wide receiver a little bit of room, I think it really shows what kind of speed they have. Because we did - we played a little bit off of them and when we did, they caught some underneath balls and were able to pull away and separate. I think that says a lot about their team speed. They’re very fast and very explosive."

Smith, a tight end who is comparable to former Alabama tight end O.J. Howard because of his elusiveness, showed it on his long receptions early in the game. Chavis went a step further in describing the game's opening play. He indicated Arkansas lost sight of Smith on a motion behind the line of scrimmage.

"We should have made that play," Chavis said. "Even when we didn't make that play we had three or four opportunities to get him tackled. That didn't occur. They've got talented people running with the football."

After forcing an Arkansas turnover in Alabama territory, the Crimson Tide torched the Hogs again with another pass to Smith on the second play of the ensuing drive. Smith out-maneuvered a number of Arkansas defenders before Ryan Pulley forced a fumble at the Razorbacks' 12. Alabama receiver Henry Ruggs III picked up the ball and ran it in for a touchdown.

"Those kind of things happen, but were there some times we could have been in better calls? You doggone right," Chavis said. "I take that into consideration when we sit in there and watch that film. I don't hide it from our players. If we're not in a great call, hey, that's on me. That's on me and I am gonna own my work. Our players have done a tremendous job of preparation. They are giving us outstanding effort. We've just got to teach them better and help them."

Chavis said there are similarities between Alabama and this week's opponent, Ole Miss. The Rebels are coming off a game in which they defeated Louisiana-Monroe 70-21 and gained more than 800 yards of total offense. The Rebels had eclipsed 700 yards by early in the third quarter before they pulled starters.

Personnel wise, the most striking similarity between the Crimson Tide and Rebels are the size and athleticism of the receivers. Ole Miss features the nation's best receiver unit, led by potential high-round draft picks A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf.

From a schematic standpoint, Ole Miss quarterback Jordan Ta'amu leads a run-pass offense that has similar concepts to the one run by Tagovailoa and the Tide.

"They're bigger, stronger so we can hopefully get enough people around them to tackle them," Chavis said. "That's what we've got to be able to do. They've got a great scheme and that is what college football has evolved to. You spread people out, you run RPOs and you are forced to be in man coverage even if you call zone. Because of what is happening you are gonna be in some one-on-one situations and you can zone if you want to, but it's man-on-man and we've got to make plays on the perimeter when that happens. I think we've got some work, like a lot of people, to do there.

"Then you've got to play the running game. How you spread out when they've got guys in the box, a guy at the Y (tight end), a tailback in the game and you've got to account for the running game or you're gonna get burnt there? So there's a median there but certainly it puts you in some one-on-one situations. We've got to do a better job when we're in those one-on-one situations."

Morris indicated Arkansas could look at changing some defensive personnel this week, but did not elaborate.

"Whether you gave up 300 yards or 600 yards, you’re always looking at how you compete out on the field and being able to have the competition that you need at practice to keep pushing each other and continue to grow," Morris said.

Most Yards Allowed by Arkansas in a Single Game

Year - Opponent, Yards, Result

2005 - Southern Cal, 736, L 70-7

2012 - Texas A&M, 716, L 58-10

2017 - Missouri, 696, L 48-45

2018 - Alabama, 639, L 65-31

2016 - Auburn, 632, L 56-3

2015 - Mississippi State, 631, L 51-50

2017 - Auburn, 629, L 52-20

2011 - Texas A&M, 628, W 42-38

Most Regulation Points Allowed by Arkansas in an SEC Game

Year - Opponent, Result

2018 - Alabama, L 65-31

2010 - Auburn, L 65-43

2000 - Tennessee, L 63-20

2012 - Texas A&M, L 58-10

2016 - Auburn, L 56-3

1997 - Florida, L 56-7

2003 - LSU, L 55-24

1996 - Tennessee, L 55-14

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