KC plays being put to use for Arkansas

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Tuesday, October 9, 2018
Cheyenne O'Grady, Arkansas tight end, runs after a catch in the 1st quarter vs Alabama Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Cheyenne O'Grady, Arkansas tight end, runs after a catch in the 1st quarter vs Alabama Saturday, Oct. 6, 2018, at Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.

FAYETTEVILLE -- Borrowing a play concept from today's Kansas City Chiefs, the top scoring team in the National Football League, is a good thing.

The Arkansas Razorbacks set up an effective Alabama rush beater last Saturday by fusing concepts from the Chad Morris playbook with designs of recent vintage used by the innovative Chiefs to hit middle screens to their tight ends.

Arkansas quarterback Ty Storey said last Wednesday the Razorbacks had some new offensive "wrinkles" to unveil against the No. 1 Crimson Tide and the tight end throws were only part of that.

Arkansas had its best offensive performance against a Power 5 team this season with 405 yards against a defense that had been allowing 318 yards per game to rank No. 23 in the country.

Now the evolving Arkansas offense will look to continue its recent uptick on Saturday night in Little Rock a game that has "potential shootout" written all over it. The Razorbacks will host Ole Miss (4-2, 0-2 SEC), which boasts the nation's No. 7 offense with 540.8 yards per game.

The Razorbacks might have to repeat their offensive showing, or possibly improve on it, to outscore the Rebels.

"You're always looking for innovative ideas and things that you look at to continue to grow," Morris said. "But a lot depends on the comfort zone of Ty and his progress and what he feels like you can continue to add to him and not overload. And not just him, but all our guys."

Arkansas used Alabama's aggressive pass rush to their advantage by dropping the screen passes into tight ends Cheyenne O'Grady and Austin Cantrell.

"We've always had a couple of tight end screens in the playbook," offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said. "We watch film a little bit of the NFL for a few things that can help you. ... some new wrinkles. But we've always had that kind of play in the system."

Arkansas also hit tailbacks Rakeem Boyd and Chase Hayden on short swing and wheel routes that broke for big yardage and also blocked up the Tide to compile 172 rushing yards.

The taking of real estate just beyond and around the edges of the pass rush caused Alabama to recalibrate its rush plans and led to only one sack versus much-improved pass protection from the Hogs and a comfortable-looking Storey in the pocket.

"It looked great all week," Storey said of the tight end screens. "That's something I think we got off Kansas City. I don't know if I'm supposed to say that. But we stole that from the Chiefs.

"But yeah, it looked really good and it worked for us. We kept trying to come back to it and disguise it and do it different ways."

The play worked virtually every time, starting with an 8-yard pickup to O'Grady on the Razorbacks' second offensive snap. Cantrell caught another 8-yard screen to convert a third-and-6 snap later on Arkansas' first possession.

"I think they did an outstanding job with shifts and motions, keeping Alabama off balance and keeping their tight ends involved," Ole Miss Coach Matt Luke said. "They did a good job with some screens to slow the pass rush down and things like that, so I think they are settling in to who they are, but I think they did an outstanding job last week."

O'Grady said the Razorbacks also had a similar play last year under coordinator Dan Enos, who is now quarterbacks coach for Alabama.

"Tight end screen is what we called it," O'Grady said. "All I was supposed to do is act like I'm blocking the defensive end or the Sam, whoever is coming on, and just let them go. I was supposed to come inside and the play was open. It worked. I think we ran it like three times."

The Razorbacks' offensive line has made huge strides in the last few games, with Colton Jackson's return at left tackle and the switch of Hjalte Froholdt and Ty Clary to left guard and center, respectively, sparking better cohesion and continuity.

"We've been inconsistent at times, but I think that once we found the right lineup that we feel like gives us the best chance to be consistent in a long period of time, I think you've seen us get better," Morris said.

Boyd's 102-yard rushing game against Alabama was the first by an Arkansas back against a Power 5 team since Rawleigh Williams ran for 117 at Missouri in 2016.

"I think the offense is coming together," Boyd said. "Every week we come to work. We've just to to execute and keep getting better."

Storey's improvements from the first half to Colorado State to the entire game against Alabama have been dramatic.

"I think you see his confidence growing tremendously," Craddock said. "He's got more confidence in the offensive line than he did early in the season. I think he's got a little more confidence in the guys he can get the ball to that can make some plays. And I think you see his confidence growing by the day."

Another component the Razorbacks must make work is getting deeper throws to their wideouts. The wide receivers combined for 10 catches for 114 yards, including one to tight end Grayson Gunter, who was split out for his 10-yard catch.

Stewart made an impressive leaping 37-yard catch against the Crimson Tide, but the next-highest by a wideout was De'Vion Warren's 17-yard touchdown strike from Storey in the fourth quarter.

Sports on 10/09/2018

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