Postgame Thoughts: Arkansas 23, Tulsa 0

By: Matt Jones
Published: Saturday, October 20, 2018
Arkansas quarterback Connor Noland (right) fakes a handoff to running back Rakeem Boyd during a game against Tulsa on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas quarterback Connor Noland (right) fakes a handoff to running back Rakeem Boyd during a game against Tulsa on Saturday, Oct. 20, 2018, in Fayetteville.

— Earlier this week Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis longed for the time he could enter his weekly press conference with a smile on his face.

Cue the mustached smile in T-minus 48 hours, just past noon Monday.

Chavis' unit that gave up 1,250 yards, 13 touchdowns and two field goals over the two previous weeks was sharp Saturday against a drastic decrease in competition, limiting Tulsa to 260 yards and recording the Razorbacks' first shutout since a rout of Ole Miss in November 2014.

The Golden Hurricane missed field goal attempts of 28 and 42 yards on their first two possessions, then didn't have another scoring opportunity until the final drive of the game when they failed to convert a fourth down from the Arkansas 11 in the final minute.

Those three drives totaled 132 yards for Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane's other nine drives totaled 128 yards and included three three-and-outs. Arkansas forced two turnovers and the turnover on downs to end the game.

With redshirt freshman Seth Boomer starting for the third time in place of injured starter Luke Skipper, the Razorbacks were relentless with their pressure. Arkansas recorded six sacks and two other tackles for loss.

Defensive tackle Armon Watts was disruptive up the middle for the Razorbacks, recording four tackles and a forced fumble, and at other times creating opportunities for other linemen to make plays. McTelvin Agim had two sacks, including one when Boomer was flushed by Watts, and Agim had 3.5 tackles for loss.

Watts won the Crip Hall Award as the outstanding senior in the Razorbacks' homecoming game.

Boomer was not a good passer in his first two games and wasn't again Saturday. His 8-of-25 performance lowered his season completion percentage to 35 percent.

Given his ineffectiveness it was surprising to see Tulsa not run the ball more. Shamari Brooks and Corey Taylor were effective with a combined 146 rushing yards, but their 27 combined carries were well below their season average of 35 per game.

Offensively, it was a struggle for Arkansas in the first half. Connor Noland started his first game at quarterback and was intercepted on his second pass of the game. Noland settled down on the following drive with a pair of short completions to receiver Jordan Jones, and had a pair of long passes to tight end C.J. O'Grady toward the end of the first quarter that helped set up a short Connor Noland field goal early in the second quarter to give the Razorbacks a 3-0 lead.

Arkansas' offense began clicking when the defense and special teams set up a short field. The Razorbacks had scoring drives of 49, 10 and 40 yards to stake a 20-0 lead after three quarters.

Punter Reid Bauer backed Tulsa up at its 11 with a good punt midway through the second quarter, then Arkansas got the ball back after forcing Tulsa into a quick three-and-out. Rakeem Boyd had four consecutive carries totaling 34 yards before a bizarre sequence took Arkansas from well behind the sticks to a first down at the Tulsa 13.

A bad snap by Ty Clary sent the ball over Noland's left shoulder and he recovered the ball at the Tulsa 27. The Golden Hurricane were called for targeting on the field, a call that was obviously wrong on the review. But a Tulsa receiver was called for unsportsmanlike conduct during the review.

Two more Boyd runs took Arkansas to the Tulsa 7, and Noland finished off the drive with an easy touchdown pass to tight end Grayson Gunter 85 seconds before halftime.

Noland was shaky, but serviceable, mostly because the Hogs' run game was good. Boyd rushed for 99 yards, just missing a third consecutive triple-digit performance after he was taken out of the game in the second half because of dehydration, and Chase Hayden was good after a struggle a week ago, rushing for 43 yards on nine carries.

Noland and Cole Kelley combined to rush for 47 yards from the quarterback position, and seeing his most playing time of the season, Maleek Williams rushed for 23 yards and a touchdown. Williams has struggled in pass protection, but was needed Saturday with Devwah Whaley on crutches following ankle surgery and T.J. Hammonds not playing for the fourth consecutive week.

Arkansas' most impressive drive came in the fourth quarter when Hayden, Kelley and Williams combined to rush 15 times for 59 yards, taking 8:19 off the clock. The Razorbacks had gone three-and-out on the drive, but it was extended when Tulsa was flagged for roughing Bauer, the punter.

The run success came behind another offensive line combination. Redshirt freshman Dalton Wagner started in place of Colton Jackson at left tackle, and converted defensive lineman Austin Capps played much of the second half in place of Johnny Gibson at right tackle. Brian Wallace missed a handful of plays at right tackle in the second half, but returned later in the same drive.

Tulsa's run defense has not been good this season. Playing a unique defensive alignment that pulls as many as eight men into pass coverage, the Golden Hurricane had allowed 7.6 yards per attempt against Houston two weeks ago and 5.3 yards per attempt to South Florida last week. Arkansas averaged 3.7 yards per attempt, down from 6.2 yards per attempt last week against Ole Miss.

The Razorbacks get Vanderbilt next week. The Commodores are 13th in the SEC in run defense, ahead of only Ole Miss, and last in the conference scoring offense.

Arkansas' special teams was solid for the second consecutive week, further putting the struggles of early in the year in the rearview mirror. Bauer averaged only 34.8 yards, but landed all four of his kicks inside the 20; Limpert was perfect on field goals from 33, 35 and 24 yards; and Deon Stewart had the team's best punt return of the year, a 29-yarder early in the second quarter.

Arkansas did what it was supposed to do Saturday. An SEC team should soundly beat most teams from The American, especially one like Tulsa, which has lost 11 straight to FBS competition.

But given the Razorbacks' struggles against comparable opponents (Colorado State, North Texas) this season, any win is probably worth a little extra to the team and its fans.

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