COLLEGE FOOTBALL NORTH TEXAS AT ARKANSAS:

Offense off target: Despite gains, Hogs misfire elsewhere

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2018
Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley carries the ball during a game against Colorado State on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley carries the ball during a game against Colorado State on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, in Fort Collins, Colo.

FAYETTEVILLE -- The University of Arkansas fixed some of its most glaring offensive issues -- first-down production and the running game -- between the season opener and the Week 2 loss at Colorado State.

But the 34-27 loss against the Rams produced a new set of trouble spots for the Razorbacks as they approach Saturday's game against North Texas (2-0) and try to find a groove under new Coach Chad Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock.

Arkansas, which converted nearly half of its third-down plays (7 of 15) against Eastern Illinois, struggled with 5 of 15 (33 percent) conversions at Colorado State, including 1 of 5 in the second half when the Hogs couldn't stop the Rams' 25-point run.

Arkansas went 0 for 3 on third-down conversions in the fourth quarter while running 8 offensive plays to 25 for Colorado State.

"Snapping the ball eight times in the fourth quarter was just not acceptable," Morris said.

The Razorbacks improved on their target areas for Week 2, Craddock said.

"We spent a lot of time on our run game last week and we were able to do some things, obviously, that we didn't do the week prior," he said.

Devwah Whaley rushed for a career-high 165 yards as part of Arkansas' 299-yard effort and Rakeem Boyd added 67 yards on 7 carries. The Razorbacks had more than 300 rushing yards before quarterback Cole Kelley was sacked for a 12-yard loss on the Hogs' second-to-last snap.

After being largely lousy on first down in the 55-20 victory over Eastern Illinois, the Razorbacks piled up 229 yards on its 33 first downs, an average of 6.9 yards per play, at Colorado State. Arkansas had gains of 11, 11 and 10 yards on its first three series-starting snaps, on a pass to Austin Cantrell and two runs by Whaley.

Altogether, the Razorbacks gained 10-plus yards on seven first-down plays, including T.J. Hammonds' 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown on a pop pass in the third quarter. Arkansas averaged 5.4 yards per first down run and ran on all 10 of its first downs in the second quarter.

"First-down efficiency was much, much better, kept us ahead of the chains," Craddock said. "And then if we kept the ball on the ground on second down, just having to be able to get the third-and-mediums is where we definitely have to improve."

Craddock said focusing on the running game might have come at the expense of what had been a strong passing attack that racked up 353 yards and 4 touchdowns in the opener.

"I don't know if it was we spent a little too much time on the run game last week and not enough time on the third and medium or what, but we definitely have to improve," Craddock said. "Five of 15 is not good enough at any level. ... Our passing game the week before was really good and for whatever reason, I don't know if we just kind of lulled ourselves to sleep at times, but we have to be able to do a better job.

"I actually talked to our receivers and our quarterbacks yesterday, we have to be the best group in the country on third-and-medium. If we can do that and we can stay ahead of the chains on first down like we did and convert those third and mediums and stay on the field, you're going to see a much better football team."

Senior center Hjalte Froholdt said that time can't come quick enough.

"We didn't execute well enough," Froholdt said. "I believe that we should be able to execute every single play that coach calls. ... There's always a way to pick up every single sort of blitz or look that they give us, so we should have gotten more first downs. It's all on us."

Receiver La'Michael Pettway said he didn't know why converting on third downs or the passing game was not as successful as in Week One.

"I don't have a say-so in that. I just know we went in with the game plan and some plays we executed well and some we didn't," Pettway said.

"The first week we didn't prove we could run the ball very good and we passed it good. This game, I guess we wanted to prove we could come out and run it well too."

Craddock said the offensive coaches are thoroughly self-scouting and looking for ways to increase efficiency.

"I just think that we've done a pretty good job right now of trying to find where our weaknesses are and address those and try to cover up a few things here and there with what we've got," Craddock said.

"I thought last week we did a nice job as a whole staff of figuring out our run game and I thought we did a nice job of finding a couple of wrinkles in there that would help us. Obviously we did a lot better blocking them up front and creating some holes for our backs at times, but also our running backs did a better job of making guys miss."

Craddock said the staff will continue to stay the course.

"We're not going to flinch," he said. "Coach Morris has said it already to us and we're not flinching. We're not backing down. We're staying who we are. We're not going to change what we do and we're just going to keep pounding the stone."

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