State of the Hogs: Effort and plan questioned after loss

By: Clay Henry
Published: Sunday, September 25, 2016
Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight (8) breaks loose to score a long rushing touchdown late in the second quarter against Arkansas in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Timothy Hurst/Bryan-College Station Eagle via AP)
Texas A&M quarterback Trevor Knight (8) breaks loose to score a long rushing touchdown late in the second quarter against Arkansas in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 24, 2016, in Arlington, Texas. (Timothy Hurst/Bryan-College Station Eagle via AP)

— A hard-fought game turned ugly in just six plays late in the third quarter at AT&T Stadium. No. 10 Texas A&M made them and Arkansas slumped badly.

In the opener against Louisiana Tech, Arkansas won by winning a series of key plays one inch at a time. This time the common theme was failures after reaching the Texas A&M 2-yard line with first and goal -- over and over and over.

Sometimes you question effort. Sometimes you question scheme. Arkansas coach Bret Bielema left the 45-24 loss to Texas A&M with questions about both.

“We took the field in the fourth quarter in a poor demeanor,” Bielema said. “We didn't make the effort.”

Later, Bielema second-guessed the plan against A&M quarterback Trevor Knight. The Oklahoma graduate transfer had touchdown runs of 48 and 42, and added a 62-yard gallop in the closing seconds. The last one wasn't for points, just to rub salt in the wounds.

Knight was the night's top rusher with 157 yards on 10 carries. That topped a UA ground game that was smashed on short yardage plays all night, finishing with 120 on 40 rushes, a 3.0 average. Texas A&M had 366 rushing yards, an average of 9.9.

“Knight's a good player, a good quarterback,” Bielema said. “They do a lot of good things with him. He's probably faster than he looks.

“If we played it the way we designed it, we could have had better results. But if we don't carry it out, you let the quarterback run up in their too easy.

“We wanted to make the running game go east and west with the way we were playing our ends and tackles, but we gave them two easy runs.”

Knight took advantage of safeties playing outside the hash on his long quarterback keepers through the middle, with Arkansas chasing motion backs with the linebackers. It left the middle unprotected and the veteran signal caller was quick to take advantage of the wide open spaces.

“The game plan was to stop the running game, the backs and the quarterback,” Bielema said. “It was lack of execution, or we have to look at what we call. It opened up the middle. We wanted to make them go east-west and we didn't do that. We had our safeties wide and we were depressed (tight to the line).”

Arkansas outgained A&M, 249-222, in total yards in the first half while fighting to a 17-17 tie. Never mind that the Hogs lost a fumble at the 1-yard line and had scored just one field goal after reaching the 2-yard line twice in one possession. They looked like a solid team in many areas.

After A&M fumbled at the goal line to waste the opening drive of the half, Arkansas appeared poised to take the lead with the first score of the second half when Jeremy Sprinkle rolled 11 yards to the 2-yard line. A defense that was called soft by some network analysts proved for the second time in the game that it's no longer that.

Rawleigh Williams made it to the 1-yard line on first down. Then, on back-to-back wedge sneaks, quarterback Austin Allen tried to fight his way into the end zone. The squirming, second-effort fight on third down looked good, but the replay review from league headquarters in Birmingham allowed the call on the field “to stand.”

So what does that mean? In referee parlance, it means they couldn't see enough to overturn the call by the linesman, perhaps blocked by the tight end. Allen appeared to lay the ball on the goal line to end the play.

The Aggies stayed wide on a wide receiver sweep on fourth down, stopping Keon Hatcher for a 5-yard loss.

Just two plays later, things turned for the Aggie offense. Knight hit Josh Reynolds behind DJ Dean for a 92-yard bomb down the Arkansas sideline. The game was never the same.

The Hogs had to settle for a field goal on another set of plunges from the 2-yard line in the first half. Because of a pass interference penalty, there were six plays total that failed to get into the end zone on that possession.

“We had two times where we couldn't get it in,” Bielema said. “They converted both of those with points. We have to put on our big boy pants and get it in from the 6-inch line. That changed momentum. I'd go for it again if I had to do it all over again.”

Bielema thought the replays showed Allen scored on the third down sneak. Allen was sure of it.

“I think everyone in the stadium thought I got in,” said Allen, who noted the Aggies brought a different look on the goal line than had been seen on tape.

“They brought the mike (linebacker) up in the gap,” he said. “We have to get in, though. I did think I did.”

All of those failed scoring plays from inside the A&M 2-yard line made for a depressing game for Arkansas offensive linemen Frank Ragnow, moved back to center after one week at right guard.

“Our DNA is to pound it,” Ragnow said. “And we couldn't finish it at the goal line. If we can't do that, it will be a long season.”

There was more to worry about up front. Allen was sacked only once, for a strip and fumble that set up an A&M score in the fourth quarter that ended the suspense. But the A&M defensive line pounded him as he released the ball over and over.

“It sucked,” Ragnow said of the pounding his quarterback took. “He kept getting up and fighting. He kept the same attitude, but we have to be better or he's not going to last. We have to fix the problems (with pass protection).

“The way he plays motivates you. You know you have a great warrior battling. If it doesn't bother you what we let happen to him, then you better take a hard look at yourself.”

Ragnow wasn't sure exactly what happened on the goal line or the sacks.

“I want to see the tape to know for sure,” he said. “I hope wasn't effort. They did give us multiple looks.”

Bielema said it was those multiple looks from the A&M front and defensive coordinator John Chavis that prompted yet another shuffling in the starting lineup.

“We made the switch Tuesday,” Bielema said. “They use multiple fronts. We thought Frank making the calls gave us the best option. We knew we had to give a lot of help against their ends, but we didn't do enough in the fourth quarter.”

Ragnow played center. Jake Raulerson moved back to right guard. Brian Wallace started at right tackle. It was Wallace who gave up the lone sack to cause the turnover in the fourth quarter.

“It's still some young guys up front," Allen said. "This was their first SEC game. They are going to get better. I have confidence in Coach (Kurt) Anderson and Coach (Dan) Enos.”

The defense did defend the pass well at times. Knight was just 12 of 22. But the second half was a bad half of defense for the Hogs. A&M gained 379 of its 591 after intermission, a 10.2 average. The Aggies punted just twice in the game and never in the second half.

Allen, who completed 28 of 42 for 371 yards, said the tape review will be painful because of "missed opportunities. When we watch it, we are going to kick ourselves to see what we left on the field."

Wide receiver Jared Cornelius didn't want to talk about a seven-catch, 126-yard night.

"I didn't come to Arkansas for stats," he said. "I came here to win games. So the stats don't mean anything.

"We had too many turnovers, too many penalties and we didn't score in the red zone. That's what hurt us. We left 14 points out there on the goal line. Austin fought his butt off."

Ragnow said, "He kept getting up and kept on slinging it. We know what he can do."

Allen said there were no major injuries, just lots of bruises. He felt cramping of the chest muscle after a hit late in the first half. He went to the opposite tunnel as his teammates for a medical exam afterward. He said he's fine.

“I'll be sore tonight and tomorrow,” he said.

It's the mental condition that has to be fixed.

“We have a long night and some recovery tomorrow,” Bielema said. “We'll give them a little more time before getting back on the field.”

Clearly, Bielema was disappointed in the finish, or lack of on the goal line.

“I'm very disappointed,” he said. “We didn't come to play four quarters.”

That's what Bielema fixed to end last season. Now, he's going to have to fix it again.

The Hogs have Alcorn State in Little Rock this week to try to get some things solved in the offensive line. Then, it's the ultimate test, No. 1 Alabama in Fayetteville.

They probably did not lose anyone to injuries against the Aggies. Nose guard Austin Capps, injured on a scooter accident in midweek, should return after sitting out the A&M game with a swollen eye.


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