Clay Henry is the publisher and executive editor of Hawgs Illustrated. He is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and its All-America Committee, voter for the Heisman Trophy and has been inducted into the Arkansas Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame.
State of the Hogs: O-line play focus as TCU brings speed
Arkansas running back Devwah Whaley (21) carries the ball behind the block of guard Ty Clary during a game against Florida A&M on Thursday, Aug. 31, 2017, in Little Rock.
FAYETTEVILLE Offensive line play gets a lot of scrutiny.
It should. The rise and fall of a program is often centered on the play of the five players from tackle to tackle on offense.
If there is a missed block, everyone sees it. If there is a sack, there is generally a replay to show the defender's path to the quarterback.
A lost yardage play gets special scrutiny, especially on third-and-1. It's a drive-killing bust.
Colton Jackson had two critical misses in those type of situations Thursday as the Arkansas offense sputtered on its first two possessions.
Jackson missed a player diving inside his gap from the outside on a third-and-1 failure to start the game, then allowed his man to pressure quarterback Austin Allen on a pass interception for the lone turnover by the Razorbacks in 49-7 victory over Florida A&M in Little Rock.
Those plays stand out, but it may be that Jackson played better than most suspect when the full review of the tape is done. That's at least the idea that Arkansas coach Bret Bielema left the media with in his Monday review of the first game.
“The speed of the game got (Jackson) at the start,” Bielema said. “On the third-and-1, an inside move got him. On the interception, someone got around him.
“On the inside move, he got that block later in the game. I think you'll see a big jump from Game One to Game Two.”
There were better things to report on the rest of the starters in the UA offensive line. Left guard Hjalte Froholdt graded so high that he was nominated for SEC offensive linemen of the week. And, there was general praise about the surprise of the first week, true freshman Ty Clary starting and playing well at right guard.
“We ran an isolation play on the first snap,” Bielema said. “The guy came across Ty's face and he picked him up just like he's supposed to do. He had two mental errors for the game. He was never lost in the moment.”
The speed of the game will increase this week. Not to say Florida A&M doesn't have some speed, but it can't match TCU's quickness, speed and explosive power man for man. That's a strength of Gary Patterson-coached teams.
Whether it was Bielema or the two Arkansas coordinators, there was plenty of mention of TCU's speed in the Monday interviews. Coordinators Dan Enos (offense) and Paul Rhoads (defense) both were quick to mention the athleticism of the Horned Frogs.
Without question, Patterson's reputation is that he goes after speed almost to no end. He has put running backs at defensive end and recruited quarterbacks with the idea that they will play corner or safety. Speed at linebacker has always been a priority.
That means offensive tackles like Jackson – and Johnny Gibson on the other side – will have to be much faster with their reactions to what Patterson's defense will bring. Rhoads coaches defense, but he played Patterson's teams when he was head coach at Iowa State. He knows what the Hogs are going to face.
“I think the number one criteria Gary uses in recruiting is speed,” Rhoads said. “Everyone does that to some degree. I did as a head coach. So that's not unusual. But he favors speed over size. He goes for leaner and longer guys.
“That's the trademark of Gary's defensive teams. He wants playmakers to force lost yardage plays and turnovers.”
The speed is easily seen on offense. Whether it's at running back, wide receiver or at quarterback where Kenny Hill is quick to turn a scramble into a big play, Rhoads knows the best way to combat the TCU offense is to be sitting on the sideline.
“The huge part of the game is for us to be on the sideline,” Rhoads said. “We want our offense to stay on the field and grind it out.
“Last year we held TCU to zero points in the first half, but I already knew what had happened. I talked to (former defensive coordinator) Robb Smith as we went to the locker room. Our guys were tired. We were already gassed.”
The way to avoid that is to play more defensive players in the first half against the Horned Frogs.
“If we have four corners, we have to play four corners,” Rhoads said. “If we have four safeties, we have to play four.”
It sounds like Gabe Richardson might get more snaps at outside linebacker, although starters Randy Ramsey and Dwayne Eugene both performed well in the opener. Richardson was a blur during his time on the field, both in special teams and in the defense. He forced the third-quarter fumble that Henre' Toliver returned for a touchdown.
“Gabe gave great effort,” Rhoads said. “It was not singular. Others did, too. But Gave gave tremendous effort on special teams and on defense.
“Now Gabe is not a clean player yet. He makes mental mistakes. But he does give effort and strain.”
The effort and ability to strain was something that got Clary on the field. Enos handed out praise for the walk-on from Fayetteville.
“He was excellent,” Enos said. “He played very well. Ty looked comfortable. He had good pad level and was physical. He finished people.”
Enos said the decision to start Clary was simple.
“It wasn't a tough call because of the way he practiced,” Enos said. “Early in camp, he was with the threes. And because it was a long camp, Coach Bielema had the threes out there a bunch.”
Offensive line coach Kurt Anderson pointed out Clary's ability to finish blocks early in camp.
“Coach Anderson was talking about Ty early,” Enos said. “He did a great job with the threes and did well when we moved him to the twos. Then he was tremendous with the ones. He's smart, plays with great strain.”
Now, the test will be to see if he can play against great speed. That's going to be the test everywhere for the Razorbacks this week against the Horned Frogs.
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