Clay Henry's Top 10 Keys: Arkansas at Colorado State

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, September 6, 2018
Colorado State's new stadium is shown before hosting Oregon State on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)
Colorado State's new stadium is shown before hosting Oregon State on Saturday, Aug. 26, 2017, in Fort Collins, Colo. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — Thank you, Michigan. I love you, even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

If it wasn’t for you, I would be somewhere else this weekend. Instead, I’ll be watching Arkansas play Colorado State in one of my favorite places in the world.

For most of the last 15 years, at least one week has been spent near Fort Collins, Colo. I came early for this game to hang out with one of my fly fishing mentors, Ozark product Jeremiah Gage.

Sorry for those who thought they were going to read football in this space. I promise to get there in a bit.

But first, I’ll drag you around Colorado as Gage has done me so many times. Sometimes we also bring along Jim Daniel, a product of Fourche Valley. If anyone can tell me where that is, I’ll send you a box of my midges, sure to catch trout anywhere.

Gage now lives in Loveland, basically a suburb of Fort Collins, unless you live there and then Fort Collins is the suburb. Daniel has a ranch with some horses an hour away near Keenesburg, just east of the Denver airport.

I flew to Colorado early this week to hang out with the two of them. How much we fished is not open for discussion. Lets just say that some fly fishing did accompany our Razorback football talks. There’s always some of that on these trips to Colorado, even if it’s July and we are somewhere near the Continental Divide.

Look up Walden, Colo., on the map and then trace your fingers 30 miles in any direction and we might have fished there, maybe this week. If there is water, there will be trout. Here’s all you need to know about trout: they live in beautiful places, like Rocky Mountain National Park.

You can spend weeks there and see everything that’s gorgeous. There are those famous greenback cutthroat trout. Most are small, but I don’t care. Gage told me to bring light tackle, a 3-weight rod to make them feel a little bigger. It worked.

The Hogs should have been playing Michigan this season, but the Wolverines bought out the contract a few years back and Colorado State was the replacement. I did a little dance when it was revealed it would be a home-and-home series.

I knew for the first time ever an Arkansas road trip would also mean packing my fly rod and waders. Gage promised we’d wet a line, if only for a few half a days. The weather cooperated and we did catch fish. And, there was a fine meal at Henry’s Pub in Loveland.

I’m not related to anyone who runs the restaurant, but I’d claim them. I’ve eaten there several times and it was always good. Gage and some CSU alums conspired for the get together on this trip and it was good fun, and more friendly than you’d find at an SEC road stop.

Alas, there is a football game, too. I’ll get to it now. I really don’t mind. It’s going to be great weather, about 70 degrees at kickoff and you may need an extra layer for the last minutes.

Colorado State is down, out of its first two games except for a brief window against Hawaii when there was no defense to be seen anywhere and the Rams mounted a bit of a comeback.

I don’t expect that to happen this time. This is not vintage Arkansas, but there is still too much speed for the Rams. They should have the same kind of problem with Jordan Jones and La’Michael Pettway that Eastern Illinois had in the opener.

On the other side of the ball, this might be a breakout game for the likes of Gabe Richardson and Michael Taylor, the two starting ends with Randy Ramsey still on the mend with a hamstring issue. And, you might see McTelvin “Sosa” Agim running free, too.

This should be more about the things Arkansas needed to fix from the opener and not so much what Colorado State can mount as a counter. The Hogs are just better even in the early stages of the Chad Morris era.

It’s time to get away from the trout fishing and back to work, with football taking center stage. Here are the top 10 keys for Arkansas vs. Colorado State.


Hydration

OK, I’m still hung up on trout fishing. As I learned many years ago, when you fish at altitude, pack extra water. I’ve put as many as eight water bottles in my back pack and still suffered from cramps at night. I finally learned to drink chocolate milk at lunch.

Morris was hit with the altitude questions almost at the start of his media briefing Monday. How would the Hogs cope? It’s more than a mile above sea level at Fort Collins.

Morris confirmed that he’d never played a game at altitude, but checked with coaching buddies who had. Just hydrate, they advised. You’ll be fine.

The Hogs are in great condition. They do prefer a hurry-up style that might worry an offensive lineman at altitude, but here’s predicting that the visitors will do all right.

Ty or Cole?

I don’t think it really matters. They can both execute the offense. Ty Storey’s play was so superb in the opener, he deserves to start against the Rams. But Cole Kelley is going to play and may be the one to catch fire in this game.

Storey impressed everyone with his 261-yard passing explosion against Eastern Illinois. His throwing motion is more akin to what he looked like at Charleston when he was winning state titles than what it looked like in his first two years at Arkansas when it appeared a hitch crept into the motion.

I pulled out some of an interview with Storey from May that explains the change. Some credit goes to Joe Craddock, the new offensive coordinator. Storey would not criticize either Jim Chaney or Dan Enos, his last two quarterback coaches. He said he learned something good from both.

“I feel good,” Storey said when asked about a cleaner throwing motion last spring.

“I feel more comfortable than ever throwing the ball. In high school I never thought about my mechanics. We were just throwing. We just were scoring touchdowns and doing everything you do to play football games.

“Once I got up here, there was obviously some stuff to change. Coach Chaney wanted me to change some things and then I started doing what he wanted. Then Coach Enos asked me to go back to what I’d done. It was kind of back and forth.

“It was getting different ways from a coach. There are different ways.

“I was trying to make people happy. They were experienced coaches and knew what they were talking about, but maybe I took too much in and was over-thinking it at times.

“Now, I feel really good. There are always little things to keep working on, but the main goal is to keep getting better.”

Improvement at Tight End

Perceived as a position of strength ahead of the season, it’s easy to see how that can slip in a hurry.

First, Jeremy Patton has been slowed by a bruised ankle in camp. He’s still one of the Hogs’ best players, but he was a bit off in the opener, as pointed out by Morris on Monday. More is expected from Patton in Colorado.

Second, C. J. O’Grady is coming off a suspension for a violation of team rules. Apparently O’Grady wasn’t on time in the week ahead of the opener. I’ve said in the past I’d call him Cheyenne when he got everything right. He’s back to C.J. with me.

Austin Cantrell sparkled at game’s end with a 42-yard touchdown catch and run. That was a ball thrown by Kelley and featured amazing speed for a 260-pounder.

The Hogs also will continue to use Grayson Gunter, coming back from a redshirt season because of shoulder surgery. He was sidelined by injury in the opener, but is handy in some of the vertical passing game.

Morris said the tight ends will continue to be in the game plan. Look for all four to get some playing time this week.

Bumper Time

Depth is improved on this defense and it was evident in the opener when Dre Greenlaw played just one quarter. He made 10 tackles before going down with an ankle sprain with 19 seconds left in the opening period.

That was Bumper Time, as in freshman linebacker Bumper Pool.

He’s not Wayne “The Thumper” Harris, the all-time Razorback nickname that matches a player, but he’s got a good name. Bumper did make some plays in the opener, including a 60-yard scoop and run to set up a third quarter touchdown by Storey.

But what I want to mention is that Ryan Pulley wanted it to by Pulley time. It appeared the junior cornerback was asking for Pool to hand him the ball as they scooted down the sideline. Pulley could have cut behind Pool and taken out the EIU wide receiver who eventually made the tackle. Instead, Pulley stayed to the sideline side begging for the ball.

I thought it was hilarious. To tell the truth, I don’t blame Pulley. A flip to him would have resulted in a touchdown. But if he’d gone behind Pool and blocked, it would have been a score, too.

That’s one of those instances that probably led to a teachable moment in the tape study. I’m guessing something different will happen if there is a repeat, maybe a block by the defensive back and a score by the linebacker.

Greenlaw is listed as day-to-day, but it’s probably safe to assume that Pool gets a lot of time against CSU this week. The good news is that it appears Pool is a more than adequate backup.

Pad Level

It’s got to improve in Week Two. The Hogs did not have the proper pad level in the opener.

I’ve seen it for as long as I’ve been covering football: the pad level is generally not there for the opener.

This is not going to be a great offensive line, but they can play with better pad level than displayed in the opener. They didn’t get enough push and the running game suffered. The Hogs averaged just 2.2 yards per snap.

I give Morris credit for getting right to it on Monday when giving the critique of the running game. He said, “We were too high, too soft.”

Morris wants toughness. He is good at the bells and whistles, but it won’t matter how well he draws up the plays if the Hogs don’t correct the pad level.

They say you make the most improvement between the first and second game. That’s where the Hogs need it the most, pad level.

Bells and Whistles

I predicted the Hogs would be anything but vanilla in the opener. Morris and Craddock have plenty of bells and whistles with their offense and John “Chief” Chavis is known to call blitzes as the team departs the bus.

There really wasn’t anything special about the strategy in the opener. Presumably, if you can’t beat Eastern Illinois with vanilla stuff, you probably are going to struggle in the SEC West.

There were no bells and whistles in the offense. Yes, the passing game was there, but I didn’t see any screens, reverses or jet sweeps. The perimeter stuff will show up sooner or later. Maybe it won’t be needed against the Rams, but I bet there will be more blitzes this week.

Punt Game

If there was something to fix from the opener, it was probably the punt and punt return game. Jared Cornelius was just fine fair catching the punts, but the Hogs goofed in other areas.

Two different punters were used and neither was a hit. Returning starter Blake Johnson punted four times for a 30.5-yard average. Two were pooch punts used to pin the Panthers deep and there was a 44-yarder. But he had a short punt out of bounds, as did backup punter Reid Bauer on a shanked 25-yarder.

The big goof came when the Hogs gave Eastern Illinois an extra possession when two players wearing No. 1 were on the field at the same time. Cornelius is No. 1 on offense, but so is cornerback Chevin Calloway on defense.

Morris said Calloway is supposed to come off the field on punts, but even so, the Hogs should have caught it when he didn’t leave and called a timeout. It was about the only mess up with substitution. And, the Hogs did not have a pre-snap penalty, generally a problem in openers.

The Turnovers

It was good on both sides of the ball in the opener. The Hogs forced six fumbles and recovered five. That was a huge improvement over the last six years when the defense averaged just 8.5 recovered fumbles.

On the other side, there was never a hint of a turnover. Passes were not thrown into coverage and backs appeared to have the ball secured. Winning the turnover battle 5-0 was a big win.

Chavis and Morris both were proud of those numbers on Monday, with Chavis emphasizing that the work on stripping the ball away is something that is featured in every practice. Morris said it’s mentioned before every Tuesday practice that there should be no turnovers by the offense.

Winning the turnover battle is often the difference between a good team and the not so good. It’s usually a sign that fundamentals are stressed. A team that takes care of the ball is generally going to fare well. Does the trend continue?

Improvement at Running Back

The offensive line catches the heat when the running game sputters, but Morris said the running backs could have hit the holes better. Apparently, there were some creases that were missed in the opener.

This is one of the deepest positions on the field and it should be a strength. It just didn’t look like that in the opener. Colorado State has allowed an average of 228.5 yards in its first two games. That bodes well for an improvement for the Hogs.

One of Morris’ goals for the offense is to count the big plays. The longest run in the opener was 10 yards, two times.

“We call a big play in the running game when we were over 15 yards,” Morris said. “We had zero. We’d like to have four.”

That will be something to count on Saturday. Can the Hogs get four runs over 15 yards?

Road Wins

Counting big plays is fun when there is a win involved. That’s the only thing that matters this week. It’s never easy to win on the road. Every one of them is sweet.

I recall a September road loss to Rutgers – when I learned how to find Piscataway, N.J. – that ended badly when the Hogs lacked big plays on offense. In fact, they might not have been in the game except for a defensive touchdown and another score on a halfback pass.

That was the first loss of the Bret Bielema era. Rutgers came back from a 24-7 deficit to win 28-24. The common denominator in that game and the one this week is that the Hogs are inexperienced in the offensive line.

The difference this time is that the Rams struggle to play defense. I think there will be more than enough big plays for an Arkansas victory this time.

Oh, and it’s a lot more fun to travel to Fort Collins. There are no trout in Piscataway.

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