FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas’ pass protection was one of the many bright spots in its season-opening rout of Eastern Illinois.
The Razorbacks’ offensive line, led by veteran guard-turned-center Hjalte Froholdt, allowed just one sack and one quarterback hurry against the Panthers’ defense. The one sack came late in the second half as reserves entered the lineup and Daulton Hyatt assumed quarterback duties.
Saturday’s loss at Colorado State was a different story. Froholdt and Arkansas’ offensive line allowed eight hurries and one sack against the Rams’ pass rush, with a handful of hurries coming on critical downs. The sack, which came at a crucial juncture in the game late in the fourth quarter with the game tied 27-27, forced the Razorbacks’ offense to punt away to a hot K.J. Carta-Samuels, who in turn led the Rams on the game-winning scoring drive.
Protecting the quarterback was an issue in the loss, notably in the first half with quarterback Ty Storey in the game. Storey was hurried six times, including the second snap of the game and on three consecutive passing plays to open the second quarter. He also had defenders in his face on a near-touchdown toss to Jared Cornelius in the end zone and on his second interception of the game, which led to a Colorado State field goal just before halftime.
Three of six instances in which Storey was hurried occurred on third down. Froholdt said Tuesday he and his fellow offensive linemen take a lot of pride in providing a clean pocket for whoever is playing quarterback.
“No hits, no pressures, no nothing,” said Froholdt, who was hit with a rare holding penalty in the second quarter. “That’s the goal of every week. (Opposing defenses) are always going to bring something, and those defensive players are going to have to earn their scholarships, too. If we give it up, so what? We’ve got to move on and play the next play.
“There’s no reason to dwell on it, and sit there and be mad. Move on and coach it on film.”
Searching for a spark in the passing game, Arkansas turned to Cole Kelley in the second half at quarterback. Quickly, he found success through the air, hitting his first two pass attempts for chunk-play touchdowns. But twice after halftime, Kelley was hurried by the Rams’ pass rush on third-and-long.
Colorado State recorded five hurries with Arkansas staring at third down. Freshman Noah Gatlin, who earned his first career start at left tackle, wasn’t big on the offensive line allowing so many pressures in the loss.
“We take a ton of pride in protecting the quarterback,” he said. “You don’t want your quarterback to get hurt. We’re going to do whatever it takes to not let him get hit. Obviously it happens sometimes, but that’s not what we want.”
Arkansas is sure to come up against more pressure from North Texas this weekend. The Mean Green have six sacks through two games against SMU and Incarnate Word. Froholdt said North Texas’ defense disguises pressure well and shows exotic looks in an attempt to confuse opposing fronts.
Linebacker E.J. Ejiya leads North Texas with two sacks this season. Ejiya also led coach Seth Littrell’s club with seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss a season ago.
“They bring a lot of pressure and they make sure you play assignment football and know where you’re supposed to go,” Froholdt said. “They’re going to mix looks up on you and switch the linebackers around, they’re going to blitz from the boundary, blitz into the field, stunt on the defensive line and do a lot of things that make you think they’re doing something they’re not.
“They have many looks and they manage to execute them all at a high rate.”
In film study, Gatlin said North Texas regularly runs Okie, which feature a nose tackle, two defensive ends lined up over offensive tackles as well as two outside linebackers and a pair of inside linebackers, which places more speed on the field defensively. He said Arkansas’ line will have to constantly be on the move to account for each defender.
“They’re going to run a lot of stunts. We’re just going to have to make good calls and live with our calls,” Gatlin added. “They’re very athletic, and maybe a little undersized compared to teams we’ll play, but they’re really good with their stunts.
“They’re also good with their feet and hands.”