Scottie Bordelon is a reporter for WholeHogSports.com. A graduate of the University of Arkansas, Bordelon previously covered high school sports for the Times Record in Fort Smith and the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette in Springdale. He is a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association and Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Biletnikoff Award.
Hogs' offense falls flat in critical times
Arkansas quarterback Feleipe Franks dives in an attempt to gain a first down during a game against LSU on Nov. 21, 2020, in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — Asked for his initial thoughts on Arkansas’ 27-24 loss to LSU on Saturday, Razorbacks quarterback Feleipe Franks took a deep breath before getting started.
Sustaining drives and a head-scratching inability to convert on third down were the main points of emphasis in Franks’ response. Those remarks were then repeated in essentially each answer during his six-minute postgame interview.
During Arkansas’ fifth consecutive loss in its trophy-game series with the Tigers, the Razorbacks’ offense failed to convert a single third down in 10 attempts. Saturday’s game marked the first time since a Jan. 2, 2010, win over East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl that the Razorbacks did not convert a third down in a game.
“I thought it was a bunch of different things,” Franks said. “They did a good job. They schemed, and they scheme just like us. They had a good couple play calls for ours. We just have to do a better job of executing.
“But they were on a couple of our third downs and I tried to make something happen with my legs a couple of times. Ultimately, it just comes down to staying on the field and doing whatever you’ve got to do to move the chains and get a new set of downs.”
LSU, playing its first game since Halloween due a scheduled off week and a postponements related to covid-19 quarantine, entered the Arkansas game 11th in the Southeastern Conference as a defense in third-down conversion rate, allowing opponents to pick up necessary yardage on 47% of their tries.
The Razorbacks, meanwhile, placed 11th in the SEC in converting on third down at 36%. It was an aspect of the game Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said was a focus throughout the team’s week of practice.
Pittman noted the Tigers brought pressure and covered Arkansas receivers well on some third-down plays, but he could not pinpoint the root causes for those inefficiencies.
Arkansas receiver Mike Woods, who finished the game with a career-high 140 receiving yards on four catches, had a difficult time identifying those problems, too.
“I’m not sure, but you go 0-for-10 on third down, I mean, you’re asking for it,” he said. “We’ve just got to come back and go to work and do better on third down, and put ourselves in more manageable third-down situations. That’s probably a big part of it.”
Franks threw incomplete on his four third-down pass attempts — including three times to running back Trelon Smith — and Arkansas gained 12 yards on five rushing plays on third down. The Razorbacks finished 0-for-3 when needing four yards or less to extend drives.
On average, the Razorbacks needed 5.6 yards on third down.
“Well, whether we had focus on it or didn’t, I would imagine we would be disappointed in third down. We have to just keep working on it,” Pittman said. “We’ll just keep working at it. You have to give LSU’s defense credit.
“They had a nice game plan and they did a nice job.”
LSU’s offense finished the game 12-of-23 on third down. The 12 conversions were its most in a game since a 13-of-19 performance against TCU in the program’s 2013 season opener.
The Tigers were 8-of-13 when facing third-and-4 or less.
“They just found our weak spots,” said Arkansas linebacker Grant Morgan, who finished with a career-high 19 tackles. “The thing is — I don’t know about the stat on the distance on it — but there was a lot of third-and-shorts it felt like, and it was a lot of third-and-4s and lower.
“It really was us. It was really just us kind of not executing all the way.”
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