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 was awarded 2022 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Hogs emphasizing efficiency in red zone
Arkansas running back Raheim Sanders (5) carries the ball in the red zone on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022 during the first quarter of a football game at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas had little issue in the first two weeks of the season capping red-zone trips with touchdowns.
Against Cincinnati and South Carolina, the Razorbacks cashed in with touchdowns on 8 of 10 possessions inside the opponents’ 20. Arkansas was tremendous in the 44-30 victory over the Gamecocks, scoring 6 touchdowns in 6 chances.
The unit’s success has been spotty at best over the last four games. In that span, it has scored touchdowns on 7 of 16 (43.8%) red-zone opportunities.
Arkansas coach Sam Pittman and starting left tackle Luke Jones said this week improvement in that area of the game has been a point of emphasis ahead of the Razorbacks’ trip to BYU.
More from WholeHogSports: Latest Whole Hog Football Podcast recapping loss at Mississippi State, looking ahead to BYU
“I’ve always believed that if you can run the ball consistently in the red zone that you’re going to score,” Pittman said Monday. “We haven’t done that on a consistent basis.”
According to CFBStats.com, the Razorbacks have averaged 2.96 yards per carry on 49 attempts in the red zone. Granted, Arkansas has had a handful of short-yardage touchdown runs that skew the figure a bit, but it has gained 2.02 yards per touch less in the red zone than when rushing from opponents’ 39 to 21.
The Razorbacks were stopped at the Mississippi State 8 on a fourth-and-1 run by Raheim “Rocket” Sanders last Saturday. Later, during the third quarter, Arkansas ran the ball 6 times after advancing to the Bulldogs’ 19 following a 44-yard pass from quarterback Malik Hornsby to receiver Jadon Haselwood.
The Razorbacks’ final two runs went for no gain, and they again turned the ball over on downs at the Mississippi State 1.
“It’s obviously frustrating not getting those fourth-and-1, those fourth-and-short opportunities,” Jones said. “But there’s nothing we can do but just keep working on it, emphasizing it in practice and getting better.”
For the season, Arkansas has rushed 9 times for 23 yards on fourth down, and on 4 carries it has come up short of the line to gain.
Turnovers and miscues in the red zone have also hindered the Razorbacks. Most notably, Sanders and quarterback KJ Jefferson fumbled inside the 5 against Missouri State and Texas A&M, respectively, and an errant snap by center Ricky Stromberg complicated matters toward the end of a potential go-ahead drive against the Aggies.
One thing Pittman said he would like to see more of out of Arkansas’ red-zone offense is movement of the pocket. Getting Jefferson on the edge and giving him a run-pass option could be beneficial, he noted.
More from WholeHogSports: Domineck, Jones, Stephens, Clark preview game at BYU
The Razorbacks have struggled in the red zone with the pass, too, completing 10 of 20 attempts for 3 touchdowns and 2 first downs.
Overall, Arkansas heads to BYU with the nation’s No. 87 touchdown percentage in the red zone. Its score rate in the red zone of 73.08% is last in the SEC.
The Cougars’ defense has allowed 16 touchdowns on 28 possessions, but Utah State and Notre Dame found the end zone just 3 times in 9 red-zone tries.
“We just need to be more disciplined,” said Jones, who holds an overall offense grade of 79.1 this season, according to Pro Football Focus. “Obviously we would love to score the ball. We’ve been working on that. That’s been a big emphasis for us this week and the last couple of weeks.
“I’m excited to show it this weekend.”
Have a comment on this story? Join the discussion or start a new one on the Forums.