Tom Murphy is a sports reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll. He was the 2017 Arkansas Sportswriter of the Year.
Razorback report: Loss looked same in film review
Auburn running back Damari Alston (22) pushes off of an Arkansas defender, Saturday, November 11, 2023 during the third quarter of a football game at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. Visit nwaonline.com/photos for the photo gallery.
FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas coach Sam Pittman said the coaching staff’s film study from the Razorbacks’ 48-10 loss to Auburn last week looked pretty much like the live product.
“We were running some stunts,” Pittman said, referencing the defensive attack. “We weren’t handling the edge. We weren’t getting out to turn the ball back, so we lost the edge a lot. Tackling wasn’t very good.
“But we emphasized that we have to do something different. We’re not wrapping up well. Certainly couldn’t get off the field with their rushing attack. They out-physicaled us.”
Auburn ran for 354 yards, a season high allowed for Arkansas, and put up 517 total yards, also a season high for an Arkansas opponent.
The previous highs had been 204 rushing yards by Texas A&M and 509 total yards by LSU.
“Offensively, not a whole lot in there of good things to say as far as the blocking, breaking tackles, protecting the quarterback in all phases, getting open,” Pittman said. “Basically I guess probably just about what it looked like during the game.”
Pittman reiterated that backup quarterback Jacolby Criswell came with some energy in his nine snaps and one touchdown drive.
“I thought Jacolby came in and gave us a spark though and played extremely hard,” Pittman said. “Even on the last throw, I thought it was on a dime. We just didn’t catch it. I thought he did a really good job there.”
Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams is the program’s nominee for the annual Broyles Award, which is given to the top assistant coach in college football.
Williams, in his first season on the Sam Pittman staff, has overseen a defense that has made significant improvement in 2023, especially in pass coverage. The Razorbacks rank 49th in total defense, allowing 357.5 yards per game, and 38th in passing defense (205.6) after ranking last in the FBS in that category in 2022.
Williams is one of the 63 nominees, which include former Arkansas assistant coach Kevin Peoples, the Missouri defensive line/edge coach, and former Arkansas quarterback Alex Mortensen, the offensive coordinator at Alabama-Birmingham.
Other SEC assistants among the nominees: Tennessee defensive coordinator Tim Banks, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo, LSU offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock, Ole Miss defensive coordinator Pete Golding, Alabama offensive coordinator Tommy Rees,
Back to work
Arkansas defenders Landon Jackson and Chris Paul said the Razorbacks have to shuck off their worst defensive showing of the season against Auburn to prepare for Florida International.
Defensive coordinator Travis Williams showed the Razorbacks clips of how they practiced the looks in the Auburn Run-Pass Option attack and how they performed them on game day.
“Obviously, everybody on the team was disappointed in the outcome of the game,” Paul said. “Nobody feels like they played the Arkansas brand of football. With Coach T-Will, it was just how do we get back to that Arkansas brand?”
Said Jackson, “We came into our unit meeting and coach told us everything that he knew he did wrong and then he just showed us certain plays at practice and the same play being called in game and we just weren’t executing the play to be honest. We weren’t playing our style of football, weren’t wrapping up.”
Paul said practice for FIU has been pretty good this week.
“We’ve just been keying in on the little details and things like that, just trying to get a stop on the opposing offense,” he said.
Florida International Coach Mike MacIntyre said true freshman quarterback Keyone Jenkins is making progress, but has to be patient with his learning curve.
The freshman, who directed Miami Central High to three consecutive state titles, took over the starting job in Week 2. He is 146 of 247 passing for 1,900 yards, with 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions.
“From high school football to college football everything speeds up,” MacIntyre said. “The windows in the secondary close quicker, the D-line closes quicker on you when you go to scramble.
“He’s learning all that and really growing. It’s fun to see the growth in him that you see on the practice field, you see sometimes on the game field and you definitely see in the film room, understanding football better and better and better at the college level.
“We’re pleased with a lot of his progress. I know he gets frustrated just like we all do about trying to make more plays and do more things. He’ll keep improving and we’re real excited about Keyone.”
Keionte Scott’s 74-yard punt return touchdown was the second allowed by the Razorbacks this year, following an 82-yard return by Texas A&M’s Ainias Smith. In both instances, Max Fletcher’s punts out-paced Arkansas’ safe coverage area.
“Special teams, obviously we’ve got to cover better,” Coach Sam Pittman said. “That’s twice that we’ve given up touchdowns. We kicked it out of the zone.”
When Scott made the catch at his 26, Arkansas gunners Tyrone Broden and LaDarrius Bishop were 7 to 8 yards away with Auburn blockers on them. Scott made a small cut that caused snapper Eli Stein to get only an arm on him as linebacker Jordan Crook converged.
However, Scott kicked it in gear and out-paced Crook, who was then wiped out by safety Malik Chavis, who also put a turnstile arm on the return man. That left only the punter Fletcher, protector Cam Ball and Isaac TeSlaa in pursuit. Scott’s juke took Fletcher and the big man Ball out of the picture, and when he slowed up at about the 10, TeSlaa closed in but his diving leg-swipe try could not upend Scott.
“At the same time we’ve got to get a guy on the ground,” Pittman said. “We had opportunities too, but we missed tackles on that one as well.”
Starting FIU center John Bock did not play last week after he was given a one-year suspension by the NCAA in late October for testing positive for a banned substance.
The 6-3, 305-pounder was replaced by 6-4, 325-pound redshirt sophomore Ming Tjon.
“He went to one of those supplement stores,” FIU Coach Mike MacIntyre said. “We tell our guys, NCAA wise, don’t go take anything from a supplement store before you tell us.
“He took one of the weight-gain things, whatever they are, and it didn’t have any of the descriptions of the things the NCAA would test you for. But they mix those things in different mixtures … so he got NCAA tested and he came up [positive] so he will miss the entire year and he can come back next October.”
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