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 rewind: Physicality lacking in run game
Arkansas offensive linemen Joshua Braun (78), Patrick Kutas (75), Brady Latham (62), Andrew Chamblee (72) and Beaux Limmer (55) take the field with tight end Luke Hasz (9) on Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023, during the first quarter of the Razorbacks’ 28-6 win over Kent State at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville.
FAYETTEVILLE — University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said the Razorbacks’ running game will improve as offensive coordinator Dan Enos and offensive line coach Cody Kennedy continue to search for their best combinations up front.
Pittman admitted he and the Hogs were frustrated by a run game that produced 172 hard-earned rushing yards on 45 carries in Saturday’s 28-6 win over Kent State. But he bristled when asked a few times about the issues facing the running attack, which ranked seventh in the country last year and is now tied for 82nd with 138.5 yards per game.
“There’s a lot of reasons why we’re not dominating the line of scrimmage like we have before and some of it has to do with we’re just not moving the line of scrimmage up front like we have in the past,” Pittman said. “We’re just not moving them.
“We’re not knocking them off the football right now. We’re not blocking particularly well on the edge. We’re just not blocking particularly well period. AJ [Green] got in a little bit of a groove there at the end and R-Dub [Rashod Dubinion], but we’re just not a real physical football team. I thought we got better in the second half. … Maybe we had too many runs in going into the game, but we’ve got to figure that out.”
Pittman also pointed out a play where an unnamed running back didn’t follow his track.
“You open up the second half and we’ve got a pin-and-pull and we run outside the kick-out block,” Pittman said. “That’s not the O-Line, you know what I mean?”
When a reporter began asking a question by saying, “I’m not going to ask about the offensive line,” Pittman broke in and apologized for being curt earlier in his post-game press conference.
“Listen, we’ve made too much out of that,” Pittman said. “I’m sorry but I’ve coached line for 30-something years. I know how to coach an offensive line and I’m trying to get our guys ready. I should have answered it just like that.”
The Razorbacks have been playing redshirt freshman Andrew Chamblee and redshirt sophomore Devon Manuel at left tackle and had lots of guard combos in the first game, which veteran Brady Latham missed due to injury. Josh Braun and Ty’Kieast Crawford were involved at guard with Latham against Kent State.
“We’re not the only team in the world that’s played five O-linemen,” Pittman said, referring to his past teams at Arkansas that typically had five iron men on the line. “I mean somebody’s playing six or seven. I’m trying to figure out who our best linemen are and if I feel like they’ve earned opportunities to play.
“What’s the difference in an O-lineman and a frigging D-lineman? We play nine of them guys. If I feel like they’re good enough to help us win it’ll help us in the long run. I understand that we’re supposed to play five guys. We do but … that ain’t why we’re not running the ball guys.”
Up a spot
Arkansas moved up one notch in the others receiving votes category in the Associated Press Top 25 poll on Monday to what would be 27th.
The Razorbacks received 33 votes, second behind Clemson (86) outside the top 25. No. 25 Iowa had 106 points in the poll. Arkansas hosts BYU (2-0) on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
Quarterback KJ Jefferson said he recognized the Razorbacks were not in sync for much of the campus opener.
“I just felt like we went out there and were caught in the moment a little bit, just from being back home and our first game in the stadium, so were kind of caught in the moment,” Jefferson said. “Just being able to dig down, get back on our focus and maintain our focus, just going out there and playing with passion and having fun with it.
“We kind of veered away from that, and we kind of brought it back the second half, played with a chip on our shoulder and played an Arkansas brand of football.”
It has been an uneven start to the season for linebacker Chris Paul, but the redshirt sophomore made his presence felt in a big way in the second half on Saturday.
Paul missed the first half while serving a half-game suspension due to a targeting call in the second half of the season opener. The Cordele, Ga., product accounted for five tackles and two half-sacks after halftime.
Paul was involved in an 11-yard combo sack with Keivie Rose on a snap in Arkansas territory midway through the third quarter, then combined with Anthony Booker for a 1-yard sack of Mike Alaimo early in the fourth quarter.
After Kent State reached the Arkansas 1-yard line late in the game, Paul stoned running back Jaylen Thomas for no gain on the second play of the Hogs’ goal-line stand.
“He was ready,” junior linebacker Jaheim Thomas said. “He had sat down all first half, so he kept telling me when he gets in he’s going to make a play … and when opportunity came for him he capitalized on it.”
After posting no dropped passes in week one and looking strong on third and fourth downs, the Razorbacks didn’t look as clean against Kent State. Jaedon Wilson did not hang on to a third-and-10 pass that would’ve moved the chains on the Hogs’ second possession and quarterback KJ Jefferson’s accuracy wasn’t as on point as in the opener.
Jefferson completed 13 of 19 passes for 136 yards and 2 touchdowns, but he missed a few open receivers.
KJ Jefferson had to retrieve a low snap from center Beaux Limmer off the ground on a key third-down play late in the second quarter, but the play turned out all right as Jefferson found Andrew Armstrong for a 5-yard touchdown.
Prior to that, tailback AJ Green had nearly broken the goal plane on a second down run from the 5-yard line. The Razorbacks sent in a three-back formation, with Rashod Dubinion, Dominique Johnson and Isaiah Augustave lined up in a row behind Jefferson. However, the play clock ran out, moving the Hogs from inches short of the goal line to just outside the 5.
Jefferson did not catch Limmer’s low snap, gathered it up under quick pressure then began looking for open men.
“I just grabbed it and rolled out and saw Andrew in the back of the end zone wide open, so I tried to just give him a good, catchable ball and he made the play,” Jefferson said.
“I’m a reaction player, so I just saw everybody flowing to the left, so I just flew to the right,” Armstrong said. “It just happened for me to become wide open. I threw my hands up so he could see me, he just threw a good pass and I caught it in the back of the end zone.”
Starting cornerback Dwight McGlothern went through warmups and took the initial defensive snap of the game, but the senior came out with a foot injury shortly thereafter and did not return.
Transfer Kee’yon Stewart entered at corner opposite Jaheim Singletary and played the rest of the way.
“Nudie has turf toe,” Coach Sam Pittman said, referring to McGlothern by his nickname. “So we were checking him out before the game and he didn’t move very well. Then we put him out there the first play and he didn’t move very well, so we put Stewart out there.”
Stewart, who served a one-game suspension last week for his arrest on reckless driving and speeding charges, accounted for one tackle. The transfer from TCU was beaten deep down the right sideline for a 36-yard catch by Trell Harris to the Hogs’ 2-yard line, leading to a goal-line stand.
“And I thought he played pretty good,” Pittman said. “That was a hell of a pass that the kid made there at the end. But I thought he had a pretty good game.”
The Razorbacks (2-0) will host BYU in a return game on a two-year contract. Arkansas scored on eight consecutive possessions while claiming a 52-35 win over the Cougars last Oct. 15 in Provo, Utah, in the first meeting between the teams.
BYU, under eighth-year Coach Kelani Sitake, joined the Big 12 in the offseason. The Cougars are off to a 2-0 start with home wins over Sam Houston State (14-0) and Southern Utah (41-16).
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