Several factors in Hogs' slow offensive start

By: Tom Murphy Tom Murphy's Twitter account
Published: Thursday, September 14, 2023
Arkansas tailback AJ Green said the Razorbacks are working on trying to improve their run game. Green led the Razorbacks with 82 rushing yards in last week’s 28-6 win over Kent State.
(NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)
Arkansas tailback AJ Green said the Razorbacks are working on trying to improve their run game. Green led the Razorbacks with 82 rushing yards in last week’s 28-6 win over Kent State. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE — Putting a finger on the sluggish start for the University of Arkansas offense is a tricky proposition because there are a multitude of factors at play.

Among the items on that list: A new coordinator and schemes under Dan Enos; three new offensive line starters and only one — left guard and team captain Brady Latham — in the same spot from last season; an almost completely overhauled corps of receivers; a knee injury for 1,443-yard rusher Raheim Sanders.

The Razorbacks don’t operate as fast under Enos as they did under up-tempo advocate Kendal Briles the past three seasons. And the new clock rule regarding no stoppage after first downs has led to fewer plays throughout college football.

Arkansas is running more than 15% fewer plays per game during its 2-0 start than it did during its 7-6 run in 2022.

That’s not the only reason for the Razorbacks’ weird offensive numbers, including a big dip in total offense and explosive plays, but it’s a large part of the story for Arkansas, which hosts BYU (2-0) on Saturday at 6:30 p.m.

The Razorbacks, who averaged 74 plays per game last season, have averaged 62.5 plays in their first two games in the return of Enos.

Whereas the game clock used to stop after first downs until the ball was placed and the referee gave the ready for play signal, it now keeps rolling, aside from the final two minutes of each half.

Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman has expressed his dislike of that rule change.

“I don’t know what we’re going to do with it, because we sure are getting the commercials,” Pittman said regarding fewer offensive plays. “I don’t mean that negative. We just are.”

While the Razorbacks have done well scoring points — they average 42 per game to rank 22nd in the country — their total offense numbers against two inferior opponents have been lacking.

Arkansas is last in the SEC and 97th in the country with 343.5 yards per game.

Through two games last season, against well-regarded Cincinnati and South Carolina, the Razorbacks were averaging 78.5 plays and 452 yards per game.

The Hogs’ running attack, which is 82nd nationally with 138.5 yards per game, will face its toughest test yet against the Cougars, who are 11th in the nation in run defense.

“We’ve had a huge emphasis on getting to fits and driving,” Latham said Tuesday. “The O-line has gotten together, and the run game is kind of what we want to be known for. We’ve had success in the past in the run game and we want to continue to have success.”

The Razorbacks ranked seventh in the nation in rushing last season with 236.7 yards per game.

“It’s really a challenge now,” said tailback AJ Green, who led the Razorbacks with 82 rushing yards in last week’s 28-6 win over Kent State. “Obviously we’ve got new people on the line. We’ve got some people that left. So we’re not all comfortable yet.

“That’s what we’ve been working on every single day. So the run game, as you can see, is just going to keep getting better from now on. We’re going to learn to execute our plays better.”

Pittman gave a few expansive and detailed answers in his Monday news conference regarding the current state of the run game.

“It’s about displacing linemen when we’re in double teams,” Pittman said. “The only time that we truly displaced [Kent State’s] D-line was at the end of the game, the last six minutes.”

Pittman said better consistency and a stronger presence from center Beaux Limmer are among the other keys.

“I think Beaux has to become a more vocal leader,” he said. “I think having Brady back will help us. But we have to get better there. We’re addressing it. We addressed it last week.”

Latham missed the season-opener due to injury and the coaching staff has shuffled offensive line personnel in the first couple of games.

“It may not be just a quick fix,” Pittman said. “I think … the order of how we’re playing our games is going help us with a new coordinator. And there were some mistakes. A new coordinator. Try to continue to figure out exactly what we do well, what we can do well. But you have to do something well. And I think our backs have got to run harder.”

Perhaps more worrying, the Razorbacks simply haven’t been as explosive as in recent years, particularly on the ground. They have 20 total plays of 10-plus yards, which is tied for 116th in the country. They have four run plays of 10-plus yards with a high of 23 yards by Green last week. That figure is tied for 120th in the country with Arkansas State and seven others, and only five teams have fewer runs of 10-plus yards than Arkansas.

Per Clark Brooks, whose X handle is “SECStatCat,” Arkansas led the SEC with 222 explosive runs the past two seasons, with a conference-best 21% explosive run rate. He also noted Arkansas averaged 1.7 yards before contact last week with nine attempts having defender engagement behind the line of scrimmage.

“I think the key for us is we’ve got to have explosive plays,” Pittman said.

Part of the lack of explosive plays has been bad fits with various offensive linemen and the tight ends, and not enough productive perimeter blocking from the receivers, Pittman said.

“Obviously, we’ve done a lot of talking about the offensive line and all that kind of stuff, but there’s a whole lot of things that go into rushing the football,” he said. “The offensive line included, but the backs have a lot to do with that, too.

“We’ve all seen 80-yard runs where you don’t block a soul, and a guy just breaks it and gone. We just haven’t had that yet and right now we’ve got to be pretty picture perfect to have some success running the football. AJ has made some of those runs we may or may not have been perfect on and he’s made yards.”

There could be reason to believe bigger plays are on the way. Enos’ first run as Arkansas offensive coordinator featured a similarly slow start in games against Texas-El Paso, Toledo and Texas Tech before the Razorbacks heated up with 251 points in a five-game span against Auburn, Tennessee-Martin, Ole Miss, LSU and Mississippi State.

No matter the length of game or number of plays, the Razorbacks will be looking to have their running game clicking much better as they head into the meat of their schedule this weekend.


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