Five Keys Review
1. Handle The Tempo
Southern Miss went with a no-huddle approach throughout the game, but never seemed to crank things up to a break-neck pace in Arkansas’ 24-3 win. The Golden Eagles did most of their damage with draws and other run plays, getting a season-high 119 yards against Arkansas. The Razorbacks handled it all in stride, though, keeping USM out of the end zone and limiting it to 254 yards. It was the third straight week Arkansas held its opponent below the 300-yard mark.
2. Curb Mental Errors
Arkansas worked through its share of problems once again Saturday. QB Brandon Allen threw an interception the play after the Razorbacks forced a USM turnover. WR Javontee Herndon muffed a punt (although he avoided a turnover by scrambling to recover the ball). CB Tevin Mitchel was flagged for a facemask penalty, while S Eric Bennett was called for pass interference in the end zone. Bret Bielema said Arkansas wasn’t “clean in a lot of different things,” but still picked up a critical win.
3. Run, Run, Run
Check, check and check. Arkansas had its share of problems early, but most can be attributed to the fact Southern Miss knew the Razorbacks weren’t ready to test AJ Derby’s arm. Arkansas settled in and controlled the second half thanks to its run game (Jonathan Williams had 116 yards, Alex Collins had 115). The Razorbacks closed in typical fashion, running the ball on 22 of its final 24 plays to make sure it wrapped up another win. Arkansas had 258 yards on 56 rushing attempts.
4. Force USM Mistakes
USM had an NCAA-high 10 turnovers entering Saturday’s game and the Razorbacks extended the woes in the first half. DE Trey Flowers slipped into coverage and got his hands on an Allan Bridgford pass. CB Will Hines got an interception later, tracking down an errant throw from Bridgford. Neither turnover led to Arkansas points, but they helped the Razorbacks keep Southern Miss out of the end zone.
5. No Lulls
There’s no doubt Arkansas’ offense was in a funk throughout much of the first half, but the reason was predictable. Losing a starting quarterback is rarely easy. The Razorbacks were very conservative during AJ Derby’s first few series and it showed in Arkansas’ inability to move the ball. But the Hogs regrouped at halftime and were much better after the break. It led to two second-half touchdown drives that helped Arkansas slip out of Razorback Stadium with another win.
• Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney on the run-heavy play calling:
“I feel like we’ll go into the game with full throttle bore and do what we’ve got to do to win the football game. I felt like on Saturday I didn’t need to prove any points. The defense was playing fantastic. We needed to continue to do what we do and to operate within our system and ensure victory. I felt like we did that.”
• Defensive coordinator Chris Ash on his group’s fourth-quarter performance:
“Good teams do that. Good teams have to be able to put their foot on somebody’s throat at the end of the game and be able to make sure they have no ray of hope. Fortunately, we were able to do that Saturday.”
• Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge on DT Robert Thomas’ performance:
“I think the fun thing for me is he’s just giving credit to being a good, fundamental football player. That example right there (on second-and-goal at 2) where he had the tackle for a loss, he did a great job with his steps and his hands, and it led to a good play. All that does is let the other kids learn, if they do it that way, they’ve got a chance to make those kind of plays, too.”
• Running backs coach Joel Thomas on FB Kiero Small in the Wildcat formation:
“He had a good first day. Obviously, when you start doing stuff like that it starts to open up another can of worms. We’ve just got to make sure we do enough not to overload him. We want to get him downhill and continue to see where we can get him the ball in his hands and help our offense.”
Players of the Game
Offense — RB Jonathan Williams (16 carries, 116 yards, TD)
Arkansas was desperate for a spark after halftime and Williams provided it with his 45-yard touchdown run early in the third quarter. The big play gave the Hogs a 14-point cushion. Williams has broken a run of 45 yards or more in each game this season. He eventually topped the 100-yard mark for the third straight game.
Defense — DE Chris Smith (Career-high 3 sacks)
Arkansas’ defensive line has been productive every week and Smith was the star Saturday with a career-high three sacks. Two of Smith’s sacks came on back-to-back plays late in the first half, helping the Razorbacks preserve their 10-3 lead. Smith has climbed into a tie for seventh on Arkansas’ career sacks chart in the win (17 ½).
Special Teams — P Sam Irwin-Hill (Averaged 45.3 yards a punt)
The Australian split punting duties with Zach Hocker, but had a better day booting the ball. He averaged 45.3 yards on his three punts and was especially effective rolling to his right, placing two attempts inside Southern Miss’ 20-yard line. Backing the Golden Eagles up proved valuable. USM didn’t score on either possession.
4 — Number of Arkansas pass plays in the fourth quarter of its three games this season. QB AJ Derby went 1-for-1 with a 16-yard completion Saturday, adding to Arkansas’ small passing totals. The Razorbacks ran the ball on 41 straight fourth quarter plays dating back to its season opener until Derby’s completion.
4.5 — Chris Smith’s sack total this season, which is tied for the NCAA lead after three weeks. Smith is joined by Kentucky’s Za’Darius Smith, Maryland’s Marcus Whitfield and Louisiana Tech’s IK Enemkpali with 4 ½ sacks so far this season.
69 — Arkansas’ passing yards in the 24-3 win, which was the program’s lowest total since throwing for 62 yards in a 31-26 loss at LSU in 2006. The Razorbacks are averaging 141.3 passing yards a game this season, which ranks 112th in the NCAA.
2007 — The last time Arkansas held three straight opponents below the 300-yard mark. The Razorbacks actually held four straight — Chattanooga (172), Auburn (290), Ole Miss (294) and Florida International (281) — below 300 yards that season. Arkansas has accomplished the feat against Louisiana-Lafayette, Samford and Southern Miss in 2013. It has helped Arkansas rank 6th in total defense.
QB Brandon Allen’s right shoulder injury will garner plenty of headlines this week as the Razorbacks prepare for their first road trip — and rightfully so. But there are other injuries to keep track of as well. OT Grady Ollison (ankle) went down in the second quarter and was replaced by freshman Denver Kirkland, who could be in line for his first start Saturday if the sophomore doesn’t return. CB Jared Collins suffered a head injury a little later and appeared to collapse near the sideline after a punt. If his injury keeps him out Saturday, Arkansas’ depth at cornerback will be tested.
Arkansas (3-0) will begin preparation for its biggest test to date next Saturday, traveling to Piscataway, N.J., to play Rutgers (2-1). The game has been scheduled for a 2:30 p.m. kickoff and will be televised by ESPN.
It’s the second game in a home-and-home series between the schools. Rutgers beat Arkansas 35-26 last season, getting a career-high five touchdown passes from quarterback Gary Nova in the win. Nova is questionable for Saturday’s game, however, after suffering a concussion in the 28-10 win against Eastern Michigan.
Running back Paul James has been key to Rutgers’ offense in 2013, leading the NCAA in rushing (493 yards and 6 TDs). The Scarlet Knights also have been stingy defensively, ranking fifth in the nation in rushing defense (59.3 yards).