Clint Stoerner knows what it’s like to lose a game you should have won. The legendary Razorback quarterback was part of one of the most heartbreaking losses in Arkansas football history in 1998 when the Razorbacks had a 24-22 lead with 1:47 left in the ball game at No. 1 Tennessee. After a hike, Stoerner tripped over Brandon Burlsworth, resulting in a Stoerner fumble and Tennessee recovery. The Volunteers scored four plays later and won 28-24.
That experience gives Stoerner credibility when it comes to talking about losing games like that and he had some definitive ideas on what the Razorbacks need to do to get better in the wake of last week’s home loss to BYU. In a recent post to X, formerly known as Twitter, Stoerner makes some deft diagnoses and potential remedies:
- WR’s lack wiggle, Sategna time.
Stoerner implied that the receivers are struggling to break away from defenders and suggests Sategna might be a solution to that.
- The random WR rotation ain’t it, shots & big moments can’t be random.
A reference to the idea that Arkansas needs to pass more regularly and take shots down field on a consistent basis. Also that maybe they should rotate their receivers less and stick with their top guys more.
- RBs, QB & OL are downhill guys, too much outside run
Arkansas is trying to run around the end too much. They need to go north and south (to the endzones), not east and west (to the sidelines).
- KJ, 245 lb dual threat, need more QB+ runs, it’s your identity
KJ Jefferson needs planned runs that utilize his best traits. Run your offense around what Jefferson does best. Don’t just try to fit him into your system.
All of these are valid points, but Stoerner couldn’t cover everything that ails the Hogs in a single tweet. After rewatching game tape, I found some more issues for the Razorbacks…
The offensive line has struggled with cohesion this year. In the fourth-and-1 play against BYU, two players blocked the same man, leaving another lineman with the Herculean task of trying to block someone catty-corner to him. In other running plays, the Razorbacks missed blocks or missed their assignment altogether.
In the last two games, I have tracked 18 missed blocks or assignments between all offensive players. This does not count when a lineman fails to get to the second level (linebackers or safeties) or when it’s unclear who missed the block. The surprise is that Beaux Limmer, the Razorbacks’ fifth-year center, leads the team with five of these. He seems to still be adjusting to his new position. Beyond that, right guard Joshua Braun and left tackle Andrew Chamblee both have three over the past two games.
In addition to the missed blocks, Arkansas is running into a lot of crowded boxes. As long as the defense has at least one more defender than Arkansas’ blockers, the Razorbacks struggle to run the ball. On the fourth-and-1 play against BYU, there was an extra safety that went unblocked. That safety assisted on the tackle in the backfield.
On stacked box plays, the Razorbacks average about 1.3 less yards per carry than against a box where there are the same number of blockers as defenders. The majority of those plays are stopped by that extra man. In fact, nine runs against BYU gained three yards or less when this was the case.
The exception to this was AJ Green’s 55-yard scamper on Arkansas’ first possession of the game. On that play, the extra defender was on the opposite side of the field. However, if you remove that run, Arkansas averaged a measly 3.6 yards per carry against stacked boxes. With the 55-yard run, that average goes to 6 yards per carry and overall that was an improvement from the Kent State game in which it ran for 3.5 yards in the same scenario.
Overall, the run game seems to be improving and that is encouraging. The run game could improve even more, though, if the Razorbacks stopped running into loaded boxes.
For the first time this season, Arkansas struggled to protect KJ Jefferson in the pocket. I counted 10 times in the BYU game where Jefferson was hurried or sacked in the pocket due to an offensive line issue. It should be noted, though, that most of those came late — seven in the last 18 minutes of the game. That means for most of the first three quarters, BYU only hurried Jefferson three times, which is encouraging.
The linemen who were beaten the most were the tackles – Patrick Kutas on the right and Andrew Chamblee on theleft. Both failed to adequately block their man three times. Then after Brady Latham moved from left guard to left tackle, he also lost his block twice. The only other missed block was by running back Rashod Dubinion.
Pittman stated that they would be chipping with tight ends and having their running backs help their young tackles. This will be critical in the coming games because six of Arkansas’ SEC opponents have higher Pro Football Focus pass rush grades than BYU, with LSU, the next opponent, having the highest grade of them all. It will help, too, when Devon Manuel is fully healthy, as he seems to be the better pass blocking option at left tackle.
Arkansas Football’s Defense
The defense has received mostly good reviews based on the idea that between the turnovers and some bad special teams plays, they were often playing on a short field. Others worry, though, because the Razorbacks still gave up 38 points.
One metric that can measure defensive efficiency without having to consider field position is yards per play, or the average yards gained per play by the opposing team. Arkansas gave up 4.9 yards per play against BYU. That is a higher average than both the Kent State and Western Carolina games, but not significantly so. For comparison, if BYU’s yards per play were 4.9 on the season, that would rank 84th nationally, which is fairly poor.
Some Arkansas football fans have freaked out over losing to a team that wasn’t even a Power 5 team one year ago, but BYU was impressive. The Cougars upgraded at many positions from last year and their offensive game plan was smart and does bring up a point of concern.
BYU mostly had success on misdirection plays designed to take advantage of an overly aggressive defense, for which Arkansas defensive coordinator Travis Williams is known. Against BYU, Arkansas often over-pursued and gave up well-schemed counter plays.
This could be a strategy for teams going forward and it was a bit worrisome to hear Landon Jackson say this after the game.
“We weren’t really attacking them as much as we should have,” Jackson said. “We were kind of sitting back waiting for something to happen and instead of going to make plays.”
Yet it appeared Arkansas was actually too aggressive. Instead of waiting to see what developed, they went all out based on their first read and too often got burned.
Penalties and Special Teams
Many are concerned about the number of penalties and rightfully so. Arkansas committed 14 against BYU, but it should be noted that five of those came with seven minutes left in the game. Not that they don’t count, but statistically this was an anomaly.
Arkansas, up to that point in the season, averaged one penalty approximately every nine minutes of game time. In that last period, they averaged one penalty every minute and 20 seconds. Pittman’s teams have averaged just seven penalties a game over his time here and it is likely that trend will come back to the norm.
A few fans are done with punter Max Fletcher, but please wait to make that judgment. Yes, Fletcher did have two poor punts that set BYU up with good field position, but the rest of his punts were very good. Through this many punts last year, Fletcher was averaging 36.9 yards per punt. This year, even with the two shanks, he has a 44.1-yard average, which ranks 25th in the country. Additionally, it’s important to remember that this is only Fletcher’s second year of ever playing football.
Coaching for Arkansas Football
Justifiably, there has been a lot of criticism about why the Razorbacks didn’t just use an under-center QB sneak on their fourth-and-1 play against BYU. Pittman said after the game that they didn’t want to sneak against a “Bear” front, which features five defensive linemen, and revealed on Monday that KJ Jefferson was a little banged up. That gives the call some excuse, but it’s hard not to yearn for the days when Bobby Petrino saw a similar setup and called a deep play-action pass for a Razorback touchdown.
This wasn’t the only questionable play call on the day or in the past three weeks. The Razorbacks failed on a fourth-down play in their own territory against Kent State. Later, with 34 seconds left in the BYU game and facing a third-and-18, Arkansas ran a play-action pass. To this point, Arkansas’ play calling has been less than stellar.
Finally, I noticed Jefferson does not seem to be calling audibles…like, ever. The closest it has come was on the fourth-and-1 play when Arkansas clearly checked BYU’s look before going ahead with their play call. Still, Jefferson did not call this play and, unless they’re using hidden hand signals, I have not seen him make any audibles.
When Enos first came back to Arkansas, we thought that Jefferson would not only be learning a new offense, but developing as a pro-style quarterback in a pro-style offense who can change plays at the line. That hasn’t been the case so far.
Right now, it appears the Razorbacks are handcuffing their quarterback, not allowing him to make adjustments on the line based on what he’s seeing. Over the past two games, Arkansas has had multiple plays where the defense was clearly outnumbering them and was set up against the run, but instead of audibling to a pass, Arkansas snapped the ball and ran right at them.
It is baffling, to say the least. This is a major detriment to the offense and part of the reason many have thought the offense is too vanilla. Pig Trail Nation’s longtime sportscaster, Mike Irwin, put it this way: “ I’m just mystified by the play calling… What we’re seeing is run on first down, run on second down, ope we gotta throw on third-and-8. That’s just not the offense I envisioned over the spring and summer.”
Maybe Jefferson doesn’t know the plays well enough or maybe audibles are no longer a part of a Dan Enos offense, but for the Razorbacks’ to win at LSU, this likely needs to change. Being unable to change calls at the line takes away an essential way to counter defenses. This is something that Jefferson will have to do at the NFL level anyway, and exercising that muscle sooner than later should increase the Hogs’ chances to steal a couple upset wins in the heart of their conference schedule.
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