Reasons Behind Arkansas’ Collapse Include Crumbling Edge, Shanked Punts, Whiffed RB Block

AJ Green, Arkansas football, Arkansas vs BYU
photo credit: Arkansas Athletics

FAYETTEVILLE — The miscues were aplenty in the rematch of Arkansas vs BYU and ultimately cost the Razorbacks the game Saturday night.

With a chance to sweep a home-and-home series for the first time in modern program history and move to 3-0 for a third straight year for the first time since the Lou Holtz era, Arkansas repeatedly shot itself in the foot in a 38-31 loss to the Cougars at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

“I want to give BYU credit,” head coach Sam Pittman said. “They played a good football game. We’ve got a lot of things to clean up.”

That they do.

There were turnovers. There were third-and-long conversions by BYU. There were head-scratching calls. There were uncharacteristic misfires on special teams. And there were penalties — a LOT of penalties.

It’s quite a bit to unpack, so bear with us…

Penalties Galore on Arkansas Football

When a team commits 14 penalties, it’s hard to start anywhere else than right there. It was the most flags the Razorbacks have drawn since 2011 and their 125 penalty yards were their most since the year before that.

As bad as that is on its own, the penalties were even worse when put into context. Including the yards Arkansas gained that were wiped out by the flags, they actually cost it 165 yards.

Half of the penalties were on the Razorbacks’ offensive line, with three holding calls, three false starts and one illegal touching on the final play of the game.

The holding penalties really flared up on Arkansas’ final drive, as it was backed up twice for that violation and had a third declined. The first of those hurt the most because it wiped out a 15-yard scramble by KJ Jefferson that would have set the Razorbacks up in the red zone.

“We just weren’t moving our feet,” Pittman said. “We were getting on edge. They bulled us a lot of the game. Then when you set for the bull, sometimes you’re susceptible to the inside move and that’s what happened. We were holding.”

It was also discouraging that Arkansas’ worst offender was its fifth-year senior, team captain and preseason All-SEC selection, Brady Latham.

He committed the last of those holding penalties and had another earlier in the game that wiped out a first-down run by Dominique Johnson. Latham also had a pair of false starts — one that prevented Arkansas from going for it on fourth-and-1 and one on the final drive.

“He’s won a lot of games here and been a great player for us,” Pittman said. “He’ll bounce back. He wasn’t the reason we lost the game tonight. He’ll be fine.”

A trio of penalties also likely cost the Razorbacks as many as 10 points.

One of them was Antonio Grier’s roughing the passer that resulted in 3 points for BYU, as Arkansas stopped the Cougars on their fresh set of downs only for them to boot a 43-yard field goal.

The other two were maybe the most controversial flags that went against the Razorbacks.

During their stretch of five straight punts in the first half, tight end Luke Hasz was penalized for offensive pass interference on an 8-yard completion that would have set up a 51- or 52-yard field goal attempt that Cam Little may or may not have made.

Just before halftime, Arkansas recovered a fumble at the BYU 29 and seemed to be in great position to score a go-ahead touchdown, but an unsportsmanlike penalty moved it back 15 yards. The Razorbacks stalled out at the 8-yard line and ultimately had to settle for a field goal rather than punching it into the end zone — 3 instead of 7 points.

It was unclear what exactly happened for Arkansas to get that penalty, but Pittman said afterward that the officials told him some of his players were “trying to go into the stands” during the celebration.

All of the flags, especially those on offense, made it difficult for the Razorbacks to get into a rhythm.

“It was tough for our offense because once we were getting momentum and getting our tempo and playing fast like we usually do, then a penalty would stop our momentum and we’d have to slow everything down just to get set back up and move the ball back,” running back AJ Green said. “That just kills our momentum.”

More Poor Offensive Line Play

Much was written about Arkansas’ offensive line and its struggles in the run game in wins over Western Carolina and Kent State, but it had at least done a decent job of protecting the quarterback.

Against BYU, though, KJ Jefferson was constantly under duress. He was sacked four times and pressured on several other plays.

More times than not, the Cougars generated that pressure off the edge against Arkansas’ two second-year tackles – redshirt freshman left tackle Andrew Chamblee, who has been thrust into a starting role because of a lingering injury to redshirt sophomore Devon Manuel, and sophomore right tackle Patrick Kutas.

“There wasn’t any blitzes we weren’t ready for,” Pittman said. “It wasn’t a blitz-fest. They pounded gaps when we were trying to run the football. They just whipped us. That’s what happened on the edge.

“We started chipping them and all those things. Going into the game we didn’t really feel like we’d need to chip out there, but they proved that they were longer, stronger than what we anticipated on watching film-wise. They got after us.”

Pittman credited BYU for having good players, but also added that a couple of the linemen are dealing with hand injuries that require them to play in a cast, which makes it hard to get a feel for things in the trenches.

Giving up pressure off the edge is an issue that has plagued the Razorbacks dating back to the spring, though. Despite that, Pittman is confident they’ll get it figured out this season.

“I’m not overly panicked,” Pittman said. “We’re just going to have to chip. We’re going to have to have some help. We have to have some tight ends help, especially when we play teams like BYU.”

Fourth-Down Decisions

Even with everything that went wrong in the first half, Arkansas football still found itself with a 31-21 lead midway through the third quarter.

It had the ball with a chance to extend that lead, but came up a yard short of the line to gain near midfield. Instead of punting it away, Sam Pittman decided to go for it – something ESPN analyst Rod Gilmore said was a “bad, bad decision.”

KJ Jefferson lined up in shotgun and handed it off to Rashod Dubinion, who was stuffed for no gain and a turnover on downs.

After initially getting upset about a reporter asking why Jefferson – a 6-foot-3, 247-pound quarterback – didn’t just line up under center, Pittman eventually said they were wary of that because BYU utilized a “bear” front with five defensive linemen in those situations.

“We were very, very concerned about running the sneak because they were jumping into Bear,” Pittman said. “They had the guards and the center. It’s easy to say that you’ve got a big quarterback and you can go get a first down, but they’re in Bear and plugging A gaps, so they basically have five guys in there to your three.”

Whether or not that was the turning point of the game is up for debate if you ask the players, but BYU used the short field to kick a field goal and outscored the Razorbacks 17-0 from that point on.

“I mean, it was a good thing for them, but I didn’t really feel the momentum shift at that moment because I felt like we were still playing super hard as a team,” running back AJ Green said. “As soon as we lost the next drive from more mistakes, then they went off and scored, then that’s when I felt the momentum change.”

Regardless of when BYU got momentum going its way, defensive end and team captain Landon Jackson said it was the defense’s job to get it back and that never happened.

“When they get momentum, we have to kill it,” Jackson said. “That’s what our defensive coaches stress to us. There are going to be ups and downs of the game, and whenever they’re up, we have to bring them right back down.”

First Turnovers by Arkansas Football

After two turnover-free games, Arkansas gave the ball away twice Saturday night – and both proved costly.

KJ Jefferson’s first interception of the season snapped a streak of 72 consecutive pass attempts without one and came when he was pressured and threw the ball right to linebacker Max Tooley, who returned it 24 yards to the 20.

One play later, BYU was in the end zone for a game-tying touchdown late in the third quarter.

The other turnover came on a strip-sack of Jefferson on Arkansas’ penultimate drive. Running back Rashod Dubinion whiffed on a block of Eddie Heckard, who was coming on a blitz from his nickel position and got a free shot at Jefferson’s blindside.

“We had two turnovers and we hadn’t had any all year,” PIttman said. “That’s credit to BYU. They were knocking it out. They were in passing lanes and all those kind of things, but that’s two more turnovers than we’d had all year.”

Third-Down Conversions by BYU

BYU converted only 4 of 13 third-down attempts, which – at 30.8% – is a pretty good rate for Arkansas’ defense, but two of them were on what proved to be the game-winning drive.

With a chance to force their sixth three-and-out of the game, the Razorbacks allowed Kedon Slovis to dump it off to wide receiver Parker Kingston well short of the sticks, only for Lorando Johnson to miss an open-field tackle. He got 12 yards on third-and-10 to keep the possession alive.

“We’ve got to do a better job of assignment football over there,” Pittman said. “Again, they played hard. They tackled for the most part. BYU made us miss in open space a couple of times on big third downs, so we’ve got to improve there.”

On the next set of downs, Arkansas got BYU in a third-and-8 situation. Slovis dropped back to pass the ball, but took off up the middle when a hole opened up in front of him. Landon Jackson was seemingly in position to make the stop, but a wide receiver on a crossing pattern turned and blocked him just enough for the quarterback to convert.

“I put that on the D-line,” Jackson said. “We’ve got to get to the quarterback. We ran one call where I thought we were going to get to him, but we didn’t. Another one of the plays is on me. I was a spy player and I let him get a little too much. So our defensive line has to capitalize on those third-down situations.”

Special Teams Misfires in Arkansas vs BYU

Isaiah Sategna scored on an 88-yard punt return, but special teams were an overall net negative for the Razorbacks against BYU.

It started with back-to-back shanked punts in the first quarter by Max Fletcher, who has been one of Arkansas’ most improved players through the first two weeks.

Including his 54-yard bomb to start the game, the Australia native averaged an impressive 48.1 yards on his first nine punts of the season. His second punt Saturday went just 28 yards before going out of bounds and he followed it up with an even worse 10-yarder.

The defense bailed him out after the first one, forcing a three-and-out, but couldn’t do it again. Given great field position, BYU needed just one play to run 45 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 14-14.

Fletcher bounced back with punts of 49, 52 and 46 yards, giving him a 48.3-yard average on his 12 non-shanks this season, but the damage was already done.

Early in the fourth quarter, the usually dependable Cam Little missed a 49-yard field goal that would have given the Razorbacks the lead, doinking it off the right upright. Prior to that miss, he had made 82.9% of his career field goals, making him the most accurate kicker in school history.

That gave BYU the ball at its own 31 for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown drive.

It didn’t end up hurting them on the scoreboard immediately, but the Razorbacks’ kickoff coverage unit also gave up a 46-yard return to Parker Kingston in the first quarter.

While the defense responded with a three-and-out, the Cougars’ punt pinned Arkansas at the 3. Even with Fletcher’s 54-yard punt, they still started near midfield on the ensuing drive and scored their first touchdown of the day.


Arkansas football defenders Chris “Pooh” Paul Jr. and Landon Jackson answer questions after the loss to BYU:


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