In the closing minutes of Arkansas’ loss at LSU on Saturday, Sam Pittman was stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard place.
With the score tied, the Tigers were well within range for a game-winning field goal and, with the Razorbacks out of timeouts, they could run the clock almost all the way down before kicking it.
The fourth-year coach could have instructed his defense to allow LSU to score on purpose, as suggested on the ESPN broadcast and by countless fans watching from home, but he was worried Brian Kelly might instruct his players not to go into the end zone.
That left him with the option of going all out to force a fumble or block the chip-shot field goal, which had a low chance of success — and ultimately didn’t work, as Arkansas lost 34-31.
If Pittman had a couple of timeouts at his disposal, he might have been able to give KJ Jefferson and his offense about a minute or so to respond. Considering its success in the second half and with a kicker capable of booting 60-yarders, it’s not inconceivable that the Razorbacks could have tied it.
Instead, he had burned his final timeout just eight seconds into the fourth quarter. Pittman recognizes the issue with that and said it’ll be a focus at practice this week leading up to what has also traditionally been a tight series against Texas A&M at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
“We’ve got to get lined up faster, we’ve got to get set faster, we’ve got to get the call in faster,” Pittman said. “I mean, we have to, because I didn’t have any left. We didn’t have chance (at the end).”
Arkansas Football Timeouts vs. LSU
Looking back at the Razorbacks’ three second-half timeouts against LSU, the first one was the most excusable.
The offense lined up to go for it on fourth-and-2 at the 19 before calling it with 8:06 left in the third quarter. That was a big decision and it seemed like Sam Pittman changed his mind because he sent the field goal unit out when play resumed.
However, Arkansas sprung a fake on the Tigers and it worked to perfection, with punter/holder Max Fletcher running for a first down. The timeout worked in the Razorbacks’ favor because LSU likely spent the time focused on a defensive call to stop a fourth-down play rather than discussing the possibility of a fake.
Not including the field goal Cam Little ended up kicking anyway, Arkansas ran just eight total plays before burning its final two timeouts.
The second came with 6:07 left in the third quarter after KJ Jefferson was sacked to bring up a third-and-16 and the last one came with 14:52 remaining in the game after an incomplete pass that brought up second-and-20.
On both occasions, Jefferson signaled for the timeout just before the play clock expired. Pittman said there are certain situations in which he’ll tell his quarterback not to use one, but he generally has a lot of freedom to call timeout.
“We tell him that if there’s no way he can get the play ran, he has the opportunity to call timeout,” Pittman said. “I’ll be honest with you, I don’t know if he can or not. I don’t know whether he’s going to clap or not, he’s the only one that knows the clock and if he can get it off.”
On the Razorbacks’ next drive, they actually had to take a delay of game penalty on second-and-13 in the red zone because they didn’t have any timeouts.
After the game, Pittman indicated one reason for those issues was that they were substituting players late and, by rule, the defense also had a chance to substitute.
There was also a problem with getting the plays called in a timely manner, which is what Pittman said Arkansas would focus on during Monday’s practice.
“We’re not going to have music the first part of practice,” Pittman said. “We’re just going to have it during two-minute (drill) today so we can really coach the urgency of (it). … We’re just going to try to emphasize the speed of getting our plays in and getting them called and getting them run.”
Dealing with Penalties
Time management was only part of the problem for Arkansas football on Saturday.
For a second straight week, the Razorbacks racked up double-digit penalties. They weren’t as costly as they were against BYU because, for the most part, they managed to overcome them.
However, a false start on third-and-goal from the 1 led to a field goal instead of a touchdown and jumping offsides on third-and-5 gave LSU a fresh set of downs in the red zone on a drive that ended with a touchdown instead of a field goal — a potential swing of eight points in a game Arkansas lost by three.
In all, the Razorbacks drew 11 penalties for 69 yards. That was actually an improvement from the previous week, when they were flagged 14 times for 125 yards.
“Obviously whatever we did last week to address it didn’t work,” Pittman said. “All I know is that you have to have a ball in everything you do on the D-line. You have to move all the time on the O-line and you have to move with noise.”
Pittman said Monday’s focus on getting plays in quicker to help with time management would also help with the focus on pre-snap penalties, but crowd noise will enter the mix again beginning Tuesday, which is particularly important when playing away from home.
“Throughout the week you just overemphasize movement, move calls and those things,” Pittman said. “(You) try to simulate as much as you possibly can, but obviously, what we did didn’t work so we are going to try and do something a little bit different.”
Aside from mixing up when he will and won’t deploy crowd noise in practice, it’s unclear exactly what changes he’ll make to remedy the penalty issue, but it’s one that has plagued his entire tenure.
Through four weeks this season, the Razorbacks are averaging 9.0 penalties and 78.5 penalty yards per game. Those marks rank 128th and 127th, respectively, out of 133 FBS teams. They have ranked 80th or worse in penalties the previous three seasons under Pittman, too.
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