Arkansas has struggled to move the football in two straight games, combining to score only 17 points in losses to Florida and South Carolina.
But for all the problems, one fact held true in the losses. The Razorbacks enjoyed early success, putting together touchdown drives to take the lead in both games.
It included the opening drive against the Gamecocks, when Arkansas marched 64 yards on 7 plays to score first in the 52-7 loss. The impressive drive included three consecutive plays of 16 yards or more, including a 20-yard completion from quarterback Brandon Allen to receiver Javontee Herndon on third down.
“The first drive was awesome,” Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said Sunday. “We couldn’t have drawn it up any better. …
“From that point on, it didn’t get a heck of a lot better for us throughout the day. They got after us pretty good and we couldn’t make anything happen.”
The Razorbacks’ momentum ended quickly. Arkansas went three-plays-and-out on its next four possessions. The fifth ended after four plays with a botched fake punt.
Arkansas had managed 31 yards on its final 17 plays and trailed 24-7 at halftime.
“It’s really hard to pinpoint just one certain thing,” Allen said about the errors after the opening drive. “I think, offensively, we had a lot of miscues. We had a few big runs turn into fumbles at the end, and the interception … Just a few things that kind of hurt your offense and give you no momentum.”
It has been par for the course for Arkansas’ offense much of the season.
Arkansas has outscored opponents 59-34 in the first quarter, which has helped it take early leads in six of seven games. But the Razorbacks haven’t been able to maintain the success in being outscored 159-104 over the final three quarters.
Starting strong at Alabama will remain key for Arkansas’ upset hopes. But maintaining that success has been an even bigger emphasis for the Razorbacks.
“You just have got to keep teaching the method and teaching it over and over again and hopefully it will sink in and the kids will grasp it,” Chaney said. “Those things usually happen when you have success. It’s easier to accept adversity and overcome it when you go have success and we just have to keep fighting to find those details to find that success.”
3. Tough Defense
Alabama’s defense was gashed by Texas A&M earlier this season, surrendering 42 points and 628 yards in a high-scoring road win. But the Crimson Tide has been very stingy since then, turning in dominant performances the past four games.
Colorado State, Georgia State, Ole Miss and Kentucky combined to score 16 combined points and Alabama only allowed one touchdown during the four-game stretch. Even more impressive: no opponent has scored a touchdown against Alabama during its three games in Bryant-Denny Stadium this season.
But Chaney said Arkansas — which was shut out by Alabama last season — is eager for the challenge Saturday.
“We’re going to go down there, compete our butts off and hopefully move the ball and score enough to win,” Chaney said. “That’s our job, that’s our goal and that’s our mission. And we’re excited about those opportunities to get a chance to do it.
“They’re a good football team. There’s no question about it. We’ve demonstrated at times we could be a pretty good football team. So we’re excited about the challenge.”
3. Positive Thoughts
Losing four straight games wasn’t something Arkansas center Travis Swanson envisioned for his senior season. But Swanson said he and the rest of the senior class have maintained a good attitude throughout the disappointing slide.
“That’s the only thing that you can do,” Swanson said. “Our games are winding down and I don’t want to look back on this 20 years from now and the first thought I have is negative. Obviously, we want things to go differently than they have. But the only thing you can do is just be positive and work towards getting the win.”
Swanson started for Arkansas teams that went 21-5 over a two-year stretch in 2010 and 2011. The Razorbacks have gone 7-12 since and
“I think something just has to get changed and we’re still kind of working on it,” Swanson said about the recent struggles.
4. Henry Added To Mackey
Arkansas tight end Hunter Henry was added to the John Mackey Award midseason watch list Wednesday. The freshman is one of 29 tight ends on the list for the award, which former Razorback D.J. Williams won in 2010.
Henry ranks second on the team in receiving with 14 passes for 276 yards with a touchdown in seven games.
“It’s definitely an honor,” Henry said about being included on the Mackey Award list. “I’ve got to give credit to everyone here because they’ve done a lot for more. My teammates, without them on the field I wouldn’t be able to do anything. Definitely just have to keep working. We’ve got a lot of games left in the season.”