Five Keys Review
1. Rally Around Derby — Not Accomplished
For nearly three quarters Arkansas did the things needed to support a backup quarterback making his first start. The defense may not have been sharp early, but did collect three turnovers, five sacks and scored a touchdown. There were big special teams contributions as well from tackle Dan Skipper’s blocked field goal to Sam Irwin-Hill’s trick play completion. But everything unraveled when it mattered most. Special teams mistakes led to big punt returns. The defense couldn’t stop Rutgers’ passing attack. And the offense couldn’t run the ball to protect the lead.
2. Win Rushing War — Accomplished
Arkansas endured its most difficult day on the ground, finishing with 101 yards on 34 attempts (3.0 yards a carry). The Razorbacks’ biggest gain was a 19-yarder by Alex Collins, who finished with 63 yards on 16 carries. Jonathan Williams could never get on track and had just 25 yards on 12 attempts. But Rutgers only finished with 54 yards (1.5 yards a carry). There were 53 more the Scarlet Knights lost thanks to five Arkansas sacks. Rutgers’ Paul James, who led the NCAA in rushing yards entering the game, finished with 80 on 17 carries.
3. Avoid Turnovers, Penalties — Not Accomplished
Arkansas finished the game with no turnovers, which is vital on the road. But penalties were bigger problems Saturday. The Razorbacks were flagged six times for 66 yards and many of the mistakes came at costly times. The biggest? A personal foul penalty on linebacker Jarrett Lake, who shoved quarterback Gary Nova after he was out of bounds late in the second quarter. Rutgers took advantage of the mistake to score a touchdown, cutting Arkansas’ lead to 10-7 just before the break.
4. Passing Game Success — Not Accomplished
Arkansas appeared to have a good game plan for attacking Rutgers’ defense through the air Saturday and executed a few times. Derby finished 14 of 26 for 137 yards and a touchdown and made a few plays, like the well-thrown ball to tight end Hunter Henry early in the third quarter. The Hogs also reached into their bag of tricks with Williams throwing a touchdown to Henry on a halfback pass later in the quarter. But the execution was lacking at critical times. Derby missed the target on passes and, ultimately, the Razorbacks didn’t have the firepower to come back late.
5. Sound on Special Teams — Not Accomplished
Arkansas played remarkably well on special teams early in the game. Skipper’s blocked field goal kept Rutgers scoreless early. Zach Hocker boomed a 77-yard punt and made a 41-yard field goal. Then there was Irwin-Hill’s completion to long snapper Alan D’Appollonio. But the strong play was wiped away by Janarion Grant’s two big punt returns. The first – a 58-yard touchdown – proved to be the changing point of the game. The second – a 47-yarder – helped set up the game-winning score. It left Arkansas feeling let down by its punt coverage team in the road loss.
• Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney on QB AJ Derby’s first start:
“I thought he managed the game well. He threw the ball OK in some situations. He missed a few throws. But I thought all-in-all AJ wasn’t the issue in the ballgame. I thought we needed to be able to run the football a lot better than what we did.”
• Offensive line coach Sam Pittman on his group’s performance:
“They just whipped us. We’ve got to coach better and we’ve got to play better. They got the best of us, and they were the better team. Their D-line vs. our O-line, they whipped us.”
• Defensive coordinator Chris Ash on the big plays from his defense:
“I really can’t recall I’ve been in one (game) where you’ve got three takeaways, you’ve got a defensive score and five sacks and you hit the quarterback several other times and you don’t come away victorious. That just goes to show you the only stat that matters is the number of points on the board.”
• Defensive line coach Charlie Partridge on how the Hogs are handling the loss:
“I’m encouraged because they’re hurt. I’d have been disappointed if I saw anything else. Very, very quiet. Very solemn. A group that wants to learn what went wrong, what do we have to do to fix it, then get themselves ready to play Texas A&M.”
Players of the Game
Offense – WR Keon Hatcher (4 catches, 45 yards; 2 carries, 19 yards)
The sophomore was finally healthy after dealing with a hamstring injury since preseason camp and was productive on the road. He led the Razorbacks with four catches for 45 yards and also carried the ball twice on end around runs in the second half. His return gives Arkansas another dependable option out wide.
Defense – DT Darius Philon (3 tackles, 2 sacks)
The redshirt freshman was a force in the first half, putting constant pressure on quarterback Gary Nova on numerous occasions. He had a career-high two sacks in the half and added another quarterback hurry. Rutgers figured out how to block Philon in the second half, but his performance was key to the 10-7 halftime lead.
Special Teams – SNP Alan D’Appollonio (1 catch, 24 yards)
Give the deep snapper credit. D’Appollonio and punter Irwin-Hill teamed up for Arkansas’ longest play of the game Saturday. The 24-yard punter-to-snapper play helped set up the Razorbacks’ first score – a 41-yard field goal by Hocker. It also set an early tone for a game Arkansas was in control of until the late collapse.
7 - Arkansas running back Jonathan Williams’ longest rushing play Saturday. The sophomore entered the game averaging a team-best 7.7 yards a carry and had broken a run of 45 yards or more in each game. But the big-play threat was bottled up by the Rutgers defense. Williams averaged 2.1 yards a carry in the road loss.
10 — The Razorbacks’ ranking, among 14 SEC teams, in penalty yards a game (52.5). Bielema said his program will not beat itself with mistakes, but Arkansas is committing costly penalties through four games. Four of the Razorbacks’ six penalties at Rutgers were committed by the defense. Three were personal fouls.
28 — Arkansas’ passing attempts in Saturday’s loss. It was a season high. The previous high came in the opener, when quarterback Brandon Allen threw 23 passes against Louisiana-Lafayette. Three players threw passes Saturday (Quarterback AJ Derby, running back Jonathan Williams and punter Sam Irwin-Hill).
53 — Number usually worn by Arkansas deep snapper Alan D’Appollonio. But D’Appollonio was wearing No. 82 during pregame Saturday and it didn’t take long to find out why. Irwin-Hill completed a pass to D’Appollonio, who snapped the ball and ran a route in the first half. D’Appollonio had to wear No. 82 to be an eligible receiver. Numbers 50 through 79 are deemed ineligible according to NCAA rules.
Arkansas appears to have escaped Piscataway, N.J., without any significant injuries in the loss. But the biggest injury news from the trip — quarterback Brandon Allen’s availability for this week’s SEC opener — remains unclear.
Bielema confirmed Allen “wasn’t anywhere near being able to throw (last) week” and knew Derby had to play for the sophomore to have any chance to return for Saturday’s game against Texas A&M. But even that doesn’t guarantee Allen will be healthy enough after suffering a shoulder injury against Southern Miss.
“I know he was out there, saw him in the locker room just now and I know he’s hurting,” Bielema said after the game. “If he can go, he can go, and if not we’ll continue with AJ’s progress and development and see what we can do.”
A Heisman Trophy winner is coming to Fayetteville for the first time since 2010, when Mark Ingram and Alabama beat Arkansas 24-20. Bielema and the Razorbacks are hoping for a better result this time, though, when No. 10 Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel visit Saturday.
It will be Texas A&M’s first game in Fayetteville since 1990, when the Aggies beat Arkansas 20-16. Texas A&M is coming off a 42-13 win against Southern Methodist and is two weeks removed from its 49-42 loss to Alabama in its SEC opener.
Texas A&M had no trouble with Arkansas last season, pounding the Razorbacks throughout a 58-10 win in College Station, Texas. Manziel broke the SEC record for total offense (557 yards) in throwing for 453 yards and rushing for 104 yards. He accounted for four touchdowns, leading Texas A&M to its first win in an SEC game.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau