Five Keys Review
1. Start Strong
No problem. Arkansas got off to about as good a start as possible when a 24-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Allen to Mitchell Loewen capped a 75-yard opening drive. The defense then forced Samford to punt after three plays and the offense cashed in again, marching 78 yards for another score. The problem: a 14-0 lead didn’t last. Arkansas didn’t reach the end zone again until the fourth quarter, when Samford had rallied back from the early deficit to take a 21-17 lead.
2. Lean on Your Line
Center Travis Swanson said the Razorbacks won the game when they realized “who we are, what we do.” It was hard to argue with him. Arkansas leaned on its offensive line after falling behind late in the third quarter and the results were impressive. The Razorbacks kept the ball on the ground for 28 of its final 32 plays, including a fourth quarter in which Arkansas ran 21 straight times for 163 yards. It helped the Hogs score two touchdowns and 16:34 of the final 20:09 minutes off the clock.
3. Sound on Special Teams
Arkansas had legitimate concerns with Samford return man Fabian Truss, who had a 100-yard kickoff return in the opener. The Razorbacks — thanks largely to kicker Zach Hocker — barely gave Truss a chance to impact Saturday’s game on special teams. Five of Hocker’s kickoffs went into the end zone. There was one special teams blemish Saturday: WR Javontee Herndon’s fumbled punt in the second quarter. The mistake didn’t cost Arkansas points, though. It took a 17-7 lead to the locker room.
4. Turn up the Heat
Samford made things difficult for Arkansas’ pass rush with a quick passing game that got the ball out of quarterback Andy Summerlin’s hands. So Arkansas couldn’t fell short of matching its four-sack performance from the opener. Of course, the Razorbacks did play without injured defensive end Trey Flowers and still managed to get Summerlin twice and hurried him two other times. Defensive tackle Robert Thomas led the way with a career-best 1 ½ sacks, while Chris Smith had ½ sack.
5. Avoid Sloppy Play
Bret Bielema’s team showed plenty of ways to lose a football game Saturday. Two of the most crippling: Six penalties cost Arkansas 65 yards and two turnovers. Two penalties stalled solid drives from the offense. Another – cornerback Tevin Mitchel’s personal foul – led to Samford’s go-ahead score. Herndon’s fumble on a punt return didn’t result in Samford points in the second quarter, but running back Jonathan Williams’ turnover did early in the third. All of the careless mistakes will serve as teaching moments for Bielema and his staff as they prepare for Saturday’s game.
• Defensive coordinator Chris Ash on his overall impressions of the defense:
“When you can end that football game with 230 total yards, they were 3 of 11 on third down, you know, those are pretty good statistics. I wish we didn’t have the 21 points on the board, but we can clean that up and get it taken care of. There were a lot of good things that happened in that game. But we’ve got to take care of the negative things that came up because they will get magnified against a better team.”
• Running backs coach Joel Thomas on Alex Collins’ second half performance:
“It was nice to see him provide that spark plug there in that third quarter, fourth quarter when we kind of just … We were waiting for something to happen. The front did a great job and he was able to hold true to his reads and make a guy miss in the secondary and kind of get the juice going again in that offense. It was good to see.”
• Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney on if he enjoyed calling so many run plays late:
“I like to do what we’ve got to do to be successful. At that time, I felt like that was what we needed to do. So, yeah, if I have to call 30 in a row I don’t have a problem with it. If I have to call 30 passes in a row I don’t have a problem doing that either. Right now, I just feel like it’s in our best interest to head that direction.”
Players of the Game
Offense – RB Alex Collins (24 carries, 172 yards, TD)
The freshman continued his impressive start, leading the Razorbacks in rushing against Samford. He saved his best moments for when it mattered, helping Arkansas rally in the fourth quarter. Collins’ 21-yard run set up the go-ahead touchdown. He had a 55-yarder a little later, which then led to the first touchdown of his career. Collins’ 172 yards was the third highest for a freshman in school history.
Defense – DT Robert Thomas (3 1/2 tackles for losses, 1 ½ sacks)
Arkansas played without Trey Flowers, the SEC’s defensive lineman of the week. But Thomas made sure the group remained strong in his absence, collecting 3 ½ tackles for losses and 1 ½ sacks against Samford. Thomas – who had just 3 ½ sacks entering the game — set career marks in both categories Saturday. His performance was important for a defense that held Samford scoreless in the decisive fourth quarter.
Special Teams – K Zach Hocker (1-for-1 FG, 4-for-4 PAT, 39-yard punt)
Hocker continued to show he’ll be a valuable weapon for the Razorbacks this season, booting a career-best 53-yard field goal in the first half. He was perfect on extra points as well and produced touchbacks on five of his six kickoffs. Hocker’s kickoff work may have been most valuable Saturday, limiting a dangerous return man – Samford’s Fabian Truss – to just one opportunity for 31 yards.
10 — Arkansas defensive end Chris Smith’s rank on the school’s career sacks list after collecting ½ sack against Samford. Smith moved into a tie with former Razorback Randy Garner with 14 ½ sacks. The senior is 11 sacks shy of tying former Hog Wayne Martin’s school record of 25 ½.
11 — Arkansas’ NCAA ranking in rushing yards a game (312.5 yards) after two weeks. The Razorbacks piled up 333 rushing yards against Samford, including 163 in the decisive fourth quarter. Collins (151.5 yards) and Williams (138.5 yards) rank sixth and 12th nationally, respectively, in rushing yards a game.
15 — Arkansas’ NCAA ranking in total defense (252.5 yards allowed a game). The Razorbacks had their share of struggles with Samford, but limited the Bulldogs to 231 total yards. Arkansas has held its first two opponents under 300 yards, which something the Razorbacks only accomplished once in 12 games last season. Kentucky finished with 170 yards in a weather-shortened game last October.
2007 — The last time Arkansas topped the 250-yard rushing mark in back-to-back games. The Razorbacks accomplished the feat against North Texas (446 yards on Sept. 29, 2007) and Chattanooga (257 yards on Oct. 6, 2007). Arkansas topped the 300-yard rushing mark Saturday for the first time since the 2010 season.
DE Trey Flowers (knee) and S Rohan Gaines (knee) did not play against Samford, but Arkansas coach Bret Bielema is optimistic they’ll be back Saturday. Bielema also indicated LB Jarrett Lake would be back after the senior — who Bielema has touted as a defensive leader since preseason camp — was suspended for unspecified reasons before Saturday’s game. Bielema reported no significant injuries during the Samford win and believes the Razorbacks have a chance to be at full strength Saturday if the three missing defensive starters return this week.
Arkansas (2-0) will be back in Razorback Stadium on Saturday facing Southern Miss (0-2) at 11:21 a.m. The game will be televised by the SEC Network.
The Golden Eagles have lost 14 straight games dating back the start of the 2012 season, which finished with a 0-12 record and former coach Ellis Johnson’s dismissal. New coach Todd Monken’s team suffered a 22-15 loss to Texas State in its opener, then followed it with a 56-13 loss at Nebraska last Saturday. The 14-game skid is the longest active streak among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Saturday’s game will be the first meeting between Arkansas and Southern Miss.
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau