FAYETTEVILLE — Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney couldn’t find much fault with Arkansas’ 165-yard rushing performance in its loss at Alabama on Oct. 19.
It was the most the Razorbacks had gained against the Crimson Tide since 2007. Topping the 100-yard rushing mark is one of the keys to beating Alabama under coach Nick Saban, too. So Chaney said last week he would take that type of performance “the rest of his career” because of Alabama’s dominance.
“The problem we’re having is just the out-and-out execution with any aspect of the passing game,” Chaney said. “Just trying to find something to hang our hat on.”
Arkansas has had plenty to dissect and correct over the course of the past two weeks and there’s no doubt its woeful passing attack stands as one of the top priorities as the Razorbacks prepare to play eighth-ranked Auburn on Saturday.
Arkansas — which had one of the nation’s most prolific passing attacks during Bobby Petrino’s tenure — has become one of the nation’s worst. The Razorbacks are 113th in passing offense (146.6 yards a game) and 112th in efficiency (106.39 rating).
They haven’t thrown a touchdown pass in 13 quarters dating back to the 45-33 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 28. The drought stands at 3 hours, 16 minutes and 9 seconds.
Chaney said he refuses to look at the most of the numbers. He doesn’t need them to know Arkansas has struggled in every way the past several weeks, playing a significant role in Arkansas’ offensive struggles the past three games.
“When we get (quarterback Brandon Allen) protected it’s a little soggy, you know?” Chaney said. “When we don’t get him protected it’s more difficult. When we get him all protected and receivers are open he misses them. You know, it’s just one of those things. I’m not saying we’re snake bit because I don’t believe in a lot of that, but I do believe we’ve got to go out and get better at all the details of the passing game.”
So Chaney said Arkansas has examined everything — beginning with his play-calling — in hopes of fixing its efficiency issues against Auburn on Saturday.
The Razorbacks have offered no indication that their offensive philosophy will undergo drastic changes to do so. Arkansas still plans to run and set up the pass. But the mantra for the week has been perfecting the little things in the passing game.
“It’s all about attention to details,” Arkansas receiver Javontee Herndon said. “That’s a big thing we’re stressing in our meeting room with all the wide receivers. Wide receiver depth, route discipline and catching the football.”
Catching the football has been another key after Arkansas receivers have dropped numerous passes during conference play. The Razorbacks know those mistakes — some of which came in critical situations — have to be eliminated.
“The disappointing thing this whole season is that we just haven’t made the plays on a consistent basis,” Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith said about his group. “That’s something I know these kids aren’t doing on purpose, they’re striving to get better, and they’ve just got to keep working at it.”
It’s no secret Allen has been out of sync as well the past three games.
The quarterback is completing just 44.9 percent of his passes and is ranked 107th in the nation in passing efficiency (103.6 rating). He has thrown three touchdown passes with six interceptions during Arkansas’ four conference games. Two of the interceptions have been returned for touchdowns, another set up an easy score.
Allen completed 11 of 37 passes for 121 yards in Arkansas’ losses to South Carolina and Alabama. He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass since the Texas A&M game.
“We’ve been struggling a lot lately,” Allen said. “Whether that’s me changing my read or different things that were going on. … A bunch of little things were going wrong that are easy to fix and they can greatly improve our passing game.”
Arkansas is hoping Allen’s improved health will help as well.
The quarterback was not able to participate in a full week of practice for several weeks after suffering his shoulder injury on Sept. 14. But he’s gotten ample work the past two weeks and believes the extended reps will improve timing.
“That’s one of the biggest things is just being on the same page with my receivers,” Allen said. “And them understanding what I’m seeing and me understanding what they’re seeing. That’s something that it’s been an ongoing process this whole year.
“I think lately the past few games it’s been a little bit off and credit that to a little bit of me not being able to practice a few times earlier and things like that. But now we’re back and we’re trying to get on the same page and they’re doing a lot of good things lately and I’m excited to see what we can get accomplished.”
So is Arkansas coach Bret Bielema, who said last week the passing offense must improve in a “short amount of time” as the Razorbacks battle to keep their bowl hopes alive.
Chaney is confident Arkansas is “coming around” thanks to the extra practices.
“We did some things that we feel more comfortable with that we’re trying to get done and trying to hone up some part of it,” Chaney said Tuesday night. “We’ve been pretty bad at most aspects of it lately and we’re trying to clean up some stuff, simplify some stuff and get back to some basics about throwing and catching and hitting targets and protecting and all those little things that come into it that we’ve been struggling with. We’re working our butts off to get better at it.”