1. Turnover Danger
Mississippi State forced Alabama into a season-high four turnovers last Saturday. But Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said the Bulldogs’ success hasn’t really created any extra concern to the Razorbacks.
That’s because turning the ball over has been one of their biggest issues throughout the year.
“It’s been our Achilles’ heel all season,” Chaney said Tuesday. “So, you know, regardless of what took place at the Alabama game this past week for Mississippi State it’s been our issue all year long. So we preached it hard all last week. We did again today. We’ll continue to do so throughout the week.”
Arkansas has turned the ball over 18 times, which is tied with Florida and Texas A&M for 11th among Southeastern Conference teams. The sloppy play – combined with the Razorbacks’ struggles to force turnovers – has Arkansas ranked 106th in the nation in turnover margin (minus-8).
Arkansas’ turnover total includes quarterback Brandon Allen’s eight interceptions in nine starts. The sophomore threw a costly one in the fourth quarter at Ole Miss, throwing a pass that was intercepted in the end zone.
The Razorbacks trailed 34-17 at the time and had driven to the Ole Miss 35.
“Obviously we’ve got to be great with ball security,” Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said Monday. “I don’t think we can just let the ball go out of our hands. That play on the wheel route with Alex in the corner of the end zone the other day, that was a big play. I know he wishes he could have that one back.”
Chaney said he has seen improvement from Allen in practice this week.
“I feel like (Tuesday) there was a couple opportunities where Brandon could’ve thrown it up and he didn’t,” Chaney said. “He threw it away and he checked the ball down a couple times good. So I saw some things today that gave me some hope maybe we’re getting a little more conscious of that ball security. We’ve still got to go do it on Saturday and we’re looking forward to the opportunity.”
2. Williams Most Improved?
Arkansas believes there has been plenty of growth from its young players this season. But Bielema said running back Jonathan Williams may be the program’s most improved since the start of the season.
“He has taken an understanding of what we expect on certain plays,” Bielema said. “His practice habits. His composure. His ability … that him and Alex (Collins) have a relationship, I think is a big, big deal. He’s made some incredible football plays.”
Williams ranks second on the team in rushing with 783 yards and four touchdowns. He also has caught 6 passes for 72 yards and two more scores. Williams has even thrown three passes, completing one for a 21-yard touchdown at Rutgers.
But the sophomore said last week he’s not done improving as a durable ball carrier.
“You can always do better,” Williams said. “I set a high standard for myself and no matter how well I do during the season I always feel I could do better.
3. Love For Little Rock
Bielema raised some eyebrows when he said Arkansas needed to treat its games in Little Rock like road trips because of the lengthy bus ride earlier this season. But Bielema made it clear Monday he doesn’t have any issues with bringing his team to Central Arkansas after the first experience in September.
“I don’t have issues,” Bielema said when asked about his issues with the trip. “Now … you’re putting words in my mouth. I bet you, I’ve never … You can’t get a recording of me saying I have issues with Little Rock.”
Bielema went on to say he was blown away by the crowd for the Samford game.
“We went to an early-morning workout, or an early-morning walk-through, and I was informed they started rolling in about 5:30 a.m.,” Bielema said. “That was very impressive. Anybody that can get their groove on at that time deserves some kudos.
“We’ll have an 11 a.m. kickoff (Saturday), so it’ll be interesting to see how it changes … I don’t think it’ll change that much. They’re very passionate about their Hogs and I’m excited for us to get over there and play in an SEC environment. Hopefully they treat Mississippi State as good as anybody.”
4. ‘Heavy’ Unit
Chaney has used plenty of interesting terms and phrases to answer questions throughout the season. He pulled out another one when asked for his thoughts on Mississippi State’s defense Tuesday night: Heavy.
“Very heavy up front,” Chaney said. “The kids up front play hard. They knock people around. The secondary is very sound. I think they’re a very good defense. I think they don’t make mistakes. The linebackers have good length and make a lot of plays. The secondary is always where they need to be. They’re good tacklers. I think they’re a formidable foe. They’re going to create some challenges for us. Sometimes you know where they’re at, but they’re still hard to block. They’re heavy.”
— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau