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Four Downs: Turnover Trouble Plaguing Arkansas


1. Turnover Trouble

Arkansas was hoping its bye week would help end the turnover troubles it had endured during the five-game losing streak. But the problems on both sides of the ball continued against Auburn last Saturday.

The Razorbacks turned the ball over three times and didn’t force Auburn into a mistake during the 35-17 loss. It dropped Arkansas to minus-9 in turnover margin, which includes a minus-12 mark in Southeastern Conference play. The Razorbacks are last in the conference in both categories.

Fumbles and interceptions have been obvious problems for an offense that has struggled to score points the past several weeks. Backup quarterback A.J. Derby threw an interception in the red zone to end a promising opening drive and also fumbled a snap a little later, which the Tigers turned into points in the first quarter.

It was the third straight game Arkansas has turned the ball over three times.

“One part we’ve kind of preached since we’ve been here is ball security,” Bielema said Wednesday. “Obviously we’re not doing a good enough job of getting that across. It’s happened in a variety of different ways. I know two, maybe three have been on special teams, the rest have come through the air or obviously a fumble.”

But Arkansas has been disappointed with its effort on defense as well.

The Razorbacks have forced one turnover in their five conference games. It came in the first half of the South Carolina loss, when quarterback Connor Shaw and running back Mike Davis botched a hand off. Defensive end Deatrich Wise fell on the football.

“Well, obviously you create your own turnovers,” Bielema said about Arkansas’ struggles to force turnovers. “There’s a certain amount of truth to that. But by the same account, sometimes that ball’s got to bounce your way.”

It didn’t happen against the Tigers even though the Razorbacks had a perfect opportunity at a critical point in the game. Arkansas trailed 28-17 when Auburn quarterback Nick Marshall fumbled the ball at the end of a long run.

The Razorbacks had players around the ball, but no one could fall on it. Marshall recovered the fumble and the Tigers scored a few plays later to take a 35-17 lead.

“We had three guys around it, and we didn’t get it,” Arkansas defensive coordinator Chris Ash said about the turnover trouble. “We emphasize it every day in practice and in the meetings that takeaways are very important, they’re game-changers. And we’re not getting them right now.”

2. Turner, Peters Still With Program

Speculation has been swirling about the future for linebackers A.J. Turner and Otha Peters, who haven’t been able to build off their 2012 performances this season.

“We expect to have everybody that’s on our roster now back with us”,” Bielema said when asked about them on the SEC Teleconference. “I think during the offseason there will always be transition, but don’t really know how that’s going to go.”

Peters factored into Arkansas’ rotation at linebacker until he suffered a broken arm in camp. He missed three games, but hasn’t played a big role since returning. Peters is listed as Arkansas’ second-team weak side linebacker and has nine tackles.

Bielema said earlier this week consistency had been an issue for Peters.

“He came back earlier than they kind of expected and just played a little bit for us,” Bielema added Wednesday morning. “Unfortunately hasn’t been able to — I think — fully maximize as a healthy linebacker.”

Turner has missed the entire season because of a wrist injury he initially sustained during spring practice. He underwent surgery on the wrist earlier this fall and Bielema said Arkansas had no plans for him to play this season.

But Bielema hinted that Turner’s future is in question on his weekly radio show.

“A.J. I don’t know about,” Turner said. “We’ll wait and see on him.”

3. His Opinion

Former Auburn coach Pat Dye said Arkansas coach Bret Bielema needs to “keep his mouth shut” during a speaking engagement in Knoxville Quarterback Club earlier this week. Bielema was asked about those comments Wednesday morning.

“I think the one thing I’ve learned as a head coach, as you have success and as you go through failure, you just worry about your job and what you’re doing,” Bielema said on the SEC Teleconference. “Everybody is entitled to an opinion. I have a few opinions but I’ll keep those to myself.”

Bielema wasn’t the only one in Dye’s line of fire during the speaking engagement in Knoxville. Dye also pointed to Auburn’s 2012 quarterbacks, calling them “cowards” for their disappointing efforts during a 3-9 season. One of them was Arkansas native Kiehl Frazier, who is now playing receiver.

First-year Auburn coach Gus Malzahn, who recruited the quarterbacks when he was an assistant with the Tigers from 2009-11, stood up for them Tuesday.

“Of course I recruited all the quarterbacks here and they’re nothing but champions,” Malzahn said, according to AL.com. “I’m proud of the guys.”

4. Extra Points

Bielema said on his weekly radio show that Malzahn called Tuesday. Bielema said it was a “very positive conversation” between the coaches, who have been pitted as rivals since July after speaking out about their philosophical differences. Bielema fanned the flames of the rivalry last Monday by revealing a discrepancy in the game film Auburn provided to Arkansas as well. “I think a lot of the things that have been said about he and I, a lot of it has been perfect storm for the media to say some things and I get it,” Bielema said Wednesday. … Bielema said center Travis Swanson and defensive end Chris Smith have received invitations to participate in the 2014 Senior Bowl in Mobile, Ala. Senior Bowl week, which is one of the premiere events leading up to the NFL Draft, will be held from Jan. 20-25.

— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau