State of the Hogs: Top 10 Review (USM)

Arkansas added three key players to the injury list just as it looked like it might have close to a full deck. Brandon Allen's shoulder injury is the primary cause for concern after the 24-3 victory over Southern Mississippi. Here is Clay Henry's commentary and a review of his Top 10 keys from Friday.

Beating Southern Mississippi by three touchdowns would have to rate as an OK day, but only scoring three touchdowns and completing just six passes probably raises as many doubts as there can be for many 3-0 football teams.

Where is Arkansas headed to Rutgers this week? It's beat up and probably a little too conservative to suit many, but the fact is that it looks like it's an improved defense over the team that went 4-8 last year. Not allowing a touchdown -- even to hapless Southern Miss is a bit of an accomplishment.

The fact is, Arkansas now faces its most important game of the young season -- and a game that might determine early how it rates as a possible bowl team -- with a trip to Rutgers. And, will Brandon Allen be able to play. The sophomore quarterback left the game in the first half with what head coach Bret Bielema called a "shoulder bruise." Allen told Bielema he would play this week, but the coach said that remained to be determined. AJ Derby played in his absence and the Hogs didn't have a turnover in that period, but were conservative in their approach.

The good news is that true freshman Alex Collins and sophomore Jonathan Williams continue to roll. They both went over 100 yards for the third straight week. They rank one-two in SEC rushing charts. Collins gained 115 to give him 418 yards. Williams got 116 to up his total to 393.

1, Clean Machine - The Hogs won the turnover battle, 2-1. They had only four penalties for 49 yards so that was cleaner. Two of the issues came on snaps when AJ Derby had trouble with Travis Swanson snaps. That was the big one in 27 lost yardage plays, the most the Hogs have had this season. Derby looked nervous at the outset, perhaps the reason the Hogs didn't call many pass plays. Allen was guilty of throwing one pass up for grabs, the only interception he's thrown this season. It was the least clean looking play of the day. Javontee Herndon avoided disaster when he tried to field a bouncing ruby punt near his goal line. It bounced off his chest and was loose for an instant, but he won the scramble at the bottom of a pile of Golden Eagles.

2, Full Deck - It was one step forward, one step back as far as injuries. Trey Flowers and Jarrett Lake returned to the starting lineup. Flowers had missed a game with a knee injury and played this week. He did make an interception when he dropped into coverage with a zone blitz. But he didn't have a tackle. Chris Smith had three sacks to offset Flowers not producing in pass rush. Safety Rohan Gaines did not play for the second straight week. He's bothered by a sore knee. Keon Hatcher remains sidelined with a hamstring problem. The key is the three new injuries to quarterback Brandon Allen (shoulder bruise), offensive tackle Grady Ollison (ankle) and offensive tackle David Hurd. Of the three, Ollison's seemed the most serious. Allen's injury might cause the most concern because of the conservative way the Hogs played with him on the sideline. Cornerback Jared Collins did not play after going down on the sideline one play after making a tackle. It's believed that his was a head injury, but not believed to be serious. Tight end Austin Tate dressed, but did not play. He underwent surgery in August for a shoulder issue. Linebacker Otha Peters played for the first time since breaking his forearm in August.

3, Run at Will - The will linebacker stepped up for Southern Miss, as did defensive tackle Wil Freeman. So running at will probably wasn't the right way to label the Arkansas offense this day. But the will linebacker did step up for Arkansas. Jarrett Lake, out last week because of suspension, led the team with 13 tackles and made the stop on the fake field goal to thwart Southern Miss when it could have made it a game. Lake had been the top playmaker at will linebacker in camp, but this was his best game. He gave up another pass play on a wheel route, but the coverage was tighter this time than in the opener.

4, Outside Pull - The toss sweep wasn't that big of a play this week. As Travis Swanson said afterwards, there is now plenty of tape on the Hogs. They had to make adjustments on a new look Southern Miss brought to take that play away. The tight ends had to adjust at the point of attack, but they finally did. Travis Swanson, leading the way at center, still got his share of blocks on the outside. And his pulling on inside plays was often instrumental in some nice games, especially in the second half.

5, Balance - That will be one of the big things that is re-hashed this week, can this team achieve balance, especially with Brandon Allen's injury. There was not much balance against Southern Miss. The Hogs still imposed their will, especially in the second half. But with Allen throwing an early interception and AJ Derby coming on for the last three quarters, only 11 passes were thrown on the day. The Hogs passed for just 69 yards. Southern Miss packed the box and made it a battle up front, but the Hogs still put both their nifty young backs over 100 yards and made 258 rushing for the day.

6, Tackles - This is among the most interesting developments of the day. A lot will depend on how serious Grady Ollison's ankle sprain might be, but it is clear that true freshman Denver Kirkland has a bit of an opening. He did some nice things against Southern Miss after Ollison was helped off the field.

7, Small Factor - Kiero Small did some good things blocking. But he wasn't as much a factor as a ball carrier than in the first two weeks. He wasn't effective on the goal line as a Wildcat formation runner, although that formation might have some merit if the offensive line improves. Small had nine carries for 21 yards. His long was a 7-yard run. His 2.3 average is misleading because he's going to face stacked defenses on the goal line or short yardage.

8, Secret Weapon - Sam Irwin-Hill has shown he can be that. This was his best game. He had three punts for a 45.3 average with a long of 49 yards. Zach Hocker was solid, too. Between the two of them, there is some variety and ability in the kicking game. Irwin-Hill can be deadly with his running threat before the rugby punt. It changes the dynamics of your return game because you better protect both flanks, knowing he can go either way with his rugby punting. I'm not sure I've heard of too many ambidextrous punters in college football. There are some that I believe can punt equally well with both feet, but it's badly.

9, Improvement - Defense showed some, but it's hard to gauge much because of the Southern Miss ineptitude as far as offense. In some ways Southern Miss improved, too, so is that a mark against the UA defense which got only two turnovers from an offense that has been better than the state lottery as far as big gifts? The offense probably took a step back because of the change at quarterbacks when Brandon Allen left the game, but maybe that's easy enough to explain. You may not want to do so much with a backup against a team that doesn't have a lot of weapons.

10, Atmosphere - Attendance was 63, 067, a big improvement over the Little Rock crowd of the previous week, but more seats are sold in Fayetteville because of the premium seats available there that aren't in War Memorial. The students take a few thousand more in Fayetteville, too. It was a good atmosphere for an 11:21 a.m. start. Those early starts can be problematic for some who travel a long ways, but most were in their seats for the kickoff. It was nice to have a visiting team bring a full band, but Arkansas no longer allows the opposition band to march at halftime. That will be disappointing when the Texas A&M Aggies come to town. As it stands now, the A&M band will not perform. I always enjoy their precision marching and at least some of their tunes.

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