State of the Hogs: Goal to Go

Arkansas will solve it's problem on the goal line. For now, the Razorbacks just need to get there more often.

testLosing creates frustration. It intensifies with not scoring touchdowns. Coming up empty on two plays from the 1 after 10 quarters with no touchdowns makes it almost unbearable.

That's where Arkansas fans were late in the first half of a 35-17 loss to Auburn last week. They had seen one touchdown since the Texas A&M game, a 4-yard run by Jonathan Williams against Florida. It was a sweep left, that turned into a reverse to the right when Jonathan Williams found three Gators waiting for him.

As the Hogs failed on downs on the goal line against Auburn, I played through my mind the last time the Hogs had launched a play from the 1. I had to go back to the Samford game when Williams scored from point blank range and Alex Collins scampered in from the 2. Yes, the last goal-line play was capped by a Collins leap into the stands.

That's it for goal-line plays for the entire nine games so far this season. Everything else was from much further away. So, with a lot of youth, there is almost zero experience on the goal line.

Center Travis Swanson and senior fullback Kiero Small, have played on the goal line, but the rest of the heart of the lineup have few snaps. And Small's experience there is two years ago.

I raised that point with coach Bret Bielema on Monday when he was breaking down the problems that have plagued the Hogs. Obviously, goal-line offense hadn't been one of them, because they hadn't been there before.

"Yeah, that's a good point," Bielema said. "It's a great point. It takes me back to when I was a young coordinator, I remember we would devote almost 15 periods, or 15 minutes of practice each week out of Tuesday and Wednesday to goal line.

"I remember at the end of the year, I went back and we had because, it is so critical.

"That was really our first time there. The reason I went for it, obviously I wanted to win the game and everything, but I wanted to set a mentality there for our guys, not just of this team, but teams of the future about what we're going to be able to do there."

Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney is the playcaller. I took him back to those two plays on the goal line against Auburn on Tuesday night. I didn't have to tell him that the Hogs didn't have much SEC goal line experience on the field against Auburn. That reminded Chaney of an opponent bowl game tape years ago.

"I was loading defense to watch them on the goal line," Chaney said. "Zero. Nothing the entire season."

Chaney prefers zero fourth-and-1 plays.

"You'd like to get it in before there," he said. "You can do that. But the reality is that you better be good on the goal line."

Some think Chaney called the same play twice in a row.

"No, one was blown up so quickly, you couldn't tell," Chaney said. "One was off tackle, but we didn't get to off tackle."

The Hogs have been decent most of the year on third-and-1 outside of the goal line. That's been Kiero Small's world and it's been a productive situation. He was the man on the 2-yard touchdown run to open the fourth quarter.

"We just have given the ball to Ro," Chaney said. "Or, we've also run the quarterback sneak."

But on the goal line, things change.

"It's always about personnel on the goal line," Chaney said. "It's going to be who do you have blocking and against whom.

"We were going behind our right guard. That's what we liked, Denver (Kirkland). That's who we were comfortable with on those plays."

Just like the end zone, the Hogs have had a hard time finding the comfort zone. Part of it is field position and defensive play comes into the picture. The Hogs are forcing no turnovers and getting no help in the punt return game. They have started only three times across the 50-yard line in the six-game losing streak. Opponents have started in UA territory 13 times in that stretch.

It makes it tough for a young offense. The passing game has been slow to develop. Chaney said in May and again in August that he usually sees the passing game blossom after about four games. Perhaps that is about to happen now.

"I am encouraged by Saturday," Chaney said. "I think the wide receivers were much improved and more consistent. Too much has been made of the wide receivers. Quarterback play and protection improved.

"In the passing game, it's never as simple as squishing one flea.

"I'd say we look about like week three of the season (in the passing game). But we are starting to get that rhythm. We are starting to know what each other is supposed to do. I've never had it be this hard or taken this long. My strong point has always been the passing game."

At some point, it's all going to come together. In the meantime, the Hogs will continue to work on being tougher and better on the goal line.

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