Arkansas offensive line coach Sam Pittman wants Brandon Allen to have time to throw, something that wasn't always the case against Alabama. Against an athletic Georgia defense this week in Little Rock, it won't be easy.
Arkansas entered the Alabama game with only one sack, but there were four by the Tide. Still, Pittman saw Allen handle pressure well, scrambling for positive yardage and beating the Tide blitz with passes after rolling out of the pocket.
“I think he’s done a great job," Pittman said of the Arkansas quarterback. "Some games he gets pressured a little bit more than others. I think we threw it 40 times the other day and I thought he handled the pressure really well and he got us out of some bad – they got through there a time or two as well and he got us out of that pressure as well. So he’s really done a nice job. he really has.”
"We’ve got to protect the quarterback," Pittman said. "We gave up four sacks. Of course, two of them were (naked bootlegs) that we couldn’t really do a whole lot about. So the other two we gave up. That’s three more than we’ve given up all season, so we’ve got to fix that in a hurry.”
Protection was stressed in Tuesday's practice and Pittman was pleased. He knows Georgia's athletic front will present problems for a bigger Arkansas offensive line.
"They can run you down from behind," Pittman said. "They’re not quite as big as the people we’ve played lately.
"But yet, they’re very athletic. They move a little bit more than what Alabama did. Quite a bit more than ‘Bama did or we anticipate that they’re going to because of their athleticism. We’re going to have to certainly a better job of protecting than what we did last week. So we have our work cut out for us. We had a really good day today, though.”
Allen said it's a matter of making sure protections are called correctly.
"We worked hard on communication today," Allen said. "We covered that a lot in today's practice."
Of course, Arkansas is trying to snap a 15-game SEC losing streak in their lone Little Rock appearance of the season.
Pittman noted the frustration from the losses is there, but there has been improvement. The problems have come in the fourth quarter, where the Hogs have been blanked in all three SEC losses this season.
“Well, there’s frustration," Pittman said. "But we’re going to coach them in the fourth quarter like we did in the first three and see if that will help.
"I think that we’ve become a little tighter with the players and I think they’ve become tighter when we do. So we’re going to coach them to go out there and have fun just like they did in the first, second and third quarters. We just need to be more upbeat and more positive with them at that point. At that time, you know what happens is, if you play three quarters of ball a lot of things have gone right and some things have gone wrong and you’ve got to flush it. we’re going to start the fourth like we start the beginning of a game and see if that will help us. I bet it will.”
There were positive yardage plays in the first quarter, but the Hogs made mistakes to cost themselves points, including a fumble at the goal line and a botched field goal.
"Well, you know, I thought that we had our team after the first quarter," Pittman said. "I did. We’ve been through a lot and I thought on the sideline that we had them. I felt like we still had our squad thinking that we’re the better team and all those type things.
"So that part of it, I thought that we had. but obviously you’re playing Alabama and when you squander some scoring opportunities then it may come back to bite you like the extra point and the field goal and all those things. And it did, obviously. But the point that that happened, I think we all felt like at that point we played we had as good a team as Alabama. We had the crowd and we felt good about it. but it just didn’t quite work out. It will change here. It just .. I know everybody wants it to change and we do too. It’s just been a rough couple of weeks.”
Tight end AJ Derby gave the Hogs the lead in the third quarter with a 54-yard catch and run on an Allen pass. He broke two tackles with stiff arms, rambling down the sidelines for the final 50 yards. He said the Hogs are just a few plays away from a victory.
"We'll get it when we put together four quarters," Derby said. "We are getting better, but we still haven't put together a full game. That's the difference."
Derby said the Hogs remained confident. He said fans need to stay behind the team and their quarterback.
"That's what would help us the most, if everyone understands that you build confidence in your quarterback by staying positive," Derby said. "We know we have a good quarterback. He's doing well. You see the improvement."
Most see the improvement in Derby, a converted quarterback. Tight ends coach Barry Lunney said the big play was obvious, but Derby also had significant positive plays in some basic blocking assignments.
"I think what you see now is that he holds up on one-on-one blocks against an SEC defensive end," Lunney said. "He was going up against five-star players and he was able to get the run fit on them. He had not been able to do that as well.
"Now, when you add that to his ability to run routes, block on the perimeter and catch the ball, it opens up a Pandora's box of options on play calls. He did that much better against Alabama. He's a natural at so many things."
Derby admits that it's been a process. As far as scoring a touchdown on a long play, he doesn't remember the last one, perhaps all the way back to his high school days as a blue-chip quarterback in Iowa.
“It’s been a while," Derby said. "It’s been a transition. This is my first season ever playing tight end, but I’m feeling good about it. I’ve got a few games under my belt and I’m ready to keep going and get some wins for our team.”
Lunney sees three threats at receiver from his tight end group.
“It’s crucial to how we play," Lunney said. "We’re going to have two of them on the field the majority of the game. If you have a receiving threat and not just one, but two guys, I think it just helps the balance of our offense. We felt good about those two guys and we feel good about Jeremy (Sprinkle) being a receiver. To have two guys on the field at the same time that we feel can hold up physically in the run game and create some mismatches, I think that’s a positive thing for us.”
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