Arkansas Football's Best of 2014

With a bowl game with Texas still on top to finish off 2014, here are some highlights from a look back at Arkansas' 6-6 campaign. It's easy to find some really great plays on both sides of the ball and some wonderful comments from coaches and players.

2014 Highlights

The Early Prediction from Schiano

Former NFL coach Greg Schiano visited the Arkansas camp in two-a-days, then spoke at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club. In describing what he saw in the Arkansas team, Schiano said it was obvious that second-year head coach Bret Bielema had things going in the right direction and that all that was needed was a tipping point.

And, if it didn't come at Lubbock with a 49-28 victory over Texas Tech, it arrived with back-to-back shutouts against No. 17 LSU and No. 8 Ole Miss to become bowl eligible and also snap a 17-game SEC losing streak.

There were other signs, like a 28-14 lead against Texas A&M before falling 35-28 in overtime. Pushing Alabama to the limit before losing 14-13. The Hogs had No. 1 Mississippi State down 10-0 before losing 17-10.

The constant in all of that was defense, something Schiano recognized in that August trip. He was pleased with what he saw from defensive coordinator Robb Smith, a former Schiano aide. He was asked at the TD club if he recognized Smith's scheme.

“I saw it,” Schiano said. “It's going to take a little time for everything to come together, but it's going to be relentless effort and that doesn't just happen by accident. As they get more precise, it will get better and better. They will have 11 running to the ball in a wave, not seven, or five.

"I watch a lot of tape and you see defenses that you say, 'Wow!' when you plug in the tape. They are going to have great defense here, something they haven't had in awhile.

“You are going to see takeaways. I'm a big believer that great defenses make their own luck. I think they have some very good young players here, too, some who are just freshmen.

“Everyone is on the same page. They buy in. The players have a clear vision of what is expected and that's the most important thing.”

That comes from Smith, who worked for Schiano at Rutgers and at Tampa Bay in the NFL. Schiano said the key is the way Smith handles the little things.

“I had been told he was a detail guy, but I saw it almost immediately,” Schiano said. “That's what Bret has, a great detail guy. I think he is one of the bright young coaches in our game. That's why I say it's not Xs and Os, it's about attention to detail. He's got that.”

Best Offensive Play I – Tretola TD Pass

Sebastian Tretola's 6-yard touchdown pass to Alan D'Appolonio in the Alabama-Birmingham game. It made the national highlight shows and produced an instant star. The 340-pound left guard from the junior college ranks was immediately Big Man On Campus at Arkansas.

Tretola has been the darling of the media since the day he stepped foot on campus, the first week in August. His interviews are always engaging. Here's a sampling of what he said after throwing the TD pass to become one of the most famous offensive lineman in Arkansas history.

Tretola on the idea from head coach Bret Bielema for the play:

“He called me into his office about three weeks ago. I thought, 'Oh, no, what have I done.' And, then he showed me what he drew up and I thought, 'You can't be serious.'

“Then, when we practiced it, I went through my progressions and it blew them away.”

On striking the Heisman Trophy pose as he was mobbed by teammates:

“I did do the Heisman,” he said, declining to hit it again in the interview room. “I'm too tired to put all of my weight on one leg now.”

On taking off the glove on his right hand when the play was called:

“I like the feel of the laces in my hand.”

Best Offensive Play II – Allen Scramble

Junior quarterback Brandon Allen, often criticized for not making the big play, scrambled for a 5-yard touchdown early in the third quarter to give Arkansas a two TD lead in what would become a 49-28 victory in Lubbock. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney called a screen pass to Jared Cornelius, but the Red Raiders jumped the play. Instead, Allen pump faked, and rolled around his left end on a keeper.

"That was Brandon's best play since I've been here," Chaney said. "I had a call that wasn't good and he made it good."

Running back Jonathan Williams called it a little “wiggle” by Allen with some quick feet.

“Ha, ha,” Williams said. “I know people don't know that Brandon has that (wiggle), but we know he does. We see it in practice. He can get outside. The touchdown run was a big play for us. We know a lot more about Brandon than everyone else does. We've seen it and now everyone else has seen it, too.”

Allen said, “I pumped it a couple of times and everyone went with the receivers. So I just pulled it down. It opened up pretty good. I'm not going to run it a lot, but I am capable of doing some things with my feet. I'm not worried about my shoulder. I'm going to run it.”

Best Defensive Play – Trey Flowers Sack

The season was full of defensive highlights including a pick six by Rohan Gaines against Ole Miss. But the key defensive play might have been a Trey Flowers sack in the third quarter against LSU that set up a missed field goal. It was a wonderful call by defensive coordinator Robb Smith that put Flowers on a loop-around inside blitz with Darius Philon and Martrell Spaight stunting outside.

There were many highlights on that side of the ball, including a sack by Trey Flowers in the third quarter that pushed LSU back before a missed 47-yard field goal.

“That was a triple twist,” Smith said. “We put Trey at tackle and we twisted him behind Darius Philon and Martrell Spaight. They set it up for Trey and he made a great play.” The Hogs limited the Tigers to just 123 yards, 274 under their average. LSU made just 36 net yards on the ground.

“We made sure we had numbers to stop the run,” Smith said of the LSU game plan. “We had a lot of respect for their offensive line. We knew we had to commit to the run. We tackled well and limited yards after contact.”

Best Straight Talk – Bielema and Skipper after A&M loss

Head coach Bret Bielema was honest as the day is long after the 35-28 loss to Texas A&M. And, it was probably a long ride back to Fayetteville for Skipper, guilty of two penalties that might have cost the Razorbacks 14 points.

“As a head coach, I have to coach him better,” Bielema said. “With Dan, there are a lot of positives on and off the field. That's part of one of the things that can be a life lesson. Obviously, it's a huge teaching point. There's no room for it.

“We talk about earning everything. We earned that penalty.”

Skipper had a holding penalty to wipe out a touchdown pass to Hunter Henry in the first half. Then, early in the fourth quarter Skipper's penalty for tripping wiped out a Jonathan Williams run for 57 yards to the A&M 1-yard line.

Early the next week, Skipper came to the interview room and was straight forward, too. He owned up to the penalties and apologized to teammates.

“Definitely,” Skipper said. “ I pride myself on being a winner. I hate losing. There is nothing fun about losing. Knowing I played an integral role in that, that sucks. I don't really know how else to say it.”

Skipper said he was supported by teammates and coaches.

“Teammates have been huge, the offensive linemen especially,” he said. “Really loving caring guys. Everybody has reached out. Everyone has reached out, offense, defense, Brandon, Coach B, everyone. Everyone has been there for me. Everyone has been there when I needed them.”

Best Robb Smith Quote – On math skills

Asked to share the single word of the day after the first week of fall camp, defensive coordinator Robb Smith did a little Yogi Berra imitation.

"I'm going to cheat and go with two, sense of urgency," he said, laughing when he realized that he went with three. "I was good in math, but it failed me now."

He was asked to expand on his sense of urgency plea, heard in every practice by players.

"That's the thing that I like, attitude and the ability to improve setting the edge and leverage," Smith said. "Then, I want to see sense of urgency. I have seen that so far.”

Best Prediction – Spaight on defensive improvement

"I don't think we set the edge last year," senior linebacker Martrell Spaight said in August.

"I know -- and I'm talking about linebackers -- we let people get outside of us too easily. Now, we don't.

"What this Arkansas defense is about is simple. We set the edge, have nine bringing leverage and one with the pursuit angle. That's what we are all about. I think we can do that."

Spaight led the SEC in tackles with 123, an improvement of 101 from his junior year. The North Little Rock product earned first team All-SEC honors and a trip to the Senior Bowl in January.

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