Arkansas couldn't find red zone running game

Arkansas moved the ball in the center of the field, but couldn't score any red zone touchdowns in a 16-12 loss to Toledo. The Hogs could not handle a slanting Toledo defensive front.

As the old adage goes, statistics are for losers. No. 18 Arkansas amassed 515 yards of offense and rolled into the red zone five times against Toledo.

But here's the catch in a 16-12 loss to Toledo, a big, pretty offensive line that looked so good on the cover of the media guide and flies first class hasn't shown an ability to block a slanting defensive front. And, the strength of the defense, an incredibly deep line, has not shown a pass rush. The Hogs never pressured Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely.

The Hogs don't have a fullback capable of handling red zone blocking. They were called for four holding penalties by an SEC crew of officials led by James Carter, one of them erasing a punt return for a touchdown and another that brought back a run to just inches from the goal line on first down.

All the high hopes of Razorback Nation for third-year coach Bret Bielema and his physical, in-your-face linemen were dashed Saturday afternoon at War Memorial Stadium as the running game totaled just 103 net yards on 31 carries.

"I'm not a big stat guy," Bielema said early in his post-game comments. "I see the number of yards and number of first downs we had, but there was one critical turnover in the red zone that swung momentum and it came right after a penalty on a punt return took away points. We thought going in that we could score on a punt return and we hold the punter. It doesn't make sense."

Bielema pointed to one of his five Arkansas edges, that you earn everything. In that regard, he pointed to the nine penalties for 85 yards.

"You've got to run the football," Bielema said. "You can't keep taking shots in the end zone (in the passing game)."

The only touchdown came on a 21-yard run by Alex Collins, the only time Toledo was really fooled. It was a counter pitch to the left after quarterback Brandon Allen faked everyone with a look to the right. It was a 21-yard play and not technically a red zone play.

The Hogs scored only a 25-yard field goal by Cole Hedlund in their five trips into the red zone. That came at the end of a 21-play, 73-yard march that took 10:39 of the clock, finishing with 9:30 of the third quarter. There were signs that they could catch the Rockets at the end, but came away empty after a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line in the final two minutes, then two incomplete passes from the 16 to end the game.

For the day, Arkansas snapped it 16 times inside the Toledo 20-yard line and did not score a touchdown. They had first and goal from the 3-yard line and then again from the 4-yard line. Neither possessions resulted in a touchdown.

Allen tied the school record for completions in a game, hitting 32 of 53 for 412 yards. But none were for touchdowns. He was intercepted in the end zone to erase one of the red zone chances when Keon Hatcher lost his balance and DeJuan Rogers was standing all alone near the back end line to end Allen's streak of 134 straight throws without a pick.

"We were killing ourselves," Allen said. "We get a score called back. We had another run called back (that reached the 1-yard line) and we couldn't punch it in. The interception was a high-low read and Keon fell. I had the play before that (on an over throw to Hunter Henry) when the safety bit. I was just a little high."

There was a window for a winning touchdown on the game's next-to-last play when Henry broke free down the middle of the field. Allen was high again when the safeties both moved outside just a couple of steps.

"I wanted to get it over the last man," Allen said. "I was just a little too high.

"But we can't be one dimensional. You have to do both things well. You have to be able to run it and throw it.

"I thought we moved it all day. We just couldn't punch it in."

Senior Mitch Smothers said it came down to blocking Toledo's front.

"We didn't run the ball like we should," Smothers said. "That's the one thing you have to do in the red zone, run the ball. They stunted up front. We didn't move them.

"You just have got to move them and we didn't. We didn't come prepared to attack their movement. You have to attack movement. We weren't prepared to attack them. We knew they were going to stunt. To run the football, you have to attack that movement.

"Our job in the offensive line is to run the ball. We have to open things up. We didn't. When we don't run it in the middle of the line, it feels like we didn't come ready.

"We had too many penalties. We had pre-snap and post-snap penalties and you can't win games when you play like that."

Depth was an issue. Bielema pointed to the thin nature of the team at two positions, fullback and middle linebacker.

"You go out in recruiting and look for those two positions, because of the thin nature," Bielema said. "We are thin at fullback, a glaring thing, and trying to get some players ready there. At the end of the game, we moved Brooks Ellis back to middle linebacker and played Dre Greenlaw at will."

Josh Williams, the first teamer at middle linebacker, left the game with a leg injury.

True freshmen have gotten looks at fullback, with no one ready to play. Walk-on Damani Carter from Fayetteville is listed as the backup at fullback. Kendrick Edwards, moved from middle linebacker, last week is next.

Kody Walker is listed as the starter at fullback, but he's the backup running back and hasn't really been used as a blocking back. Running back depth looks to be an issue, too. Alex Collins had an infection that sent him to the hospital on Wednesday. Walker jammed a thumb and was not available at the end of the game.

Of course, Jonathan Williams is done for the regular season after surgery for a torn foot tendon early in camp. There's little doubt he's missed.

"It's hard without Jonathan," Smothers said. "You know that with any player that they can be taken at any minute just like it happened with Jonathan. He still brings the locker room leadership. He's a team captain and he is there. We miss his vision, but he is always in the huddle with us. He is always pushing us to play our best version of Arkansas football."

Leadership will be critical this week. Players were asked if this game would lead to the demise of the season, like the Louisiana-Monroe loss four years ago. Allen was on that team.

"This is a different team and not the same," Allen said. "I know this team and we have our minds right. This isn't going to impact the rest of the season. We have a lot of games left. Tomorrow we will watch the films and move on. This is one game and with this team there is no quit. We will play each and every game like it's our last one and we will try to win them all."

Defensive end JaMichael Winston said much the same thing. But that was not the question he had the hardest time answering. Why did the Hogs get no pressure on Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely. The Hogs had no sacks and were not credited with a single pressure. There were some passes batted away in the secondary. There was play that was ruled an interception, but review wiped it away.

"He threw quick," Winston said. "He's a good player. They have good receivers and had a good slant game. You try to get there, but it came out of his hands quickly. We have some ways to pressure, but he just was very quick to release the ball. He didn't hold it back there long at all."

Bielema said there were times when the defensive line seemed close and had hands up.

"We were close to batting down some more," Bielema said. "We did bat some around in the secondary, but they didn't fall our way."


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