Arkansas knows changes have to come with its offense

Arkansas offensive players and coaches talk about what has to change to turn around the effort that caused them to lose to Toledo 16-12 last Saturday in Little Rock

There were no shortage of frustrated and embarrassed Razorback players  and coaches in the media room after Tuesday’s practice.

Most had the same type of sentiment - time to put the Toledo loss behind them and look squarely ahead to getting better and turning things around Saturday when Texas Tech arrives.

“We’re not letting it affect us the rest of the season,” Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen said, “but it’s kind of one of those things where it wakes up a lot of people and it’s like ‘Look, we can get beat by any team. We’re not going to walk in and just show up and win.’ 

“We have to execute, we have to be clean, we have to do the things that make us a good team to be able to win.”

Allen has passed for 720 yards in his first two games, but drew criticism for the Razorbacks not being able to get but three points in five trips into the red zone in the 16-12 loss to Toledo on Saturday.

“You know, the biggest thing is it’s tough to pass in the red zone,” Allen said. “The field shrinks and windows get a lot tighter, so it’s difficult to pass the ball down there, but that’s where that run game really steps up and makes it easier for you is to have that effective run game down there. 

“When you can pass it, sometimes it’s going to be play-action when you’ve got a good run game, so it sucks people up, opens up some holes down there. So, that’s kind of what we need to get going.”

A couple of those trips into the red zone were derailed by holding penalties, something tight end coach Barry Lunney took the blame for on Tuesday.

“I heard some guys over there talking to (offensive line coach) Sam (Pittman) about penalties,” Lunney said. “ They should have been talking to me. It was our position that had three or four of the penalties. A couple of them we overcame and a couple of them we didn't. 

“I don't know if they are contagious but we are going to make sure on our end from a coaching and playing perspective that they don't become that way if they are capable of becoming contagious. We are going to eradicate those. 

“A couple of them were bang-bang plays and a couple of them were really poor decision-making. Hopefully we learned a lesson.  No team is good enough to overcome going backward a whole lot.

“We can't go backward and we can't get out of position and we can't grab and we can't hold. You have to give great effort but there is a time you have to let go and move on to the next play. 

Allen was asked what would keep this team from spiraling after the last big loss in Little Rock - which was to Louisiana-Monroe in 2012 and saw the team end up going 4-8.

“I think just this team’s mindset, the amount of people we have on this team,” Allen said. “ We’re all of that mindset, we’re going in the right direction. This is a setback, but I don’t think anyone is jumping off the ship or anything. This team has a bunch of leaders, a bunch of guys pulling it along, and the leaders and the guys’ mindset on the team, we’re not letting this affect the rest of our season.”

Part of that has to be getting back to being physical on both sides of the ball.

“It’s tough, running the ball is hard to do,” Allen said. “ It really is, and we’ve got to be physical. We haven’t been very physical lately. That’s kind of what we bank on is being a physical team, and I think that this week we’re going to come out and we’re going to by physical. 

“To win, you’ve got to establish the run game, especially against run-and-gun teams that want the ball as fast as they can. We’ve got to control the ball and be able to run the ball effectively and get first downs and keep the ball on our offense and keep our defense off the field.”

Allen will be without his top receiver Keon Hatcher, who was injured in Saturday’s loss and will be out at least six weeks and maybe the season.

That has elevated the importance of Drew Morgan and Jared Cornelius according to Arkansas receiver coach Michael Smith.

“We need a lot more from them,” Smith said. “They understand what's going to be asked of them. They're up to the challenge. What I've expressed to our guys, I don't need you to be Keon Hatcher, I don't knee you to be Dez Bryant, I don't need you to be Jordy Nelson. I need you to be the best you that you can be. 

“If you go out there and do that and work within the system, we'll be fine. That's the challenge I have as a coach, is to get those guys ready. That's the challenge they have as players to get themselves ready.

Morgan believes he is ready.

“My role changes tremendously,” Morgan said. “I am not just an inside slot. I am also the main Z which means I am the first option every play.  I have to be open every play.”

Cornelius says the loss of Hatcher is tough, but he believes the group can step up to the challenge.

“It sucks losing a leader like Keon,” Cornelius said. “But at the same time, we have other guys capable of stepping up and making big plays for us. We're looking forward to moving on. We're not going to forget about Keon, losing him is a setback, but we've got other guys capable of stepping up.

“We've got confidence. We believe in ourselves now. The whole group is confident and we feel good about our passing game. Losing Keon is bad, at the same time, we have a lot of guys who can make plays.

Smith met with Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema and offensive coordinator Dan Enos about Robinson finally getting his chance.

“Coach B and I and Coach Enos had a talk Sunday night,” Smith said.  We just sat down and hashed out who we thought our top wide receivers are, and obviously from a talent standpoint, Jojo's name is always going to come up. It's an opportunity for him to kind of take ownership.

“ … We're like, we're going to give your the opportunity, but you've got to step up and take care of your business both on and off the field. There are no more excuses. Now here it is and let's go get it. Today he went out and had a good practice. This week he's taken care of his business off the field. So we're off to the right start. 

“We're just going to keep encouraging him to do well. What I want people to know is, I want Jojo Robinson to be successful just like I want every guy in my room to be successful. 

“But the only people that can keep someone from being where they need to be is them. I'm not here to hold their hands. I'm here to coach them, I'm here to make them better and guide them and help them become the best young men they can be. Right now Jojo's on the right path.”

Allen believes Robinson, who played one snap last week after being suspended for the season opener, is ready to step into a starting role.

“Jojo’s ready to play,” Allen said. “ He’s been shifty before, he’s a guy that can create separation and get open and catch the ball. And he’s real quick getting out of his routes. For him, it’s about lining up and running the right route, and I think he’s really done a great job since the start of the season in building confidence with his coaches and with me.”

Arkansas would also like to get junior college transfer Dominique Reed into the mix. He was targeted five times in the opener, but was suspended for the first half last week and never got into the game.

“He's also another guy we need to step up,” Smith said. “I know Coach B has said Dominique's the only person that can stop Dominique, and it's true. He's another one … I want him to play. I mean, I don't bring guys here to sit on the bench. 

“But he has to prove to us that he's ready to be out there. Today he had a good practice. Today was a good day. But I can't have an up and down wide receiver. I've got to have a guy that's always on the way, and if he continues to do that, you'll see Dominique on the field.”

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