Jason Ivester

Frustrated Razorbacks Can't Make Critical Plays in 35-24 Loss to Red Raiders

Bret Bielema said Arkansas came into season razor thin and still is in a position where perfect play is needed. The Hogs didn't get that against Texas Tech in a 35-24 loss.

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema didn't know what Kliff Kingsbury was saying at the other end of the stadium, but it will sure look like it when all of the quotes will be compared after Texas Tech rolled to a 35-24 victory Saturday in Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Bielema talked about people who "love to hate" in his description of what he knows will happen in the wake of a 1-2 start by the Razorbacks following an offseason marked by predictions for a successful season. Bielema basked in the glory of taking a knee to close out the Texas Bowl victory over Texas. He even talked about it being "border line erotic."

As they say, to the victor's go the spoils. It was Kingsbury's turn to crow after his spread team played almost perfect in a victory over Bielema's pro-styled attack. There was mention by Kingsbury of Bielema's talk in front of the Texas high school coaches about the need for a fullback offense. Clearly, Bielema has not walked away from chances to point out his preference of a pro offense in a day when spreads are more the norm. He thinks it provides a chance for recruiting and a knuckleball in preparation for the opposition.

After Arkansas lost two weeks in a row to spread teams, Kingsbury pointed to next week's game between Arkansas and Texas A&M as a chance for another loss.

Bielema knows he needs a fullback. He's is struggling to find a fullback with Kenderick Jackson, a true freshman recruited to play middle linebacker, filling that role okay at times against Tech. Jackson has had two weeks at the position and may be the answer down the road.

But Tech had a Johnny Football look alike to run the spread, the real difference in the game. Sophomore Patrick Mahomes completed 26 of 30 passes for 243 yards and ran 10 times for 58, accounting for three touchdowns. Mahomes was often electric in his dashes towards the line that were sometimes runs, sometimes passes. Tech never punted.

Mahomes scrambled for 21 and 16 -- the latter on third-and-11 -- on Tech's go-ahead drive to open the third quarter and an injury-plagued Arkansas offense never caught up. The Hogs really never stopped Tech in the second half to give them a chance, either.

Arkansas quarterback Brandon Allen did find Hunter Henry for a touchdown in the fourth quarter on a third-and-2 from the 5-yard line. But Henry was called for a push off. The resulting 15-yard pass interference penalty made it third-and-17 from the 20. The Hogs had the perfect call with Jeremy Sprinkle breaking open behind the secondary for a probable touchdown. Allen was well short. When Cole Hedlund missed from 37 yards with 8:09 left, the stands began to empty.

The reality has now hit home that the Hogs have lost running back Jonathan Williams (torn tendon), wide receiver Keon Hatcher (broken foot), wide receiver Cody Hollister (broken foot), wide receiver Jared Cornelius (broken arm) and running back Kody Walker (broken finger) from the offense that was thought to be improved under new offensive coordinator Dan Enos. And, it's clear the defense misses Martrell Spaight, Darius Philon, Tevin Mitchel and Alan Turner. Those were the playmakers for Robb Smith last year.

"I wish I could say something that would help our fans," Bielema said. "I'm not disappointed in our guys. It was not lack of effort. We have to keep sawing wood."

Bielema recalled that one of his "most trying seasons" at Wisconsin was his third. There is obvious frustration with the start to his third at Arkansas after the national polls had the Hogs at No. 18 to start the season.

"I was glad we had all of the attention (in preseason), but I knew we were paper thin," Bielema said. "To win this type of game, I knew we had to be perfect (on offense) and get a stop. We never did. We had them in third and long and the quarterback broke containment when we needed to get off the field.

"We had a good punt block and a plan, but we never got it out there."

Indeed, there was only one punt in the entire game, by the Hogs. Tech was never in fourth down. Mahomes was intercepted twice, but they were hardly more than punts.

There were hardly any lost yardage plays by either side, either. Tech lost a total of 9 yards, Arkansas just 5. Tech was 7 of 10 on third down, Arkansas 7 of 11.

Some of the projected strengths of the Arkansas defense were unable to contain the Red Raiders. The secondary did not look quick or fast enough for the small Tech wideouts, in particular slot man Jakeem Grant.

Cornerbacks Jared Collins, Henre' Toliver and D.J. Dean had been bragged upon by Bielema since last winter, but had a tough night in coverage. Bielema said at the kickoff dinner for fans that his corners "are as good as anyone in the country, not just the SEC when they are playing well."

They have not reached a top level yet. It wasn't as if they busted often in the two losses, but they could not touch any of Mahomes' throws. They had zero break ups for the night. Tevin Mitchel broke up the first two passes the Red Raiders threw last year in Lubbock.

"We got some critical turnovers last year," Bielema said. "We didn't get them tonight."

There has been no pass rush. The defensive line was labeled a strength in the spring and in fall camp because of the unusual number of available bodies in the front four, as many as 11. But none have turned out to be playmakers. Taiwan Johnson, quick and elusive at nose tackle at 260, has not provided pressure moving to Philon's weakside tackle slot. He's at 290 and has not shed blockers. Jeremiah Ledbetter has been the best option, the juco defensive end. But no one has created havoc up front.

Dean called Mahomes "a great player and we gave up too many plays. He extended plays. We have to go back out and play with a chip on their shoulders."

The problem for the Hogs, it gets tougher. They play Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas next week, then go to Tennessee and Alabama after that. Dean said he didn't care where the games are played, but knows the defense has to get some stops "so our offense can get back on the field. We live on stopping explosive plays, but they got too many on us tonight."

Tech averaged 8.4 yards per play on their 58 snaps. The only reason the Raiders didn't put up a truly big number on the scoreboard was that the Hogs averaged 6.6 and kept the ball for almost 40 minutes of the clock. They just don't have the answers in the red zone in the second half.

"We were two of four in the red zone," Bielema said, noting the touchdown conversion rate. "That's an improvement over last week (when they were one of five), but two of four isn't good enough in the SEC."

Dean summarized the frustration.

"We have to go out and play with a chip on our shoulder," he said. "I hate losing. I don't want to slip back to where we were two years ago or even last year."

However, after losing to Toledo and Texas Tech, things look tough. The Hogs were favored by 21 in week two, 11 in week two. Auburn looks vulnerable, but the Hogs may not be favored again until they play Tennessee-Martin.

Allen, who had his left hand iced because of a bruise, was asked if he has enough wide receivers left with Hatcher, Hollister and Cornelius injured.

"We have guys who can make plays," he said. "It's tough, but we have people still.

"We knew what we wanted to do against Tech. We wanted to keep the ball from them. We just didn't get in the end zone enough. We knew we had to make every possession count. We came up short at the end. It's more adversity but there is adversity in football. It's tough. Going on the road is tough, but we have a lot of guys who are bought in. Every SEC game is still ahead."

That's looking at the good side, but most expect the SEC to be tougher, not easier.

Certainly, no one expects it to get easier this week against A&M. Bielema said at least they saw an up-tempo spread. Kingsbury learned under A&M's Kevin Sumlin. He said the Tech offense is from the "same heritage."

The Hogs did make changes on defense. Ellis moved back to middle linebacker with true freshman Dre Greenlaw starting at weakside linebacker. Mahomes played some cat-and-mouse games with Ellis, but Ellis did make some plays. Ellis made 12 tackles, Greenlaw nine.

And, it doesn't sound like Greenlaw's move into the lineup was just because Josh Williams had a bruised leg.

"Greenlaw is going to be excellent," Dean said. "We all know that. He's going to make plays. He just has to get everything down and he will. He made some tackles tonight."

There were some new wrinkles on offense with Allen taking off on called quarterback runs.

"We saw some things that they were doing in pass coverages that a called (quarterback) run would be open," Allen said. "And, so we had those plays in for me."

But mostly it was back to some power runs to get the offense 228 yards on the ground. Some of the pulling plays for offensive line blocking seemed to be discarded after failing against Toledo.

As far as bottom line issues, Arkansas was the slower team. Tech's speed was obvious. The gains they made in the last two years at wide receiver have been wiped out with injuries. Bielema does like what Kenderick Edwards, Jojo Robinson and Dominque Reed bring as far as speed.

Edwards, pulled off the redshirt list Sunday night, had two catches. Robinson had one catch.

Running back Alex Collins had a solid game until fumbling at the end. He gained 170 on 28 carries and seemed willing to carry it more when he came to the media room afterwards.

"Our running back group can do what we are asked," he said. "We are willing to do whatever it takes. We didn't do enough tonight. It's disappointing because we've worked hard."

Offensive tackle Dan Skipper said, "It felt good to actually run the ball with some success but it hurts (to lose). It  is going to hurt. And it should hurt.

"We are a tough team and we will keep fighting. We will keep fighting."


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