State of the Hogs: Double Team Success Must Return against Auburn

Offensive line coach Sam Pittman wants the "mojo" back for Auburn, a downhill running game that keys the Arkansas offense.

Sam Pittman rattled off the numbers and they bear repeating. After rushing for 182 against Texas-El Paso and 103 against Toledo, Arkansas got better every week. The Hogs made 228, 232 and 275 in successive games against Texas Tech, Texas A&M and Tennessee.

Then, came the stuffing at Alabama. Perhaps college football's best defensive front shackled the Arkansas running game, limiting the visitors to just 44 net yards (after subtracting three sacks) on 25 carries.

"It was disappointing," said Pittman, the Arkansas offensive line coach. "We've got to get over that Alabama deal. We were kinda rolling before that, then Alabama shut us down. But what they do is special.

"We want our mojo back this week. We want to get back to running the ball."

Pittman and two of his starting offensive linemen, center Mitch Smothers and right guard Frank Ragnow, were in the interview room on Monday after a morning practice scheduled to simulate the 11 a.m. Saturday kickoff with Auburn.

Smothers and Ragnow described the Alabama running game results as "disappointing," too. They both said it's up to the offensive line to change those results.

And, it could be that it's the right matchup to make that happen. Auburn's defense has not been stellar against the run. Here are the defensive results vs. the run in Auburn's 4-2 start:

Louisville 238
Jacksonville State 161
LSU 411
Mississippi State 56
San Jose State 182
Kentucky 138

Auburn has given up 14 rushing touchdowns and been out gained in total yards in five of six games this season. There's a lot of respect for Auburn defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, but not everything has clicked for him this season when it comes to stopping the run.

"We do matchup well against Auburn," Pittman said. "They know going in that we are going to try to run it."

Pittman even likes the rain that is forecast for Fayetteville on Saturday.

"The last time we had wet conditions, we did pretty good," Pittman said. "We think that's to our advantage. We do hope it rains. We have artificial surface but we want it to be wet. It had rained all day at Tennessee and we did pretty well. It might not have rained much during the game, but that was a soft field and we liked it. We look forward to rain."

More than anything else, the Hogs just look forward to playing again and proving itself after getting hammered up front by the Crimson Tide.

"No doubt, part of that was just Alabama," Pittman said. "They are really good. But when you are a line coach and you got smoked your last time out, you want to get back out there and prove yourself.

"I think we will play well Saturday. We are looking forward to it.

"I thought we were getting better every week up front. But I also think Auburn is getting better. You are starting to see some of the packages they ran at Florida under Will. He has a way of bringing out something different and new each week, in the blitz packages."

It's more than just the blitzes that the Hogs are working against in preparation of Auburn. The Tigers come hard across the line of scrimmage with their defensive front, generally from a 4-3 alignment. Pittman is impressed with the entire front, particularly tackle Martravius Adams (6-4, 296).

"He's one of the best defensive tackles around," Pittman said. "He gives everyone trouble. We know they have a great front.

"What they do, they charge you. Some teams read and react. They are going to play in your backfield. They've been able to against most of the teams they've played.

"They come off the football with their front and they bull rush you. They try to collapse the pocket and make you play inside out."

Smothers said it's just simple.

"We have to get our run game going," he said. "If we run the ball, everything else falls in place. We've focused on getting our downhill run game going the past two weeks. The open date last week, we took it lighter in the first day or two, but then it was physical and we were back at it on Wednesday and Thursday. We've had very physical segments of all three practices this week.

"I can tell you what our mindset has been the last two weeks. It's no fun to lose. Sebastian Tretola has been the most vocal guy in our group. He says it over and over, 'Remember what it feels like to lose and don't get used to it.' We remember it."

Ragnow said, "It definitely was a disappointment a couple of weeks ago. We have worked to get our identity back and what happened to us to heart. We have to run the ball. That makes our offense click. Yeah, we know Alabama was talented, but we were not physical enough. Physicality was off and so was execution. We've worked in a lot of high tempo and physical settings since then. It's not where we wanted to be last week and we were not satisfied with how we played."

Ragnow added, "We didn't show up."

What happened at Alabama was clear, Pittman said. The Tide's defensive front blew up the Hogs' double team blocks.

"Alabama just doesn't allow you to double team by nature of the way they play," Pittman said. "We've got to fit our run game better and do better in our double teams. We have to get those double teams going."

Tight ends coach Barry Lunney said the Hogs focus on double team work up front in every practice. It's a clear part of what they do.

"Alabama's front wasn't going to be something you do tight end/tackle double teams, just by the way they line up," he said. "But this week (it's a 4-3). There may be more of that for us this week and it's important we do it well. Sometimes it's tight end and tackles and sometimes it's tight ends and tight ends together on a double team."

Lunney said the energy has been good in the last two weeks.

"We know it's a big game, a big week," Lunney said. "I think everyone senses that Auburn is a big week. That's always the case for a long time. They've had some Arkansas flavor to their team and their staff and we know that.

"But where you are right now, anyone who would come in here would be a big game. We just need to win."

Pittman said the same thing.

"We need a win, we really do," he said. "I do think we are going to play well.

"I think after what happened at Alabama, we feel challenged as an offensive line. We feel that we are a good offensive line and we let the team down. We want to change that."

Ragnow said, "This is a huge game that can launch the rest of the season. We know this is a talented Auburn front and we know we have to be geared up."

Pittman wants the Arkansas fans to be geared up, too.

"I know our fans will be there, rain or not," he said. "It's important for them to give us a great atmosphere and be loud when Auburn has the ball. They are a no huddle group and you want it to be loud when they are trying to play on offense. We really need that this week."

And, when the Hogs have the ball, Pittman wants the Hogs to respond with something that was happening before the Alabama game. That's the challenge that's been issued the last two weeks to the Arkansas offensive line.

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