Arkansas Offensive Achieving Balance

Arkansas' offense has achieved head coach Bret Bielema's stated goal of having both over 200 yards passing and over 200 rushing in four of its last five games.

While the numbers may be inflated by a four-overtime SEC win over Auburn and a rout over an FCS school, it’s clear that Arkansas’ offense is arguably playing as good as it has all season.

The Razorbacks have now both rushed and passed for over 200 yards in four of the last five games, including rolling up 591 yards of total offense in Saturday’s 63-28 win over UT Martin.

It’s also clear that Arkansas has put its early-season struggles in the red zone behind it as offensive coordinator Dan Enos has settled in with some new options.

“I think two things - they started practicing goal line on Tueday and it may sound like a simple thing, but it is usually on Wednesday,” Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema said at his Monday press conference.

“I think that Dan just wanted to emphasize it and I give Dan a lot of credit. What I know and have witnessed is what we emphasize with our kids, usually ends up showing up and I think it is out of respect to our coaches and out of respect for how we do things.

“…Down in the red zone, I think you have found another couple of players. (Wide receiver) Drew Morgan, Kody Walker as a powerful big back that can run it up in there has been a nice addition as well and I think Dan got a better hold of what he can do offensively in the run game and the throw game.

“…I think people were really locked into (tight end) Hunter (Henry) early in the red zone and that showed. To get some other options there, including (tight end Jeremy) Sprinkle, Drew, Kody and (wide receiver) Dominique (Reed), those things have been big.”

Enos feels like the offense, run by starting quarterback Brandon Allen, is getting to where he wants it to be terms of being balanced.

"I think when you get to this point in the season, you really start to figure out who your people are," Enos said. "We have had the misforutune of trying to change who those guys are from week-to-week a bit too much, but right now as we look at our offense, obviously our tailbacks, we want to get them touches, we have two tight ends that we really feel good about getting them involved and Drew Morgan continues to play well.

"The emergence of Dominique Reed has really helped us and getting Jared Cornelius back and now you add Duwop (Damon Mitchell) into the mix. I know we look out there and we see some guys we feel good about getting the ball to and are trying to get the ball to in different situations.

"The one thing that I think is good with Brandon is the way he is understanding what we are doing. That's the key, that and the offensive line, protecting and running the football. When we can run the football, everything is good. When you get one-dimensional, there are issues."

Enos knows the Razorbacks (4-4, 2-2) face a big challenge Saturday at 2:30 p.m. with the defense of Ole Miss (7-2, 4-1).

"They are very good, very big and physical and I have been very impressed with the entire defense, in partiular the defensive line," Enos said. "They are very good and very active. Right away No. 5 (6-4, 295-pound defensive end Robert Nkemdiche) jumps off the film at you. Very fast, very powerful player, very sudden. Their defensive ends are very good and quick.

"...They will be one of the better defenses we have seen all year for sure."

Ole Miss leads the SEC with 12 interceptions.

"I think they make guys throw it a little too soon, throw it off their back foot and their secondary is very well-coached and very disciplined. They are in the right spots a lot of the time."

Alex Collins and the five starting offensive lineman were named offensive MVPs by Bielema this week while Mitch Smothers was named the SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week.

Collins rushed for a season-high 173 yards on Saturday and scored five times as Arkansas continued to establish its ground game.

“It’s got to be part of what we do,” Bielema said. “For us, as a team to have success, it has got to be a part of what we have to do. It’s who we are. We don’t function well as a whole if that is not happening.

“The way our running backs, our offensive line, our tight ends, even the passing game looks a lot like our running game and for those things to work well off of one another it is kind of like one hand washes the other.

“I think we have gone five out of our last six games that we have rushed for over 200 yards.”

Collins now has 960 yards this season and 3,086 for his career at Arkansas.

“We give Alex the ability to start and he can tap out, but I think he realizes 24 (Kody Walker) is pretty good, 22 (Rawleigh Williams) was doing some good things, Denzel (Evans) came in and did some good things in Saturday and so he doesn’t want to lose that spot either, so it is fun to watch,” Bielema said.

Bielema feels like his offensive line is getting to where it needs to be after struggling out of the gate as Arkansas got pass-happy.

“They are getting there,” Bielema said of the offensive line. “I thought going back to the Tennessee game, Alabama we stubbed our toe a little bit, but then going into the Auburn game in particular - the fourth quarter and the overtime periods - our O-line was pretty much handling things up front the way we ask them to play.

“Then you get that combination and then I think they get a little bit of a thrill when Kody gets in there and you see a guy that can come downhill with it.

“Alex, with his five touchdowns, he got a little sense of what is going on as well. They are starting to come along.

“I think the good news is they are very hungry, they feed off of each other very, very much and it is fun to watch that group grow.”

Morgan took the role of top receiver when Arkansas’ three starting wideouts all went down with injuries.

He has responded by catching a team-high 35 passes for 498 yards and six touchdowns.

Morgan left Saturday’s game with a shoulder injury, but should be good to go against Ole Miss on Saturday.

“Drew hurt his shoulder probably about three weeks ago so we have just got to constantly look at that,” Bielema said, “but I was at my desk last night and he got out of an AIA (Athletes In Action) meeting and called me about 9:30 and was all pumped up about the week so I don’t think there is going to be anything wrong with him.”

Redshirt sophomore Damon “Duwop” Mitchell has become a bigger part of the offense and caught three passes for 66 yards last week, including a 49-yard touchdown toss.

“A kid (Mitchell) who has been through quite a bit, but he just continues to focus,” Bielema said. “I think he would be the first to tell you that he has been one that has changed quite a bit.

“He was always a guy that maybe had the ‘whoa, is me’, ‘everybody is picking on me’, ‘why can’t I do this or they don’t want me to do this?’

“Reality changed in his mind and he bought into the wide receiver position and I personally couldn’t have been smiling more when he caught that pass on Saturday. To get a touchdown by a catch was a big moment for him.

“He is a physical kid, even last week he popped in at tailback for us and he really is kind of our third-string tailback right now, 3A and 3B with Denzel (Evans) and he runs the ball really well when it is in his hands.

“I am excited. He is a guy that has got two more years to play and he is a fun kid to be around.”

Arkansas has also gotten four touchdowns in the last four games from Reed, a junior wideout from Camden Fairview by way of Coffeyville, Kan., CC.

Bielema remembered tight end coach Barry Lunney, Jr., - the Razorbacks’ chief in-state recruiter - talking about how much being a Razorback means to Arkansas natives.

“Barry made a comment the other day that rings true with these Arkansas kids - he is getting to do right now what he dreamed about doing when he was little,” Bielema said.

“We say that all the time in recruiting, but you literally see a kid like him, Drew Morgan and Mitch Smothers at the center position - I don’t know how much a center could show it, but Mitch grew up being a Razorback and playing and that is what he is doing and he is playing really, really well,” Bielema said.

“Dominique had to go the junior college route so he couldn’t come here right away, but after I sat down with him the first time  - even though he had every school in the SEC, some schools in the Pac 12 and the Big 12 - it just didn’t matter when he knew that Arkansas was an option for him, he knew where he was going.”

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