Turnovers Hurting Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas can point to plenty of reasons for its losses to Texas and Florida.

The Hogs gave up too many big plays, like Florida receiver Andre Caldwell's 61-yard touchdown run on a reverse. The offense sputtered early and struggled to erase slow starts. And then there was a special teams mistake that damaged Arkansas' field position in the first quarter of both games.

But there's one other eye-popping statistic that stands out in the losses.

Arkansas is minus-7 in turnover margin.

"That just kind of goes to show you," said senior defensive end Jeb Huckeba. "If you don't have any turnovers as a defense and you do have some as an offense, you significantly decrease your chances of winning.

"When you don't get any turnovers, you make it real hard on yourself."

The Razorbacks didn't do a good job on either end in the losses, turning the ball over a combined seven times (5 interceptions, 2 fumbles) without collecting any takeaways. It leaves the Hogs eighth in the SEC in turnover margin (minus-1), an unfamiliar place for a team used to spending time at the top of the conference.

Arkansas won games the past three seasons because of its ability to amass takeaways on defense and special teams, while avoiding costly mistakes on offense. The Razorbacks led the SEC in turnover margin in 2002 (plus-17) and 2003 (plus-11) and were a close second to South Carolina in 2001 (plus-5).

But Arkansas has been sloppy this season, turning the ball over 10 times in five games. Huckeba said the defense hasn't helped, collecting all of its nine turnovers in wins against New Mexico State, Louisiana-Monroe and Alabama.

"They're so contagious," Huckeba said. "Like coach Nutt always says, they come in groves. One thing about it is, once you start getting them, we give the offense momentum, too.

"The ball gets rolling and it's a snowball effect. It kind of helps the whole game."

Quarterbacks coach Roy Wittke said there's no specific reason for the number of turnovers the offense has committed. Quarterback Matt Jones has been responsible for six (5 interceptions, 1 fumble) in the losses.

Even more, five of Jones' miscues came in the fourth quarter, including the late-game fumble against Texas and the pass picked off by Florida's Channing Crowder. But Wittke described one interception as a "Hail Mary-type" pass on the last play from scrimmage against the Longhorns. Another, Jones' third interception against Florida, came when the Hogs trailed by two touchdowns and needed to take chances.

"In the case of a couple of the others, just bad throw, bad read," Wittke said. "So there's really not any one specific reason (for the interceptions). We have to continue to emphasize every single day that we want to make good decisions. But you can't make players afraid to try to make plays either.

"Judgment and decision making are all part of what a quarterback has to deal with. That's something you just continue to harp on in practice."

Jones, who tallied 320 yards of total offense against Florida, threw a career-high three interceptions last Saturday and has tossed seven picks this season. He threw seven interceptions in 13 games in 2003 and eight in 14 games as a sophomore.

Wittke said the increased total is based on the fact Jones is throwing more this season than any other. He has completed 74 of 122 passes for 1,090 yards in five games and is on pace to establish career-highs in attempts (234), completions (132) and yards (1,917).

But Wittke said the Hogs put themselves in tight spots against Texas and Florida by failing to average four yards on first down. That forces an offense to throw the ball "when you have to instead of when you want to," making things easier for defenses.

"As your number of attempts go up, the opportunities and chances for an interception increase," Wittke said. "That doesn't mean that we want those to happen or that's an excuse for it. You don't want them.

"If you had a surefire way of preventing turnovers, you'd certainly use it."

CBS Sports has taken a liking to the Razorbacks.

The network announced Monday it has selected Arkansas' game at Auburn on Oct. 16 for a national television broadcast that'll kick off at 2:30 p.m. It'll mark the Hogs' third consecutive appearance on CBS.

The LSU-Arkansas game in Little Rock on Nov. 26 also will be televised by CBS.

That means the Hogs are scheduled to play at least four games on the network this season, which is the most in school history. Three Arkansas games have been televised by CBS during two different seasons (2001 and 2003).

Arkansas is 10-17 all-time on CBS, including a 5-9 record under coach Houston Nutt.

Arkansas continues to lead the SEC in scoring (37.8) and total offense (459.2 yards) after five games. The Razorbacks also are second in passing offense (253.2) and third in rushing (206).

But Arkansas isn't as fortunate defensively.

The Hogs are seventh in the SEC in scoring defense (22) and total defense (357.8 yards). They're eighth against the run (159.2) and the pass (198.6).

Individually, Jones leads the SEC in total offense, averaging 280.6 yards a game, is second in passing (218) and 10th in rushing (62.6). He is third in the league in passing efficiency with a 143.2 rating.

Receiver Steven Harris is fourth in the SEC in receiving yards a game (69.2).

Arkansas returns to the practice field today and will hold workouts Wednesday and Thursday. Nutt said the Hogs will emphasize improvement and might even scrimmage at some point this week.

Huckeba believes the coaches will treat the week like preseason practices.

"I feel like the coaches are going to take that attitude," Huckeba said. "I just want our team's attitude to be listening, paying attention. If coach says, 'Do it,' do it. Don't ask any questions. They're looking out for our best interests.

"If we can pay attention to them, work harder and just try to get better each day, we'll be just fine."

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