Inconsistency Killing Arkansas' Offense

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas leads the Southeastern Conference in total offense (494.5 yards per game) and scoring (36.5 points per game), but coach Houston Nutt has been preaching for more consistency all week.

To break it down, quarterback Robert Johnson began Saturday's 28-24 loss against Vanderbilt by completing seven of his first nine pass attempts. He was 2-for-9 in the second quarter, then 7-for-8 in the third before having both fourth-quarter passing attempts fall incomplete.

The roller coaster offense is not one the Razorbacks want to ride again in Saturday's game at top-ranked Southern California.

"We were really good in the first quarter, we didn't make a mistake," Nutt said. "One stretch we had the ball for 18 plays without a mistake and that equals seven points. Then, there was couple of times where one or two people missed the wrong guy or a receiver drops a ball or the quarterback doesn't get two yards and stops a drive. That's what we're talking about.

"We're just putting our emphasis on that and everybody doing their part and executing."

Nutt said he has used "quite a bit" of his offensive package through the first two games by trying different formations and moving players like Peyton Hillis and Marcus Monk around in an effort to keep defenses off-balance.

Against Vanderbilt, the blend of successful pass and run plays faded late and the SEC's most productive offensive staggered for 11 yards on eight fourth-quarter plays.

"You can't have an up and down performance. That's what really hurt us," said quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Roy Wittke. "We were really good in stretches and very non-productive in stretches."

With Johnson's passing statistics suffering the most, the inconsistency is largely due to penalties and missed assignments, especially in blocking. When that breaks down, it's almost impossible for any quarterback to stay in rhythm.

"It was real frustrating," Johnson said. "We came out and everything seemed like it was going right for us. We've got to stay like that. Basically, we stopped ourselves the whole game. They didn't do anything new on defense.

"We have to keep a tempo going throughout the first quarter and through the whole game. It's not a quarter or half, it's an hour game. You have to play the whole game."

Through repetition in practices, Nutt hopes to put his players on "auto pilot" on game day. That means they've ran the play so many times against so many different defensive looks that the steps come natural, without thinking.

Center Kyle Roper said the key for the offensive line is to stay focused and not get caught up in all the pre-snap movement by the defense, something USC does as much as anybody.

"It's a hat-on-hat and you definitely have to focus on every play to be consistent," Roper said. "There's just so much stuff going on, I mean, one guy can move on defense and it can throw you off if you're not really focused in on what you're doing.

"You have to have tunnel vision. Not let anything distract you."

Arkansas has given up only one sack this season, but are sure to face more blitzes from the Trojans as they apply pressure on Johnson, who'll be making only his third career start. To help, Roper said pass protection must improve.

Others believe they can do their part to help, too.

"We need to establish the run early and make them want to put 8 or 9 in the box," said tailback De'Arrius Howard, who leads the SEC with 129.5 yards rushing per game. "Because when they do that, it's man-to-man coverage and with guys like Marcus Monk, Cedric Washington and Cedric Logan, they can't cover them for long. It will be a mismatch.

"We all have to execute our jobs on every play to get that consistency early on and then just stay with it the rest of the game."

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