Taking A Shot

FAYETTEVILLE -- Receiver Cedric Logan doesn't know when Arkansas is going to turn in a big play in the passing game.

He also isn't sure who is going to be on the receiving end of it. But Logan, who has one catch for 24 yards this season, said it's bound to happen. And when it does, the sophomore said he'll probably let out an enormous sigh of relief.

"I can't wait," Logan said. "Whoever it is, I'll feel like I caught it, too."

That's because Logan and the Hogs have been waiting for what has been an elusive achievement.

The big play has been missing from Arkansas' passing attack during the Razorbacks' 1-3 start, hurting an offense that ranks first in the Southeastern Conference in rushing (277.8 yards a game), but is last in passing (130.5).

In fact, Logan is one of three players that have combined to record Arkansas' four receptions of 20 yards or more this season. He latched onto a Robert Johnson pass in the 28-24 loss to Vanderbilt. Marcus Monk has two, hauling in 20- and 21-yard passes against Missouri State. And tailback Peyton Hillis recorded Arkansas' season-high, 29-yard reception against the Commodores.

But Arkansas hasn't recorded a passing play of 20 yards or more the past two weeks. So it's no surprise the Hogs' inability to stretch the field has become a point of emphasis during the open date.

"We have to be more productive," Arkansas quarterbacks coach/passing game coordinator Roy Wittke said. "Part of being more productive is being more aggressive and getting the football downfield. We haven't been able to bite off large chunks of yardage. Not as much as we did last year.

"We are all very aware of the fact that we have to be better in that phase of the game. We can be and we will be."

Arkansas had big-play success last season. The Hogs turned in four pass plays of 20 yards or more in the opener against New Mexico State alone. In all, Arkansas turned in 18 plays of 20 yards or more during the first four games in 2004.

Wittke said coaches have evaluated each aspect of the passing game the past few days. They've broken down every play, analyzed downs, weighed situations, judged decisions and looked at personnel.

It is also has carried over to practice, where coach Houston Nutt said Arkansas is emphasizing big plays in the passing attack this week.

"We're doing our running (game) and our basic offense," Nutt said. "But it has been a lot of team pass. A lot of, 'OK Robert, we're bringing the heat. (Defensive coordinator Reggie) Herring bring the blitz. Let's go.'

"We want to execute and get more confidence in our passing game."

Arkansas showed little of both during the 24-13 loss at No. 20 Alabama, when Johnson threw for 81 yards. Nutt said the Hogs had hoped to test the SEC's top run defense, but Alabama defensive coordinator Joe Kines confused Arkansas with a 3-3 scheme that dropped five players into coverage.

Monk, Arkansas' primary receiver, couldn't shake double teams. Other limited options were blanketed. Johnson also was under intense heat and struggled.

It was a low moment for this season's disappointing passing offense.

"What's been surprising to me is, how deep Missouri State (safeties were)," Nutt said. "How deep Joe Kines was with the doubling of Monk. You think it would be the opposite. But these people would not let us get Cedric Logan or Cedric Washington deep. They're so far back, forcing us to beat them with a quick passing game.

"We were expecting one-on-one (coverage). We were expecting to be able to throw it up to Monk all the time. And not able to get those 20-yard big plays right now, it's making us go a little bit longer and harder."

Injuries have hurt as well because Arkansas' best deep-play threat, Chris Baker, has been sidelined all season with a strained knee ligament. Senior tight end Jared Hicks, a valuable intermediate receiver and experienced blocker, has been sidelined, too.

But the biggest problems have been little mistakes. Linemen have missed blocks, Johnson has made poor decisions and receivers have dropped passes. Careless penalties also have limited opportunities.

"We haven't had a lot of big plays," Johnson said. "It shows you that we're just a little bit away. We've had mistakes. If we get rid of those, (big plays are) going to come. A couple 5-, 10-yard passes and next thing you know, 45 yards."

Wittke said there are no excuses. The Hogs must improve.

"It's a team effort," Wittke said. "We have to be better at every phase of the passing game and it starts at the quarterback position. We have to throw the ball better. We have to make better decisions. We talked about finishing better on the outside, finishing routes. Trying to do a better job after the catch.

"Huge chunks of yardage don't always have to come from throwing the football a long ways down the field. A 10-yard throw can turn into a 25- or 30-yard throw."

Johnson turned in his shakiest performance at Alabama, but Wittke believes he'll bounce back. The sophomore, who has started four games, has completed 48 of 92 passes for 464 yards with 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

His first deep ball of the season, on his second pass attempt, was intercepted by Missouri State. The Razorbacks haven't taken many deep chances since. But the strong-armed Johnson has the potential to make defenses respect the passing game.

"We feel like that is a strength of Robert's," Wittke said. "He has shown the ability to throw the ball downfield, although, you wouldn't know it because of what has happened in the ballgame. There have been times when we've had things called to get the ball downfield because of coverage, because of situation.

"Whether it was a lack of the correct decision in the decision making process or whatever, the ball has come down (to other receivers)."

Arkansas, which is averaging an SEC-low 4.8 yards per pass attempt, won't de-emphasize their strength -- the run game -- just to launch 30 deep balls a game.

Wittke said forcing long throws can do more harm than good. Instead, Arkansas must find a way to take well-timed chances as games unfold.

"It's been tough to not make the big play," said Washington, Arkansas' second-leading receiver with 10 catches for 106 yards. "I'm pretty sure I can vouch for everyone else on the team, including the staff. We just need to stretch the field.

"If we do, it will open up the run game and it will definitely open up Monk and some other things that we can do in the pass game that we're capable of."

Nut said the next two weeks are critical for improvement and is hoping to get pass catchers like Logan, Hillis and senior Dedrick Poole more involved. Arkansas isn't looking for 300- to 400-yard passing performances. Instead, Nutt would like to see "250 yards every now and then" from a struggling passing offense.

But, more important, Nutt said the Razorbacks must send a signal to opponents, letting them know that "we're going to come after you."

"None of us have really made big plays, yet," Poole said. "But I think you'll see in the next two or three games we'll start throwing the ball down the field a lot more."

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