Midfield Woes

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas ranks in the top half of the Southeastern Conference in red-zone offense. But the problem has been getting there.

For whatever reason, Arkansas' offense has struggled at times when it gets to midfield. It's like the Bermuda Triangle. The Razorbacks appear to get lost the closer they get to the 50-yard line.

Arkansas moved the ball beyond midfield four times in the first half of Saturday's 24-23 double-overtime win against Alabama. But a combination of penalties, missed assignments and bad throws factored into the Razorbacks getting just a 24-yard field goal from kicker Jeremy Davis.

The problem didn't get much better in the second half as quarterback Mitch Mustain continued to struggle with his accuracy. As a result, drives stalled well short of the end zone.

"I think if we look at it real close, we stopped ourselves," Arkansas coach Houston Nutt said. "We stopped ourselves whether it be a missed block, a penalty (or) an incomplete pass. Those are little bitty things that add up, and we can't overcome those."

Nutt said the offensive breakdowns were the most disappointing aspect of Saturday's win, and offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn has vowed to address the problem in practice this week.

Arkansas (3-1 overall, 2-0 SEC) doesn't play again until Oct. 7 at second-ranked Auburn. That should give Malzahn plenty of time to figure out why his offense can get to midfield — but often times has a problem getting past it.

"Offensively, obviously, we're not clicking like we need to, so this (open week) is very good for us," Malzahn said. "We're not worried about Auburn this week; we're worried about ourselves.

"And we've got to do a better job of mental preparation and physical preparation and just do a better job on Saturdays."

Arkansas' coaches have seen proof that the offense can get into a rhythm and march downfield with no problem. Over the past two games, the Razorbacks have put together a pair of 93-yard touchdown drives.

But too frequently Arkansas' offense has stalled well short of the end zone.

On Arkansas' first play from scrimmage Saturday, running back Felix Jones broke off a 26-yard run to give the Razorbacks a first down at Alabama's 44-yard line. But the drive ended three plays later.

Then, midway through the second quarter, Mustain connected with wide receiver Marcus Monk on a 40-yard pass to the Alabama 45. But after a Jones run moved the ball to the 39, the offense stalled because of a false start penalty and two more errant throws by Mustain.

"We just weren't executing. We tried throwing it, and I wasn't hitting the targets that I needed to," Mustain said. "We ran the ball fairly well, but again, we just kept stalling. And that's something we're going to have to keep working on this week."

The offensive breakdowns caused Arkansas to go into halftime trailing 10-3 rather than having the lead. That's what bothered Nutt.

"When we get the ball inside the 50 or midfield in the first quarter, (the score should be) 10-0 or 14-0, it's got to be," Nutt said. "And that's what we want to get to. That was the most disappointing thing of the day."

Mustain admitted Tuesday that his right arm felt tired against Alabama, which contributed to his 7 of 22 passing for 97 yards, one touchdown and three interceptions.

Meanwhile, Malzahn said the problem boils down to simply a lack of execution, whether it's turning the ball over or committing too many penalties. But at least the offense has another week to address the problem.

"It's a matter of execution, I don't care what game it is," Malzahn said. "You've got to execute to stay on the field, and we haven't been doing a good enough job. We've got to find a way to execute better."

And get past midfield.

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