Third-Down Success Key For Hogs

FAYETTEVILLE -- Arkansas running back Darren McFadden raced through South Carolina's defense for 321 yards. Felix Jones was equally impressive, running for a career-high 166 yards and three scores.

But behind the staggering numbers and impressive records in Arkansas' 48-36 win against South Carolina, another statistic went unnoticed: The Razorbacks were 10 of 13 on third down.

"I think that was the difference in the game," Arkansas offensive coordinator David Lee said Saturday night. "We were making the third downs. It enabled us to move the chains, keep drives going."

Arkansas' third-down success has been a big part of its three-game win streak, which the Razorbacks (6-3, 2-3 in Southeastern Conference) will put on the line at No. 22 Tennessee (6-3, 3-2) on Saturday.

The Hogs have become one of the best at keeping drives alive. They're third in the SEC and 14th in the nation, converting 47.8 percent of the time on third down this season. That includes the current three-week stretch in which they're 31 of 45 (68.9 percent).

"We've been real fortunate," left guard Mitch Petrus said. "That's what has helped us a lot, especially the last game. It helped us move the ball."

The South Carolina win was the high point. Whenever the Hogs needed to keep a drive moving they accomplished it -- on the ground or through the air.

Two of the most important conversions came on the first drive, when the Razorbacks took a 7-0 lead. Quarterback Casey Dick hit tight end Andrew Davie for an 11-yard gain on third-and-5. He also found receiver Marcus Monk on third-and-goal, capping the drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass.

It didn't have the same flash as McFadden's 80-yard run, but Jones said it's no secret Arkansas' success on third down was crucial to the win.

"We're coming out here and executing our plays (in practice), getting them right, making them as perfect as possible," Jones said. "That's big. It keeps our defense off the field. It keeps the ball in our hands."

The Hogs had early success at Ole Miss, too. McFadden ripped off a 30-yard run on third-and-10 on the opening possession and it was followed by Felix Jones' touchdown run. On the next drive, Dick found Peyton Hillis on third down for a 34-yard gain to help the Hogs open a 14-0 lead.

"When you start the first drive and you score, it gives you momentum," Petrus said. "So the next third down you go, 'Hey, piece of cake. Everybody is cool. We can convert.'"

In all, the Razorbacks piled up 189 yards and two touchdowns on 15 third-down plays against the Rebels. One week later, they gained 103 yards and scored four touchdowns on third down against Florida International. It had 116 yards and a touchdown on third downs against the Gamecocks.

Lee said he's proud of the production. But he knows it has been aided by Arkansas' success on first and second downs, too.

Obviously, it's easier to convert on third-and-2 than third-and-10. Arkansas' struggles in the 9-7 loss to Auburn on Oct. 13 was proof.

The Razorbacks, who were a season-low, 3 of 13 on third down against the Tigers, faced third-and-7 or longer eight times in the game. On the flip side, there were just two, third-and-long attempts against South Carolina.

"If you can keep third and six at third and six, five, four, three, two, one, you've got a chance to make first downs move the chains and keep drives alive," Lee said. "That's what we've tried to do: Give ourselves a chance on first and second down to give us a manageable call (on third down)."

The Razorbacks are hoping that will continue against the Volunteers. If so, Hillis said their success on third down should remain impressive.

"I think that it's more of a confidence thing," Hillis said. "The past couple weeks we couldn't run the ball effectively. ... This past week we ran the ball real effectively. So when we get those third-and-4, third-and-5, we feel comfortable and it pays off."

Arkansas on Third Down

Season Totals: 64 of 134 (47.8 percent)

First six games: 33 of 89(37.1 percent)

Last three games: 31 of 45 (68.9 percent)

Three-Game Breakdown

vs. Ole Miss: 10 of 15 (66.7 percent)

vs. Florida International: 11 of 17 (64.7 percent)

vs. South Carolina: 10 of 13 (76.9 percent)

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