Hogs ‘Stealing' On Special Teams

FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas has endured its share of rocky moments on special teams, but the Razorbacks enjoyed something else in the kicking game against Auburn.

Stealing. At least, that's what defensive end Jake Bequette called the big plays Arkansas notched throughout the win.

"It's a huge part of the game," he said. "If you can get some big plays on special teams, it's almost like stealing."

It has taken plenty of time and quite a few lumps, but the Razorbacks' special teams finally showed some big-play potential throughout its 44-23 win against the Tigers.

Two of them came from a familiar source, kick returner Dennis Johnson, but there were other contributions. Arkansas forced a fumble on a kickoff return, avoided mistakes with its punt return team, and was relatively error-free with its kicks.

The only blemish: A botched hold on an extra point in the first quarter. But special teams coordinator John L. Smith said it doesn't take away from what was accomplished in an area that had been an obvious weakness this year.

"It's a great compliment to those kids," Smith said. "Every week it seems like they're believing more and wanting to do more. And realizing that they can be an impact and are an impact when they go out there and execute."

One of the best examples came in the second quarter, shortly after the Razorbacks scored a touchdown to take a 13-0 lead, Arkansas cornerback Andru Stewart poked the ball out of Auburn running back Mario Fannin's hands on the ensuing kickoff and teammate Jerell Norton recovered it.

Arkansas' offense stepped back on the field and scored a touchdown two plays later to boost the lead to 20-0. It was the second turnover Arkansas' special teams has forced this year.

"It was just getting used to what we were trying to do special teams wise," Stewart said. "So now that we've got an idea of the schemes and stuff, it's just all about running full speed and making plays when we can."

Johnson's 70-yard kickoff return at the end of the third quarter was another critical moment. Arkansas' lead had slipped to 34-23 before the big play, but the offense took advantage of the field position and scored its final touchdown.

"With them being able to give us some momentum on drives and things like that, it really helps out," quarterback Ryan Mallett said.

The Razorbacks are hoping from some game-changing efforts Saturday, too. They'll need it. The top-ranked Gators have been impressive on special teams under coach Urban Meyer.

Last season, the Gators blocked nine kicks en route to the national title. This year, Florida has blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown. Then there's return specialist Brandon James, who returned a kickoff for a touchdown in the opener and is a threat to score every time he touches the ball.

But Bequette said Arkansas believes it is capable of making big plays on special teams, too. All it took was a Saturday afternoon full of "stealing" from the Tigers.

"We've been playing a lot better on special teams," Bequette said. "With Coach Smith coming in, it's kind of been a work in progress but I think we're kind of getting on a roll. He's a great coach, we spend a lot of time during practice on special teams and it's all starting to kind of click for us now."

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