HOGS need to run vs. No. 23 A&M
FAYETTEVILLE - Unless the Razorbacks fall behind even faster than last week when they trailed 24-7 in the first half vs. San Jose State, don’t anticipate Arkansas quarterback Nick Starkel launching 50 passes Saturday.
Arkansas (2-2, 0-1 in SEC) takes on No. 23 Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1) at 11 a.m. Saturday at the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. ESPN will televise the SEC West game nationally.
Even if the Hogs do wallow early, Arkansas coach Chad Morris vows the Razorbacks will be more patient with their running game than they were playing catch-up in their 31-24 non-conference loss to 21-point underdog San Jose State.
“We threw the ball 50 times, and that’s entirely too many,” Morris said. “We have to be effective running the football.”
Arkansas ranks No. 79 nationally in running the football, averaging 153 rushing yards per game, while A&M ranks No. 84 at 145 rushing yards per game. A week ago, Auburn's 20th-ranked rush defense held A&M to 56 total rushing yards and 2.7 yards per rushing attempt.
Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock were asked their retrospect if playing catch-up or giving up on their ground game dictated so much passing.
“I think it was probably a combination of both,” Morris said. “You’re down 24-7. Still, you’ve got a lot of time left. You’re early in the second half. You still play within the system, still run the offense that you’re able to run. Then as it went, and we went three and out right there to start the second half, at that point we had to get a play. We needed points, and you get in a little bit of passing mode at that point.”
Both Morris and Craddock said Starkel put too much on his shoulders. That manifested in Starkel throwing five interceptions. However, Starkel also threw three touchdown passes and brought Arkansas back from down 24-7 to tied 24-24 before the Spartans five-play 75-yard drive scored the game-winning TD with 1:13 left.
“Some of that, too, was Nick trying to take advantage of what he was getting,” Craddock said. “I’m not exactly sure the number of times we had a run play called that he threw it, but there were several. But toward the end we found Mike Woods (in Craven Whitlow photo above) down the field and a couple of guys open. So they were dropping eight and rushing three, which made it hard to throw the ball. So we would have liked to run the ball a little bit better if we could and keep that off Nick. That was entirely too many pass attempts.
Craddock and Morris said Starkel “pressed” as the Hogs trailed but wasn’t alone in trying to make too much happen when it couldn’t.
“I thought we were trying to make a 14-point play,” Morris said.
“Even when we battled back, I thought we pressed,” Morris said.
Ditto, Craddock said.
“When we did get down we all, not just Nick, we all pressed,” Craddock said. “And when you feel like you are better than a team, you’ve just got to go out and execute. You’ve got to stay within the system and I’ve got to call better plays, and we’ve got to execute. That’s what it’s about.”
Of course if the running game, had converted just one of the two fourth and shorts it didn’t achieve, maybe the retrospect would have been about a narrow escape win instead of a devastating loss.
SOMETHING TO PROVE
In any event, the Hogs say they have bonafide star running back in junior ex-Aggie Rakeem Boyd and an experienced one in senior Devwah Whaley.
Running the ball against A&M, nationally ranked because its losses are non-conference to No. 1 Clemson and to No. 7 Auburn, appears considerably harder than running the ball against San Jose State.
However, the Razorbacks arrive in Arlington more resolved in running the ball, and likely more resolved in every aspect, against the Aggies than they were at the outset vs. San Jose State.
Arkansas wrapped up its Fayetteville game week practices with a light Thursday workout.
Morris has practiced the Razorbacks inside the Walker Pavilion Indoor facility all week since AT&T Stadium games mostly are enclosed under the retractable roof. The Razorbacks get a AT&T Stadium walkthrough workout Friday.
DIRT CLEANS UP
Dennis “Dirt” Winston, Arkansas’ Arkansas Hall of Fame, University of Sports Hall of Honor and Southwest Conference Hall of Fame honored linebacker and defensive end for Frank Broyles’ 1973-76 Razorbacks and two-time Super Bowl champion (linebacker) for the Pittsburgh Steelers, will be Arkansas’ legend at the Dec. 6-7 SEC Football Championship weekend in Atlanta as part of each SEC team’s 2019 Football Legends Class.