Jim Harris: Don’t Worry, Razorbacks Will Have to Pass Soon Enough


We knew it wouldn’t take long, after Arkansas had run the ball every single snap but two in the second half of last Saturday’s 49-28 win at Texas Tech, that the worry would begin. Several fans asked if we thought the Razorbacks’ receiving recruits who are committed to the Hogs or looking seriously at signing with Arkansas would suddenly be turned off by all that running.

Of course, one of those committed recruits is North Little Rock’s K.J. Hill, who Thursday night against Pine Bluff was everything he’d been hyped to be with 11 catches for nearly 150 yards, plus two running carries. One of those runs, a reverse in the red zone going from right to left and perfectly blocked by two Charging Wildcats on the left side, was a display of pure athleticism found in only a handful of Arkansas high school athletes every few years. Hill had the blocking for the first 10 or so yards, but to score he was going to have to go through a couple of late closers near the goal line at the end of his 16-yard run. Rather than go through them, however, Hill went airborne from about the 5 and held the ball over the pylon before getting it knocked loose. Touchdown.

Hill had one reception for a score, and leaped high over defenders in the end zone to snag another that was wiped out by a holding call. But, against what is typically one of the faster higher-classification teams in Arkansas year-in and year-out, Hill showed what all the fuss is about.

Already built for major college with the physique, the 6-foot-2 Hill looks ready to step right in to the role currently manned on the Hogs’ first team by Keon Hatcher.

Yes, to some recruits and probably to a few receivers currently on campus, it would look better if Arkansas threw the ball more than the 17 times quarterback Brandon Allen has passed it the past two weeks.

However, any more passing against Nicholls, particularly with the starting unit, would have been cruel punishment for the FCS visitors who took home a check and a 73-7 shellacking. In breezy Lubbock last week, against a team that couldn’t stop the Razorbacks’ running game if it had been allowed three extra defenders, there was no reason to put the ball up and risk a momentum-changing play.

Arkansas had already survived that once when offensive coordinator Jim Chaney decided late in the first half at the Tech 11-yard line that it was the perfect time to show the flea-flicker look again, only this time with a pitch from Alex Collins to Hatcher running wide instead of back to Brandon Allen for a throw. At least that’s what it appeared was happening until a Tech run stunt blew up the play at the line, one of the rare instances that Arkansas didn’t make a key block up front. Luckily for the Hogs, they regained the momentum moments later when Martrell Spaight intercepted a Davis Webb pass and returned it to the Raiders’ 12, setting up Jonathan Williams’ one-play scoring drive to give Arkansas the lead for good.

(It’s worth noting that even as pundits and announcers and everyone watching thought Arkansas should do nothing but pound the ball after halftime, the Hogs started the second half with a completed pass to Demetrius Wilson. One more try, incomplete, summed up the passing for the day.)

Nobody will be as easy to run over than Texas Tech was last weekend. Justin Acri, program director at 103.7 The Buzz and part of the Central Arkansas Bears broadcast team, said that compared to UCA’s other opponents, Montana State and UT-Martin, Tech had by far the worst defensive front, and UCA gave Tech an opening-game scare before falling 42-35.

Saturday’s foe at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, Northern Illinois, may be fairly easy for Arkansas’ massive and strong offensive line to move aside, but it won’t be like it was in Lubbock. And nothing waiting ahead in the SEC will be as porous as the Tech front seven — not A&M with its rebuilt front and stud freshman defensive end, or Georgia and it’s myriad defensive problems throughout, or anyone else.

When SEC teams reconfigure their fronts to confound Arkansas’s relatively young offensive line and stack to take away gaps, those running lanes are certain to be shut down in ways Texas Tech could only dream about.

It will be every opponent’s goal from this point on to take away the Hogs’ obvious strength, it’s running, and make Arkansas pass the football over the defense to sustain drives and loosen the opposition for its power game.

So far, Arkansas has not had to pass or the passing has been hit or miss. Brandon Allen, in that Lubbock wind, wasn’t sharp last Saturday. He let one long ball sail with laser-like precision well out of the reach of a wide-open Hatcher when Chaney and the sideline unveiled the flea-flicker the first time, on Arkansas’ first sustained drive. That throw was spun into the wind, and had he put some air under the ball it might have been held up enough for the defense to make a play. Maybe. With the wind later, Allen was well long for Wilson, who had also gotten his feet tangled.

Against Auburn in the opener, the receivers were off when Allen was mostly pin-point for the game. Allen couldn’t have thrown it any better on a deep route down the left sideline to Hatcher, who dropped what likely was a certain six points. Two more easy catches went for drops, and a couple more slightly harder throws weren’t handled as well. Unable to complete passes on third down, Arkansas didn’t threaten Auburn in the second half after tying it at 21 before halftime.

Who really knows what to make of any of the passes by Allen or his brother, Austin, against a ridiculous Nicholls’ defense that was almost a no-show until it was 63-0.

Just in case the prevailing thought among fans — and the negative recruiting coming from opposing coaches seeking the same recruits — was that Bret Bielema was simply a run-only coach, the head man went to great lengths Monday of this week to explain that perhaps his style has been misunderstood. Running was what it took to control the ball and win at Tech, but he seeks a balance — a mix of 215 yards of both running and passing would be ideal, the coach said — and he has the evidence at Wisconsin in recent years to prove it. Sure he’s coached three future NFL backs at the same time before and yet that same Badgers team put up good passing figures as well.

The question is not whether the Razorbacks will have to pass in the next nine games. The question remains, can they successfully pass the ball when they have to pass to win? Though it may not be a determining factor Saturday, it will be in the upcoming SEC slate starting with A&M in Arlington, Texas, next week. Opponents are going to offer Arkansas the chance to move the ball through the air, against man-to-man coverage in the secondary, and like at Auburn the Hogs are going to have to try their hand at it. Putting it together, quarterback and receivers, must happen soon.

As for NIU, most observers rated their secondary as far and away its worst area of play in last week’s 48-34 victory over UNLV. It doesn’t sound like the Huskies can afford to leave their coverage players on an island against the likes of Hatcher and Wilson while trying to completely take away the UA running game. But they may take the gamble.

razorbacks will have to pass soon

Tags: , , , , , , , ,