Jim Harris: Razorbacks’ Fourth-Quarter Dominance A Myth So Far


Razorbacks Fourth-Quarter Dominance A Myth So Far

“That’s kind of the definition of how I like to play games, that second half, to wear it down, get some turnovers. People just don’t want to play football for four quarters a lot of the time. I think our kids bought into it.”Bret Bielema after Arkansas’ 34-14 win over UL-Lafayette, Aug. 31

Arkansas won the fourth quarters over Sun Belt Conference foe Louisiana-Lafayette, FCS-level Samford and Southern Mississippi, which is now seen its losing streak grow to 17 games, to begin this football season. But the Razorbacks haven’t scratched in the fourth quarters of their last three games.

Rutgers outscored Arkansas 21-0 over the last 20 minutes of its 28-24 win in Piscataway, N.J.; Texas A&M held Arkansas without a point in the fourth quarter even though Arkansas once drove inside the A&M 15 in a 45-33 defeat; and Florida denied the Hogs despite Arkansas having reached the Gators’ 3-yard line late in a 30-10 Florida win.

The kicking game botched a lot of that loss at Rutgers and Arkansas toiled on without starting quarterback Brandon Allen. Back from his shoulder injury, Allen looked tired late against A&M. Florida beat him to a pulp in the second half in Gainesville but he still gamely hung in. Arkansas’ defense in all three games didn’t wave the white flag, but the lack of depth in the back seven seemed to rear its ugly head late.

And those hoped-for turnovers Bielema noted in describing the ULL finish — they’ve been far and few between, especially in the fourth quarter of the past three games. Arkansas forced three turnovers in the first 35 minutes at Rutgers, but hasn’t gotten one since.

If Arkansas couldn’t win at Rutgers winning the turnover battle 3-0, the Hogs aren’t going to win a Southeastern Conference game against the league’s stronger teams losing in turnovers 0-2, which has been the case against A&M at home and Florida on the road.

Arkansas’ problem with creating turnovers surely didn’t start this year under first-year coach Bielema. Last season, Arkansas opponents bobbled the football 16 times and the Hogs recovered just six. Meanwhile, the Razorbacks had an amazing 36 fumbles, losing 15 (which, in the grand scheme of things, was a pretty fortunate recovery rate on those other 21).

Add in the 16 interceptions Arkansas surrendered while picking only 6 passes and, all told, Arkansas had 31 turnovers and took away 12. If one didn’t know anything else about the Hogs in 2012, is there any question looking at the turnover margin why they went 4-8?

Now look at this season. Arkansas has four interceptions, and two of those are by defensive linemen (Trey Flowers, JaMichael Winston), none by safeties. Arkansas’ three fumble recoveries in six games are each by end Chris Smith and linebackers Jarrett Lake and Austin Jones.

I posed this question last Saturday night to former Razorbacks Isaac Davis and Michael Smith: Is the lack of turnovers created by the defense a direct result of the Hogs’ talent (or lack thereof) on defense? Smith said it was obviously true that talent was the cause, while Davis said that might be partially the case but teams with lesser talent can develop a knack for creating turnovers.

This group just hasn’t managed it. The defensive backs are rarely in a position to intercept any passes, and rival quarterbacks and receivers must salivate in the film room when they see the wide expanse offered in the UA secondary. It seems like the back seven’s chief goal has been to tackle — seeing as how some of it went during the spring, that’s where Arkansas needed swift improvement — and not to separate ball carriers from the football.

We even saw the tackling in the secondary let the Hogs down a week ago. Determined not to give up a deep pass, Arkansas conceded short tosses to Florida’s Solomon Patton, who turned simple curl routes into the game-changing touchdowns to put some distance between the Gators and the Hogs. The first one came with just 20 seconds left in the half. If Arkansas allows, at worse, a field goal, it’s just 13-7 – still a one-score difference. The second Patton touchdown, nearly a mirror of the first but from 38 yards instead of 51, came on the first possession of the second half. Arkansas’ offense didn’t touch the ball for any significant time between Florida turning a 10-7 game into a 24-7 rout.

Not that the offense has been perfect, either. While Arkansas has improved its giveaway nature of a year ago, the two SEC games have featured gut-punches with interceptions and pick-six returns of Brandon Allen passes. Those are possibly 14-point swings on the scoreboard, and certainly they’re 7-point gifts that Arkansas as a team can’t afford.

The Hogs outscored their outmanned first three opponents by 21-0 in the fourth quarter. Against Rutgers and the two SEC foes, Arknasas has been outscored 27-0 in the fourth quarter.

Bielema’s plans for fourth-quarter dominance so far haven’t been evident against better competition. His Hogs bought in early, when the going was easy, but they obviously haven’t convinced themselves now that the opposition is stiff. Though Arkansas will still be trailing overall in the talent department on Saturday against South Carolina at home, it would be a good time to start displaying a control of the game late.

If Arkansas has to be superior in ability to most of its foes before it can take over the fourth quarter, Hog fans may be waiting quite a while.

Tags: , , , , ,