Jim Harris: Two-Minute Drill – Rutgers 28-Arkansas 24


Rutgers 28-Arkansas 24

Rutgers 28-Arkansas 24

The Razorbacks streaked to a 24-7 lead early in the third quarter, helped by three Rutgers turnovers, but Arkansas squandered all the good fortune and the lead in the fourth quarter in losing 28-24 in Piscataway, N.J. Arkansas’ offense went conservative after gaining a 17-point lead, partly because of terrible field position on back-to-back possessions. However, the conservative strategy would have been the smart move had Arkansas not botched it twice in the punting game, giving up a 58-yard run back by Janarion Grant to pull the Scarlet Knights within 10, 24-14, and then giving up a 47-yarder to Grant that set up the go-ahead touchdown with 5:18 to play. Backup quarterback A.J. Derby, thrust in the starter’s role with a shoulder injury to Brandon Allen, provided the Hogs a serviceable effort, completing 14 of 26 passes and a touchdown and not turning the ball over. But the offensive coaching staff again didn’t want to give Derby anything risky, particularly in the first half and then after the Hogs went up 17, and 24 points weren’t enough to put away Rutgers. Though the Hogs held Rutgers to 56 rushing yards (including 47 yards in losses by Rutgers QB Gary Nova), the Scarlet Knights still lit up the UA pass defense for 346 yards.

The Scarlet Knights were their own worst enemy in the first half, messing up two long drives in the red zone, plus giving the Hogs a touchdown on Tevin Mitchel’s 27-yard interception runback, and only with some Arkansas help did they get on the scoreboard before halftime. They weren’t doing much offensively in the second half, either (only 25 total yards in the third quarter) until getting a break in the kicking game with Grant’s punt return. Finally, quarterback Gary Nova seemed to shake the effects of a concussion suffered last week and had a big fourth quarter, moving the Scarlet Knights 98 yards in six plays to pull his team within 3, 24-21, with 9:55 to play. Another break in the punting game set up a short scoring drive of 33 yards. Rutgers’ smaller but quicker defense was too much for Arkansas’ offensive line to handle much of the day, holding the Hogs to 101 yards rushing.

After a first half in which quarterback A.J. Derby was not given anything too risky – and Derby was off line on six of his 10 pass attempts — the Arkansas offensive brain trust came out with a wide-open game in the second half and the Razorbacks turned a 10-7 halftime lead into a 24-7 edge. Arkansas used end-around carries by Keon Hatcher to take advantage of the overpursuit by the Knights, and that opened up a few running lanes and more passing opportunities. Derby threw 19 yards to Javontee Herndon for a score, and the Hogs took advantage of a fumble forced by Trey Flowers and recovered by Chris Smith for a quick-strike trick play, a 21-yard halfback pass from Jonathan Williams to a wide open tight end Hunter Henry. Arkansas had to play it safe on its next two possessions, though, when Rutgers pinned the Hogs back near their 10 on punts.

Alex Collins and Jonathan Williams had a record-setting first three weeks against overmatched opposition, both topping 100 yards in rushing each game. For Collins, his three straight 100 yard games to start his career were an SEC freshman record. But against Rutgers, the run yardage was hard to come by. In the first half, Arkansas ran on 8 of 10 first-down snaps, and Rutgers, knowing quarterback A.J. Derby would have a limited passing game, attacked the Arkansas run game. This didn’t change much in the second half, either, although the Hogs did open up their bag of tricks for some early third-quarter offense. Collins finished with 63 yards on 16 carries but wasn’t in the game for the fourth quarter, supposedly because of his lack of blocking on pass plays. Arkansas had just 101 rushing yards for the game and averaged 3 yards per rush. Some of the blame has to go to an offensive line — just as small but quick Samford, a Football Championship Subdivision team, befuddled the Arkansas front through 40 minutes of a game two weeks ago, Rutgers gave the bigger but slower Hog linemen fits with its quickness and technique.

Take your pick on plays that turned Saturday’s game Rutgers’ way. Here are three:

*With Arkansas’ defense playing very well and the Hogs up 17 as the third quarter was nearing the need, rugby-style punter Sam Erwin-Hill ran to the right for his punt, but he hooked it across the field to his left, Rutgers’ right. Arkansas’ coverage was set up to cover the Hogs’ right side. Janarion Grant started to his right, made one cutback inside against the one Hog on that side and ran through Razorbacks who would not break down and make a stop. Grant would return another punt 47 yards to set up the Rutgers go-ahead score.

* Rutgers had been pinning Arkansas deep, but the Hogs turned the tables and had the Scarlet Knights pinned on their 2 early in the fourth quarter. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova immediately went to the air for his fade lob, the same pass he destroyed Arkansas with in Fayetteville last year. Brandon Coleman, the Knights’ 6-foot-6 receiver, had the height advantage on 6-foot Tevin Mitchel and pulled in the 30-yard pass that got the Knights out of the shadow of their goal line, and it was play 1 of a six-play scoring drive.

* The play that ended the 98-yard drive pulled Rutgers within 3 points and put Arkansas under tremendous pressure to hold on in difficult surroundings. Arkansas’ defense rose up to put the Knights in a fourth-and-12 situation from the Hogs’ 33. Nova and Co. went for broke. Leonte Carroo had press man-to-man coverage from Tevin Mitchel on the right side, and freshman defensive back D.J. Dean, playing a safety, bit on a tight end’s move to the middle and was slow helping Mitchel as Carrou blew right past Mitchel on a streak down the sideline and took in Nova’s lob for a 33-yard scoring play. Carroo also scored the game-winner on a 4-yard toss from Nova.

Something you don’t see everyday is a fake punt in which the pass goes to the deep snapper. But Arkansas ran the play in the first quarter to get its offense moving to a 41-yard Zach Hocker field goal to get on the board. Sam Erwin-Hill moved toward his right as is typical for his rugby-style punting. But Rutgers didn’t account for snapper Alan D’Appolonio, who essentially lined up as a tight end while snapping (and wearing No. 82, not his normal number). The player to D’Appolonio’s right was off the line of scrimmage, allowing the snapper to be an eligible receiver. He had the longest catch of the game for any Razorback, 24 yards, keeping the Hogs’ march going at the Knights’ 27.

Several younger Razorbacks had big games. The entire defensive line had a big day, but the play of freshman tackle Darius Philon was quite a lift for the defense, as the Mobile product had two first-half sacks. Sophomore linebacker Otha Peters, who had a broken arm in August, got his first significant time, replacing Austin Jones at middle linebacker for the second half, stopping the run and shutting down the tight end. Jones had been victimized by Tyler Kroft for five catches and a touchdown in the first half. Martrell Spaight, a junior college transfer, saw significant second-half playing time at linebacker and broke up a pass.

“What I thought happened today is, you played well enough to win the game but some critical errors basically take the victory away from you. It’s a disappointing thing. We just haven’t learned how to win those type of games yet. That’s going to come with experience.” — Arkansas coach Bret Bielema

Arkansas (3-1) returns home to face Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M (3-1) at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in a 6 p.m. kickoff. The ESPN network will carry the game either on ESPN2 or ESPNU. A&M marks the first of a four-game SEC gauntlet for the Hogs, with Florida, South Carolina and Alabama to follow before the first of two open dates.

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