By Drake Priddy
FAYETTEVILLE — After last week’s 481 yards of total offense against Florida, many believed that the Arkansas offense was back on track under Kenny Guiton, and one win closer to post-season festivities.
But today the Razorback offense collectively accounted for 255 yards of total offense, another home loss, and an end to post-season hopes. Most notably, the Razorback offense scored their first touchdown today in Arkansas since their third-quarter touchdown against BYU back in September.
Head Coach, Sam Pittman felt good heading into today’s game after working out last week’s kinks. But he credits Auburn’s quick-strike ability for their downfall today.
“…We went back to where the protection wasn’t any good,” Pittman said. “Gave up five sacks. Couldn’t run the ball. Got stymied running the football. Things we did well last week. I thought we had a really good week of practice and preparation. We felt really good going into the game. They jumped on us on the first drive. Then they held us and came back with a punt, but we did the same thing to Florida last week. They came back and we never did. … Didn’t block well all game. That’s what happened…”
Last weekend in The Swamp, the Arkansas offense looked like a revived unit and even like a competitive SEC team. They moved the ball well enough to beat Florida on their home field in overtime. The offense converted eight of 18 third downs, had 23 first downs, and only had two three-and-outs. They also turned the ball over twice via an interception and fumble.
On the other hand, today versus Auburn, Arkansas only converted one of 12 on third downs, had 10 first downs, and five three-and-outs. They also gave up two fumbles. Pittman and co. threw the book at Auburn on third down and still could not convert.
“You hit it,” said Pittman. “Third and long. It always seemed like we couldn’t win first down at all. Third and long was a problem for us. We tried several different things. Empty, six-man protection, rolling out, nakeds, things of that nature, running it. They were just more physical than us, and really dominated us.”
Other than not moving the ball, the Arkansas offense scored one lone touchdown with 14:35 left to play in the fourth quarter. Cam Little also kicked a 39-yard field goal after the offense could not convert on the Auburn 20-yard line in the first quarter. Last week, in The Swamp they had seven scoring drives, four of which were field goals.
Pittman credits last week’s pace and play calling for their winning performance in Florida.
“Last week, we threw some bubbles and made some plays that maybe took them out of the box a little bit,” said Pittman. “We didn’t play as much men as what we did saw today, but other than just getting whipped. The other thing is, last week was a surprise to them with what we did and the pace that we did it and all that. But you’ve got to get some first downs to play a fast pace, and I don’t think we did that until somewhere in the second quarter.”
After Auburn went up 41-3, former Morrilton stand out and North Carolina junior transfer, Jacolby Criswell, took the field in place of starting QB K.J. Jefferson. Criswell would connect with transfer receiver Isaac TeSlaa for an 11-yard touchdown pass late in the game.
With little to lose and to preserve his starting quarterback’s health, Criswell got the nod from Pittman.
“We’re down 41-3 and KJ is getting the heck beat out of him back there,” said Pittman. “Obviously, I wanted to look at Jacolby, and I talked to KJ. I thought he went in there and played really well. I thought he played like what I thought he would, like how he’s been practicing and things of that nature. The bottom line is it was seven minutes left in the third quarter, and we’re down 41-3. KJ was bloodied up a little bit, and I wanted to see what Jacolby could do.”
Criswell’s teammates were also happy to see him get a few reps in. TeSlaa praised Criswell’s attempts for a game that was over before the first half.
“Yeah, we’re just happy for the kid,” said TeSlaa. “Obviously he’s been the No. 2 guy all year, so it’s cool to see when he gets his opportunity to go out there and execute and do a really nice job, obviously running and throwing the ball.”
When Criswell entered the game, Jefferson was 10-16 on passes for 116 yards and rushed for 50 yards on 15 attempts. Last week, Jefferson was 20-31 passing for 255-yards, two touchdowns, and one interception. He also rushed for 92-yards on 17 tries.
Criswell’s late game performance amounted to 2-4 passing for 19-yards and one touchdown. He also rushed six times for 64-yards, with his longest being a 60-yard scamper. This was his first appearance since the win against WCU back in September.
Arkansas’s quarterbacks led the rushing attack today, totaling 114 yards on 21 attempts.
Last week, a healthy Raheim “Rocket” Sanders led the attack with 103 rushing yards on 18 attempts. Today, he had eight rushing attempts for zero yards.
Without any hopes of post-season festivities, the Razorbacks are playing for wins moving forward and it starts with preparation against Florida International next week.
“Well, we’ve got to win,” said Pittman. “We’re going to play to win. We’ve got to beat Florida International next week, so we’re going to continue to do what we feel is the best to get us a win. I think a lot of it will have to do with where we’re at physically. We had several guys go off today, so I think we’ll have to figure out where we are physically. Our job is to give our kids the best chance to win, so that’s what we’ll do next week.”
After today, Arkansas owns a record of 3-7 (1-6 in conference) and is looking to improve their win column against FIU next Saturday. The Hogs and Panthers will face off under the lights at 6:30 pm on ESPNU.