FAYETTEVILLE — It’s no secret Arkansas is young and inexperienced on the offensive, but their struggles are also well documented.
Getting Raheim “Rocket” Sanders back for the Texas A&M game was supposed to give the running game a big lift. However, Arkansas rushed 39 times for 42 yards against Texas A&M and then 29 for 36 against Ole Miss. In the two games, Sanders had 19 carries for 49 yards. The truth is the holes aren’t there most of the time for the running backs. Sam Pittman talked about what he saw on film from the offensive line against Ole Miss.
“There was so much movement that we couldn’t stay in front of them,” Pittman said. “We couldn’t get basically some pry-backs and things like that to open some holes up. We just weren’t quick enough to stay in front of them. We practiced and knew what they were going to do in their mint front, and it just seemed like we were overreaching that situation.
“It was almost like we weren’t seeing the game how he had practiced it. Maybe their movement was faster than what the scout team was able to do. I think because of the age of some of the guys, I don’t know that we can make the moves and stay with the moves that we made. There may be one or two, but I think with Beaux (Limmer)… Having a veteran at center, I think we have to start back there and work from there.”
Pittman went on to discuss other problems the line and running game is having.
“Some of our problems in the RPO when we hand the ball off and are not blocking the linebacker, and we hand the ball off and he makes the play,” Pittman said. “Sometimes it looks like an unblocked guy, which he is, but it’s designed to throw the football if he’s out of an area. Sometimes we handed the ball off in that. There was a couple two or three times there where the guy made the play and we weren’t accounting for him. We were reading him. So, we’ve got a lot of work to do in that area. I do think Ole Miss has a really good defense. They proved that when they played Alabama as well. I had a chance to watch that again.”
Arkansas did get through the Texas A&M game without a single penalty being marked off. But against BYU they had 14, 11 at LSU and then 10 against Ole Miss. All three of those losses where they had double-digit penalties were by a touchdown or less.
“We’ve got to get better,” Pittman said. “Our penalties, continue to work on that. We’ve just got to keep the noise going all the time, I believe. That might help. The rule on that a little bit is we’ve got linebackers flinching, jumping, yelling, moving several different times. I don’t know if that is what the rule is intended for, but we’ve got to practice that like it is the rule and stay in there better.”
Brady Latham is a fifth-year senior and a team captain. Yet he has been flagged pretty frequently for pre-snap penalties. As one of the most experienced players on the team why is that happening?
“Well, I mean, he just … I mean, he’s jumping,” Pittman said. “I don’t know how else to say it. He’s flinching whenever they say move. Not all the time, but he’s had several. … I don’t really know how to answer that one.”
The team is still playing hard for Pittman. Did he see the problems on the offensive line coming this summer and in preseason?
“You know, what happens when you go into situational football where there’s some things that might flare up in third down protection, absolutely,” Pittman said. “The other thing is and when you talk about one that doesn’t mean you’re talking negative about another, OK? But we had Devon Manuel and I think there were times during fall camp that I thought he was one of the 2, 3 best lineman that we had and he basically has not played this year, you know. Which not only takes away from there, it takes away from some other things that possibly you might can do in movement when you don’t have him. Ty’Kieast Crawford was another guy who’s been hurt and this, that and the other.
“Now, that’s not an execute. You asked the question, has it flared up? Yes it did, but not quite as much you know because we were a little healthier at that point and had a few more things that we could do. How to fix that, you know?”
Pittman then talked about a solution or two that might help the offensive line improve.
“You might get out of man schemes,” Pittman said. “In other words, it’s like if you’re having slide protection and you know you have backup. So I don’t have this guy particularly one on one. Now tackles are different because if they stay outside, you know you can chip out and things of that nature, but if they blitz you can’t because you’re taking your chip out of it. But if I’m in a slide I know I’ve got backup.
“But if I’m in a slide, I know I got backup. I got backup. It’s the same way when you run a true gap scheme. Everybody is going this way, someone’s pulling, guy moves, I got backup, I got backup, I got backup. When you’re in a man scheme, which it could be on the backside, you’re reading the linebacker or something like that. Now I’m one-on-one over here, but over here if anybody crosses face, I have no backup. So I think some of the plays that we’re running, we gotta back each other up.
“We’re just not there right now where we can go, ‘Okay, you can whip him, you can whip him, you can whip him, you can whip him.’ It’s gotta be, ‘If he moves, someone’s going to help me with this.’ I think that’s a little bit more where we’re headed so we can have some type of success running the football. It’s the same way in pass protection. There’s some things as called as true gap schemes where you’re just, everybody’s sliding. Now they can beat you, too, off the edge if you don’t watch it. But some of those things we have to do to cover up for movement. We’re not handling it. It’s not so much that we’re getting just drilled one-on-one, it’s…we’ve got to have ability, excuse me, if they’re not moving, we’ve got to have ability to back each other up in our run game because we’re getting so much movement. Movement has been the glaring thing for us.”
Arkansas and Alabama will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday. The game will be on the SEC Network.