Analysis of Arkansas' narrow win over Louisiana Tech
Phew, that was close. It wasn’t the prettiest of games, and it certainly was a nail-biter, but a win is a win, and that’s what matters in the opening week of the season. That was especially true in this year’s opening week.
Fortunately for Arkansas, it survived the scare that a pesky Louisiana Tech provided on Saturday in Fayetteville.
Here is an analysis of the Razorbacks’ 21-20 victory:
- Fourth-down magic: Not only did Arkansas take the lead on a fourth-down, 4-yard touchdown pass by Austin Allen to tight end Jeremy Sprinkle with 6:37 remaining in the game, the offense also converted another fourth down to seal the victory with just over a minute to play. That came on 4th-and-inches at the Razorbacks’ own 37, when Kody Walker rumbled for a first down to ensure the visiting Bulldogs wouldn’t send their offense on the field again.
- First time’s a charm: If there was any doubt what type of leader, and quarterback, Allen can be for Arkansas in 2016, the signal-caller proved he can overcome adversity on Saturday. Although his performance was a little rough around the edges — the two interceptions certainly weren’t ideal — Allen came through when the team needed him the most to help lead the Razorbacks’ offense on a 13-play, 67-yard game-winning drive.
- Bend but don’t break defense: At times, the Bulldogs moved the ball with ease, but like the offense in the fourth quarter, Arkansas’ defense came to play in the final frame, too. In all, the Razorbacks held Tech to just 21 yards of offense in the fourth, which allowed the offense to stay on the field and mount a comeback. Four different players — Santos Ramirez, Dre Greenlaw, Kevin Richardson and Deatrich Wise — tied for the team lead with seven tackles.
- Ground and pound: With three new offensive linemen in the mix on Saturday, Arkansas didn’t run the ball as well as it hoped against the Bulldogs. However, as big as Allen was on the game-winning drive, so too was running back Rawleigh Williams, who finished with 96 rushing yards, the second most of his career. Of Williams’ 24 carries, eight came on the go-ahead drive, including the first five plays of the possession, and he ran for 32 yards.
- A little bit of luck: Arkansas deserves all the credit for coming back to win the game, although sometimes teams need some bounces to go their way, which was the case on Saturday. Widely considered the best special teams player in Conference USA, Tech’s kicker Jonathan Barnes missed a 39-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter. Barnes missed two on the day, but he won’t miss many more from 39 yards out this year.
Offense: B – Arkansas used a balanced attack to move the chains as it posted 297 yards of total offense. Third downs tripped the Razorbacks up throughout the game. They converted just 3-of-12 third downs, but they were also a perfect 3-for-3 when they went for it on fourth down.
Defense: B – The Razorbacks had no answer for the Bulldogs’ top receiver Trent Taylor, who caught 8 passes for 78 yards. But the unit’s play in the fourth quarter ultimately helped the team escape with a win.
Special teams: B – Toby Baker averaged 47.5 yards per punt with a long of 55. Otherwise, the unit was simply solid in the other areas.
Coaching: B+ – You have to wonder if Bret Bielema had the Razorbacks ready as the team struggled out of the gates. In the end though, Arkansas proved it was the better team and overcame adversity to go to 1-0 on the season.
Overall: B+ – The Bulldogs don’t compare to the competition the Razorbacks will be seeing in the SEC, but ultimately, Arkansas managed to pull out a win despite not playing the cleanest game.
Arkansas made a concerted effort to be balanced, and it paid off in the end. Allen finished with 191 passing yards, and while the running backs only combined to finish with 106 yards on the ground, Williams at least found some holes. Meanwhile, the defense stepped up in the fourth quarter. Louisiana Tech only managed to run 11 plays for 21 yards in the final period.
- WR Keon Hatcher: The pass-catcher hauled in 6 passes for 86 yards and was at his best on the game-winning drive. He caught two passes on the drive, the first got the Hogs in the red zone before the other set them up at the 7-yard line.
- RB Rawleigh Williams: Although he wasn’t dominant the entire game, Williams proved he still had enough in the tank to help Arkansas’ offense bleed the clock in the fourth quarter.
- The entire defense: With four players registering seven tackles, it was hardly a one-man show on the defensive side of the ball, but it was really in the fourth quarter that the Razorbacks’ defense earned the game ball here.