Arkansas report card: Razorbacks take a step back in loss to Vanderbilt
Arkansas’ first season under Chad Morris has come with just one serious expectation: improve each week. The Razorbacks had clearly done that for five straight games leading into a home matchup with Vanderbilt on Saturday. But against the Commodores, the Hogs took a step back in a 45-31 defeat.
The Razorbacks (2-7, 0-5 SEC) now appear destined for a winless season in SEC play. Arkansas has a bye next week before finishing with LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri.
Here are my grades for the Hogs’ performance:
The offense was far from perfect, but 31 points at home against Vanderbilt should be good enough to win. It was the other side of the ball that didn’t give them a realistic chance.
Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd continued to shine. He rushed for 113 yards on 19 carries, his third consecutive SEC game with more than 100 yards. Backup running back Chase Hayden added 70 yards on just 5 carries, including a 38-yard touchdown. The running game, very clearly, was not the issue.
Quarterback Ty Storey threw 2 costly interceptions. Without those turnovers, the Hogs would’ve certainly had a chance to keep pace with Vanderbilt. But that would truly be asking way too much of Storey and this offense. The junior did throw for 240 yards and 2 touchdowns. Overall, Storey’s performance was about what should be expected from him going forward. He’s not going to take over an SEC game and win it for Arkansas. Still, he can be good enough to win some conference games if Arkansas is sharp in other areas.
The Razorbacks hadn’t allowed more than 28 points in any of their nine previous meetings with Vanderbilt. This is not an exceptionally high-powered Vanderbilt offense, so that stat says a lot about how poorly the Hogs played on defense.
Arkansas had no answer for Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who rushed for 172 yards and 3 touchdowns. Whenever the Commodores got him the ball, he made the Hogs defense look foolish. Vaughn is a quality SEC back, but he’s not nearly as dominant as Arkansas made him appear.
This performance comes after Arkansas had its first shutout since 2014 the previous week. It’s not all that surprising to see a letdown, though. This is a defense that has become extremely unpredictable. The group can shine one week and totally collapse the next, which is exactly what they’ve done the past two weeks.
Special teams: C
Kicker Connor Limpert set a career high with a 55-yard field goal in the second half. Beyond that, Arkansas’ special teams were a mix of good and bad, ultimately resulting in an average performance. It wasn’t a phase of the game that played a major role in deciding the outcome.
The defensive game plan gave Arkansas very little chance at picking up a win. The execution on that side of the ball was poor, and that didn’t help, but it was more a matter of being outcoached than anything else. In addition to having a lot of success with their running game, the Commodores burned Arkansas several times with well-timed screen passes. That shouldn’t have been a surprise, as Vanderbilt has used the screen game regularly all season, so it was definitely something the Hogs had seen on film and still couldn’t stop.
Offensively, the Razorbacks have clearly found a recipe for success by getting the ball to Boyd as much as possible. It worked again Saturday, and the overall plan was very much good enough to get a win. But the approach on defense outweighed that, which this grade reflects.
Not much is expected from this Arkansas team. Still, this was a disappointing performance. This game provided by far the best chance at earning an SEC win in 2018, and the defense gave Arkansas no chance of getting that done.