Arkansas scored a season-low 10 points in its loss at Mississippi State last Saturday.
So offensive coordinator Jim Chaney said he’s spending the bye week evaluating the reasons behind the shortcomings. Chaney began by pointing the finger at himself, questioning whether his game plans have been creative enough in SEC play.
"I always look at myself before I look at anybody else," Chaney said. "That’s kind of where I’m at right now is making dog gone sure I’m not stale and putting a little more pizzazz into what we’re doing as we approach the ball games."
Arkansas’ most glaring issues came in the red zone last Saturday.
The Razorbacks moved the ball inside Mississippi State’s 20-yard line five times, but only managed 10 points. Arkansas reached the red zone on its last three possessions and missed a field goal, turned the ball over on downs and threw an interception.
That wasn’t the extent of Arkansas’ troubles, though. The Razorbacks also struggled for success on first down plays as the game wore on and were plagued by a lack of explosiveness throughout. Arkansas did get a 42-yard run by Alex Collins in the second half and 36-yard pass from Allen to tight end Hunter Henry on the offense’s last possession, but neither big play led to points for the offense.
"What we were unable to do at Mississippi State was be explosive," Chaney said. "And when you’re not being explosive, be it my creativity as a play caller or whatever it happened to be, we weren’t being explosive enough to score enough points to win the game. So we’ve got to look at that and I’ve got to really study that hard and make dog gone sure I’m putting our players in position enough to be explosive and generate those plays that can result in scoring opportunities."
Arkansas is averaging 35.9 points this season, but just 20.8 in its five SEC games.
The level of competition has played a role in Arkansas’ struggles in conference play. Alabama (14 points allowed), Mississippi State (20.1), Auburn (22) and Georgia (22.2) all rank among the nation’s top 36 teams in scoring defense.
But the road doesn’t get any easier. Ole Miss leads the nation in scoring defense (13.2 points), while LSU is fourth (15.9) and Missouri is 14th (19.3). So Chaney said the Razorbacks must find a way to generate points when they return to the field.
"We’re playing some very good football teams and we’ve got to play at our optimum level to be able to do that, and I’ve got to continue to put more creative, good plans together for the guys to have success," Chaney said. "That’s what I can do and that’s what I’m trying to do a little bit better."
Coach Bret Bielema said wide receiver Jared Cornelius performed well in his debut as Arkansas’ punt returner last Saturday. Cornelius returned two punts for 11 yards, replacing cornerback DJ Dean after a week-long competition.
Bielema said Arkansas considered Cornelius for the position in preseason camp, but opted to let the freshman simply concentrate on his duties at wide receiver.
"Jared is such a mature, conscientious kid," Bielema said. "I think we all forget that he’s a true freshman. He started in January, graduated early, so he had this kind of aura to him that he was a little bit older than he really was. So we put too much on him. He was back there catching punts and did a nice job, but we just felt DJ kind of gave us the most consistency."
Bielema said Arkansas made the change because Dean let too many punts hit the ground. Dean averaged 11 yards on 11 punt returns, including a 63-yarder against Nicholls State earlier this season. But Cornelius will continue to handle the role.
"Jared really did a nice job during the game of solidifying the catch," Bielema said. "He had an early one there that might’ve had a chance and actually the second punt return late in the game that for a moment looked like it had a chance. So I think it’s only going to get better from this point forward."
Running back Jonathan Williams has been battling a shoulder injury since the season opener at Auburn. He added a sore knee to the list against Mississippi State.
Williams hurt his knee on the first series, leaving the field to be examined by the training staff. The junior eventually returned wearing a knee brace and finished with 47 yards, which was his second-lowest rushing total this season.
"This whole season," Williams said about the nagging injuries. "It’s been tough, but I’ve just been having to battle through it. … I felt like I was all right (against Mississippi State), but just having a knee brace on there kind of limits you in itself."
The bumps and bruises haven’t shut off Williams’ production. He remains third in the SEC in rushing yards (877) and is tied for second in rushing touchdowns (10). Williams also has topped the 100-yard mark in five games this season.
But the bye week comes at a good time. He hasn’t taken many reps in practice, although Bielema said that was the plan for Williams and Collins this week.
"We’ve been kind of resting, me and Alex this week, but I’ve been doing good," Williams said.
• Arkansas and Missouri have decided to call their annual SEC clash the "Border Line Rivalry." The Razorbacks and Tigers will meet as SEC foes for the first time on Nov. 28 in Columbia, Mo., and the programs will play annually as cross-divisional rivals. This season’s meeting will be televised by CBS with kickoff set for 1:30 p.m.
• Chaney said Arkansas’ starting offense and defense practiced "quite a bit" against each other Wednesday. Linebacker Brooks Ellis said it was productive as Arkansas prepares for LSU. "It was nice to get that competition again and just going after it again. It’s been awhile since we’ve done that that many plays in a row," Ellis said. "LSU does a lot of the same plays our team does, so that’s good reps for us."
• Backup quarterbacks Austin Allen and Rafe Peavey are getting a good chunk of practice repetitions during the bye week once again. Chaney said both are taking advantage of the opportunities. "(Peavey) and Austin got a lot of reps (Tuesday)," Chaney said. "They did a real nice job and performed well. Did a nice job with it."