FAYETTEVILLE — Arkansas put together two impressive touchdown drives to cap its fourth-quarter comeback against Samford last Saturday.
So with the Razorbacks back on top 31-21, Arkansas coach Bret Bielema had a suggestion for his offense when it went back onto the field late in the game.
"I kind of yelled, ‘Hey, how about a nice little 7 ½ minute drive?’" Bielema said.
The Razorbacks obliged, putting together a 13-play, 63-yard drive that chewed the final 7:35 off the clock. It was a strong statement for a team that was trailing when the fourth quarter began.
It’s also another example of what Arkansas plans to accomplish this season. The Razorbacks want their program defined by strength, conditioning and grit and the late-game performance has been proof that mentality is taking shape.
Arkansas has controlled every aspect of the fourth quarter in its two wins, dominating opponents with a powerful ground game, shutting them down on defense, and milking nearly every precious second off the clock.
The teams — Louisiana-Lafayette and Samford — haven’t exactly been SEC caliber. Obviously, bigger challenges await. But offensive guard Brey Cook said the early results — like a 7:35 drive to end the Samford game — are "exhilarating."
"You’re out there and they know you’re going to run it and you know you’re going to run it," Cook said. "Everyone knows what you’re about to do and they can’t do anything about it. That’s definitely one of those empowering feelings.
"It’s tiring, but it’s worth it. That’s why you play the game."
There’s no doubt Arkansas’ plan has worked well the past two weeks.
The Razorbacks didn’t score, but held onto the football for 11:14 of a possible 15 minutes in the fourth quarter against Louisiana-Lafayette to make sure it secured a 34-14 win. It did even better Saturday, keeping the football for 11:25 — including the final drive that spanned 7:35 — of its 31-21 win against Samford.
It has helped Arkansas outscore (14-0), outgain (214-70) and outrush (206-25) opponents in the fourth quarter. The Razorbacks also have run more than twice the amount of plays (40-18). Only three of Arkansas’ 40 plays were passes.
The Razorbacks didn’t even attempt a pass in the fourth quarter against Samford last Saturday, running the ball on 21 straight plays for 163 yards in the win.
"From my end it’s been awesome, that’s for sure," said Arkansas quarter Brandon Allen, who is 1-for-3 for 8 yards in the fourth quarter this season. "Any time you’ve got the lead going into the fourth quarter, our mentality is to really pound the ball and really waste a lot of time off the clock. We’ve been able to do that."
Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney doesn’t mind, either. Chaney said he’ll call 30 straight runs or 30 passes if it leads to success. And the run game obviously worked.
"Right now, I just feel like it’s in our best interest to head that direction," Chaney said. "I felt there was a time in that ball game where I needed to loosen it up a little bit. We came out in the third quarter and called a pass we didn’t complete, ran the ball, threw another pass incomplete. We were just a little out of sync with everything. Sometimes it’s easier just to hang your hat on something and we want to hang our hat on being physical right now. And that tends to be the best way to go."
Bielema said it’s all part of the mentality and attitude the Razorbacks have instilled in players the past several months. From spring practice to summer conditioning and fall camp, toughness and physical play have been Arkansas’ calling cards.
Offensive line coach Sam Pittman said it played out at a critical time last Saturday.
"I think you pound on people they get tired," Pittman said. "I think Samford got tired, and I think our kids bounce back sand said, ‘Hey, we’re either going to win or lose it this way. Let’s go figure out a way to win."
Chaney said there’s more to the success. It’s also about executing when it matters.
He pointed to the fact Arkansas moved the chains with two critical completions late in the third quarter against Samford. The first came on a 3rd-and-11 pass to Julian Horton, which moved Arkansas to its own 35. The next came on a 13-yard completion to Hunter Henry on 3rd-and-7, moving the Razorbacks to Samford’s 28.
It was Allen’s last pass. Over the next 22 plays — all runs — the Razorbacks scored two touchdowns, ran for 165 yards, and played keep away from Samford.
"We’re executing plays to be able to control the ball that way," Chaney said. "We’ve able to get the down and distance and stay in front of the markers and get first downs. It probably speaks more to that than anything else. I do think our kids are in shape though, and doing a nice job with all that. I think we executed better in the fourth quarter than we did probably in any of the quarters other than the first."
It allowed Arkansas to line up in their victory formation in the final seconds, downing the ball on the final play of the game at Samford’s 10-yard line.
Bielema would later describe Arkansas’ second quarter as being in a "funk." He said the third quarter was a "fog" as Samford outscored the Hogs 14-0 to take the lead.
But Arkansas’ dominant fourth quarter performance — for the second straight week — was nearly perfect. It’s what the Razorbacks expect to accomplish in 2013.
"I thought our fourth-quarter mentality would kick in," said Bielema, who added he wasn’t concerned about the second-half deficit. "It was just a matter of time."