LITTLE ROCK — Compiling the “By The Numbers” box after Arkansas’ overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe, a telling figure was overlooked.
Accumulated during the final 21 minutes of regulation, 395 is the mystery numeral and anything similar on Saturday will mean Arkansas did not come close against No. 1 Alabama. Figure it out? It is the total number of seconds consumed on the Razorbacks’ six possessions after ULM closed to 28-14.
By throwing incomplete pass after incomplete pass, Arkansas extended the game, exactly opposite of what a team with the lead and without its senior quarterback should do. Not one of those possessions consumed as much as two minutes. Two possessions that ended with punts and one that was halted by an interception totaled exactly 120 seconds.
From 28-14 on, there were three passes for 25 yards, including back to back completions that did not overcome a first-down penalty, and seven incomplete passes. The only run of more than five yards was a 19-yarder by Knile Davis when ULM was protecting against a deep pass in the final minute.
Davis’ run and an 11-yard pass to Cobi Hamilton netted Arkansas’ only first downs in the final 24:42. One more first down and fans of a 2-0 Arkansas would be energized about figuring out a way to bring down Alabama instead of lamenting their team’s bowl destination.
Despite the availability of three experienced running backs, Arkansas put the game in the hands of redshirt freshman quarterback Brandon Allen. On Saturday night, offensive coordinator Paul Petrino defended his play calling by saying ULM was crowding the line of scrimmage and that a running play for minus yards was of no value.
Au contraire; it is another 30-40 seconds off the clock.
Petrino is not alone; there is plenty of blame to go around, including persistent questions about offensive linemen and defensive personnel included in recent recruiting classes.
That said, if John L. Smith is in charge, he should have done what a CEO does when his company goes awry and ordered a change of direction.
A question mark for months, the line didn’t protect Allen or contribute much on the occasional running play. At one point, Arkansas lined up seven guys shoulder to shoulder and netted five yards. On the next play, with the same alignment, Davis made nothing.
Those failures, plus the absence of the first- and second-team fullback, does not bode well for Arkansas’ run game on Saturday, but asking Allen or Tyler Wilson to drop back play after play is suicide against Alabama. In last year’s 24-point loss, Wilson was battered, partly because Arkansas had only 17 yards rushing on 19 attempts.
To have any chance, the Razorbacks must shorten the game by running the ball.
Maybe, they are not capable. If so, recruiting is involved.
Same with the defense. Coaching only goes so far. A few weeks ago, fans were trying to figure some way that Smith’s replacement would keep the staff together. Now, some of those fans are ready to fire the assistants en masse.
There is also the group that blames the loss on athletic director Jeff Long for firing Bobby Petrino in April.
To them, I quote an insightful tweet posted Saturday night: “Dear people who think that winning a game is more important than personal integrity: Please don’t have children.”
Re-tweeted numerous times, one person suggested that the author had never played any competitive sport.
Another said, “Have fun at the Liberty Bowl.”
My preference is the person who labeled it the “Tweet of the Year.”
Nothing against Allen, but Arkansas would have won if Wilson had played the second half.
If Wilson can’t go Saturday, maybe Brandon Mitchell can spell Allen at quarterback and run a Tim Tebow-type offense. Anything to consume clock. From there, the hope is Alabama contributes some turnovers.
Harry King is sports columnist for Stephens Media’s Arkansas News Bureau. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.