Grading the Five Keys

Grading the Five Keys

1. Lean on Lines — B

Arkansas didn’t overpower Northern Illinois along the offensive front as it did at Texas Tech, but the Razorbacks remained solid. Arkansas’ averaged 4.7 yards a rushing attempt and did not allow a sack on 23 passing attempts. The defensive front enjoyed one of its best performances, keeping NIU’s productive ground game under wraps. The group also made one of the plays of the game when Trey Flowers jarred the ball loose from QB Drew Hare, Darius Philon recovered it and scored.

2. Balance Attack — A

Arkansas coach Bret Bielema wants his offense to top 200 rushing and passing yards each game. The Razorbacks accomplished it against the Huskies. Quarterback Brandon Allen and the passing attack put together a season-best 215 yards through the air, while the ground game churned out 212. Arkansas’ offensive performance wasn’t as powerful as in run-dominated wins against Nicholls State and Texas Tech, but the balanced effort was important as Arkansas moves back into SEC play.

3. Start Strong — A+

Arkansas was facing an opponent that had won 17 straight road games and had outscored opponents 55-5 in the first half this season. So starting strong was key and the Razorbacks delivered in the first quarter. Arkansas scored touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams in the opening 15 minutes to take a 21-0 lead. NIU eventually closed to 21-7, but the Razorbacks tacked on another touchdown at the end of the half to make it 28-7. The strong start led to an easy second half.

4. Disrupt NIU Passing — B

Most of NIU’s success had been because of a rushing offense averaging 325.3 yards a game. But the Huskies had a successful passing attack, too, and posed a threat to the Razorbacks because of their play-action game. But Arkansas did a good job to disrupt Hare and the Huskies throughout the game. The quarterback was under pressure early, had a few passes broken up and NIU finished with 180 passing yards.

5. Win Turnover Battle — A

The Razorbacks didn’t force multiple turnovers Saturday. But one was enough. Philon’s fumble return for a touchdown was a big moment in the victory, helping Arkansas win its third straight. Perhaps more important: Arkansas was flawless on the other side, avoiding turnovers for the first time this season. The Razorbacks improved to plus-2 in turnover margin this season after Saturday’s performance.

Coordinators’ Corner

Arkansas offensive coordinator Jim Chaney and defensive coordinator Robb Smith meet with the media on Sunday nights during the season. Below are some of their thoughts after Arkansas’ 52-14 win vs. Northern Illinois:

• Chaney on having more balance against the Huskies:

"We darn sure did. I’m glad someone said the word balance. That warms my heart to hear that. We actually had more passing yards (215) than we had rushing yards (212). I looked that up just so I’d be ready for you guys."

• Smith on the confidence level of the defense after four games:

"I think our guys have really been prepared and that’s given them confidence. When you get some positive things take place on a Saturday afternoon or Saturday night, it kind of stacks itself up one on top of another and I think our guys are in a good place right now. We have to continue that with a good week of practice."

• Smith on LB Randy Ramsey earning his first start:

"I tell you what, Randy Ramsey made some good plays in space. He was kind of in and out, thought Braylon (Mitchell) did a nice job when he was in there as well. There’s a lot to build on there. An athletic guy, a longer body out in space can really make a difference for us."

• Chaney on the reasons behind the passing game’s improvement:

"When I call a play, I think Brandon (Allen) understands conceptually where to go with the ball now based on coverage a little bit better. We’re just more familiar with what we’re doing. When you do things a couple times you get better at it. So I think that’s what I attribute it to and they’re having a little bit of confidence about them that Brandon is going to throw the ball where it needs to be thrown. The receivers understand that. They believe and trust in him and it’s working out pretty good."

Players of the Game

Offense – QB Brandon Allen (15 of 22, 199 yards, 2 TDs; Rushing TD)

Arkansas expected more from the passing offense and got it Saturday. Allen completed 68.2 percent of his passes for 199 yards with 2 touchdowns. He led a key two-minute drive at the end of the first half that helped the Hogs take a 28-7 lead to the locker room. Allen also rushed for his second touchdown in as many weeks.

Defense – DE Trey Flowers (9 tackles, 2 TFLs, sack, forced fumble)

The senior was dominant in the first quarter with 4 tackles, 2 for losses a sack and a forced fumble. His hit on QB Drew Hare knocked the ball free and led to Darius Philon’s scoop-and-score in the first quarter. Flowers added five more tackles in the final three quarters, playing a leading role in Arkansas’ solid defensive performance.

Special Teams –KR Korliss Marshall (97-yard kickoff return touchdown)

Marshall made his first touch count Saturday, taking the opening kick back 97 yards for a touchdown. The sophomore got great blocking, but showed his burst in outracing everyone. Arkansas’ first kickoff return touchdown since 2011 wasn’t all Marshall accomplished. He had a 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

That Figures

17 — Rushing touchdowns by the Razorbacks through four games. The total leads the NCAA. Arkansas has collected 16 of those 17 in its three wins against Nicholls State, Texas Tech and Northern Illinois.

34.1 — Arkansas’ kickoff return average, which leads the NCAA. The Razorbacks got a big boost from Korliss Marshall’s 97-yard kick return for a touchdown

48.8 — The Razorbacks’ points per game average, which ranks third in the NCAA behind Baylor (59.3) and Texas A&M (55.3). Arkansas and Texas A&M will meet in Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday.

107 — Receiving yards for Keon Hatcher in Saturday’s win. Hatcher, who had six catches, became the first Arkansas player to top the 100-yard receiving mark since tight end Hunter Henry’s 109-yard effort against Texas A&M last season.

Up Next

Arkansas has won three straight games, but jumps back into Southeastern Conference play against No. 6 Texas A&M in Arlington, Texas, on Saturday. The game will televised by CBS with kickoff set for 2:30 p.m.

The teams will meet in Cowboys Stadium for the first time since 2011, when the former Southwest Conference schools met as nonconference opponents. Arkansas has lost two straight to Texas A&M, but is 3-0 against the Aggies in Arlington.

Texas A&M is off to a great start with first-year starting quarterback Kenny Hill at the helm of the up-tempo attack. The Aggies opened with a big win at South Carolina and improved to 4-0 with last week’s 58-6 win against Southern Methodist.

— Robbie Neiswanger • Arkansas News Bureau