EDITOR'S NOTE: The Sentinel-Record will follow up with a head football coach of a local high school after each regular season game this season for the Arkansas Razorbacks. This week's installment features D.J. Keithley, head coach of the Bismarck Lions.
The Arkansas Razorbacks suffered a historic 44-17 defeat on Saturday to North Texas on their home field at Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, leaving many wondering what went so wrong for a Southeastern Conference team to be thoroughly dominated by a Conference USA team.
"I don't know why we abandoned the run so early and thought we had to come out here slinging the ball all over the place," said Bismarck head football coach D.J. Keithley said. "Late in the half, sure, you've got to. I just thought we gave up on the run game too early."
Arkansas (1-2) punted on its first possession, but the defense was able to force North Texas (3-0) to a punt on the following possession. Starting quarterback Cole Kelley threw the first of three first-half interceptions on the next play.
"Why did they not ever put Ty Storey in? That is one of the things that after (Kelley) has thrown his third interception, why is he still going in there?'" Keithley asked. "Even after he has thrown his first two interceptions, why do we keep throwing the ball as far as we can on a go route? Why don't we throw little stops, routes, slants, a dig, a drag or something? You think, 'We've got to change this up.'"
Storey starred in the season-opening 55-20 victory against Eastern Illinois (0-3), in which Kelley started, before struggling in his first start at Colorado State (1-3). Kelley led the Razorbacks to a 27-9 lead in the second half at Canvas Stadium in Fort Collins, Colo., before the Rams scored 25 unanswered points for a 34-27 comeback win.
Kelley finished 16-for-35 passing for 185 yards despite throwing three interceptions and playing less than three full quarters. A bulk of the 32 running plays were run in the second half with the game already decided.
Junior running back Devwah Whaley ran only nine times for 12 yards after running for 160 yards on 26 carries against Colorado State. Junior playmaker T.J. Hammonds touched the ball three times on offense Saturday. He ran one time for no gain and caught two passes for 17 yards.
Redshirt freshman Maleek Williams and sophomore Chase Hayden led the team in rushing with late action. Williams ran for a 68-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to finish with 74 yards on five carries. Hayden gained 21 yards on five carries.
Each of the two freshmen quarterbacks struggled under pressure. Connor Noland was 4-for-7 for 25 yards and John Stephen Jones was 0-for-3, both throwing for no touchdowns and one interception apiece.
The receivers were led by freshman Michael Woods and junior La'Michael Pettway with four catches apiece. Woods finished with 61 yards and Pettway had 49.
"We don't have the greatest receivers, and you definitely don't have a great line, so why not throw a screen in, a slant, something to mix it up," Keithley said. "It got repetitive, especially in that first quarter and a half. We might have a play fake and then they are just going to throw it up as far as they can, and they were double covered most of the time.
"That was frustrating, and the line was frustrating. They looked like they were stuck in quicksand. I'm watching North Texas' defensive ends in a straight up 5-tech (outside the offensive tackle) on the outside rush beating them. It's not like they were using stunt or anything and they are still beating them off of the line."
North Texas took control of the game in the first quarter on a 90-yard punt return in which Keegan Brewer appeared to call for a fair catch, but replays showed he did not.
"If you don't hear a whistle, you fly to the football," Keithley said. "That's what we say. If you don't hear a whistle, you fly to the football."
Arkansas players ran to Brewer on the punt, but they began to walk off the field after they assumed the play was dead.
"You almost wonder if that was something they had drawn up and even talked to the officials about," Keithley said. "Every game you sit there and they are going to ask you about trick plays. I am always going to tell my officials about our planned trick plays.
"I will guarantee you their coaches probably said, 'Hey, if you see our guy look like he waved for fair catch, but he did not wave his hand' ... I will guarantee you that was told to those officials beforehand. It was planned out. It was pretty sneaky. It worked though. Kudos to them."
The play blurred the line between smart football and the ongoing debates about player safety.
"I almost wonder what happens if we smoke that kid when he stood up like that," Keithley said. "If somebody had just come in, fly in and try to take his head off. Would they have kept going? I wonder what would have happened if someone had come in there like that. It's one of those things. They're playing by the rules, technically. He never waved his hand and they never blew the whistle, so play on."
Arkansas struggled to move the ball with errant passes from Kelley and an absent running game. North Texas, while lacking in an explosive offense, but able to move the ball effectively and get points on the board.
A field goal by former Arkansas kicker Cole Hudlund gave the Mean Green a 17-0 lead in the first quarter. Arkansas made it 17-10 early in the second half after a career-long 54-yard kick by Hedlund's replacement, Connor Limpert, but North Texas scored another 17 points before the end of the quarter, including another kick by Hedlund, for a 34-10 halftime lead.
Keithley praised Colorado State star receiver Preston Williams, who played a key role in the Rams' comeback with 12 catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns. Jaelon Darden led North Texas with five catches for 87 yards.
"You could see a lot of busted coverages," Keithley said. "You could see they would run a vertical route and the safety would let him get to his hip before he finally turns and runs with them. I don't know if that is just youth and those younger guys in there not ready for that yet."
North Texas quarterback Mason Fine entered the game as the nation's leading passer following blowout wins of SMU (0-3) and Incarnate Word (1-2). He was 24-for-45 passing for 281 yards and just one touchdown against Arkansas, but he was rarely under pressure.
"It looked like our defensive line is giving up on the pass rush," Keithley said. "Once they engage, I don't see a lot of aggressiveness up front when they read pass. Several times, especially late in the game, it just looked like they gave up on it.
"And you can tell we don't have the offensive line that these other SEC teams have right now. We are behind the 8-ball when it comes to that and stopping the run game. There is no reason a team like North Texas or Colorado State should ever run on us."
Arkansas held Colorado State to zero yards on the Rams' first 16 runs before giving up 40 yards on their last seven. The Mean Green ran for 95 yards on 29 attempts.
North Texas finished with just 376 yards of offense, averaging more than five yards per play. Arkansas averaged less than 4.4 yards per play for 336 yards of offense.
"No. 1, they have to figure out who their quarterback is going to be," Keithley said. "I wanted to see Ty Storey. I wanted to see him get a shot.
"I don't think it is one of the backup quarterbacks, not from what I saw today. But then, it is also hard to fault Kelley because he did not have a lot of time."
Each of the quarterbacks struggled to find time to throw, while the running game underwhelmed for the second time in two home games.
"We've got to fix the offensive line," Keithley said. "There is something going on there. Their footwork is slow and sluggish. I know they have had injuries early in the season and they have a bunch of young guys out there, but they have got to fix the offensive line and you have to fix the overage mistakes."
Sports on 09/18/2018
Print Headline: Coach's Corner: North Texas at Arkansas