Arkansas looking for answers to red zone struggles

Associated Press Modified: October 4, 2012 at 5:33 pm •  Published: October 4, 2012
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FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — Paul Petrino couldn't have been happier with Arkansas' offensive output against Texas A&M last week, at least on the surface.

The offensive coordinator watched as the Razorbacks gained 515 yards on 98 plays, putting together five drives of more than 50 yards — all coming against an Aggies' defense that entered the game allowing an average of 279.7 yards per game.

So, what was Petrino's problem with all that offense?

It came in a 58-10 loss, one in which Arkansas' season-long struggles at finishing drives was again on display. The Razorbacks (1-4, 0-2 Southeastern Conference) scored on just one of their five trips inside Texas A&M's 20, a first-half field goal, causing the former offensive powerhouse to fall to 109th nationally in red zone offense.

"We've just got to get the ball in the end zone," Petrino said. "I've never lost a game in my life putting up that kind of yards and having 98 plays. To go and get your butt kicked, you should win if you have that many yards and that many plays."

Arkansas, which is sixth in the SEC in total offense with 417 yards per game, has now scored on just 12 of 19 drives in the red zone this season. It's just the latest in a season full of disappointments for the Razorbacks, who travel this week to Auburn (1-3, 0-2).

The days of leading the SEC in passing offense, as Arkansas did in each of the previous three seasons, seem like a long time ago for a program reeling without the architect of its past success — former coach Bobby Petrino. The Razorbacks led the conference in average points scored last season, but they've slipped to 11th (23.2 per game) this year.

The fall has been the result of a number of factors, and Petrino's less-than-graceful exit in April is only a small part of the reason.

Arkansas scored on 86.4 percent (51 of 59) red-zone opportunities last season, fourth in the SEC. That, however, came with three future NFL receivers (Joe Adams, Greg Childs and Jarius Wright) on offense, all who were drafted in the fourth round of April's draft.

The departures of three of the top receivers in school history has played a part in the Razorbacks' red zone struggles, as has their anemic running game — which is last in the SEC at 106.6 yards per game. An offensive line that's failed to consistently open running lanes has hurt, just as has a season-ending foot injury to starting fullback Kiero Small and most recently, a bone bruise that kept tight end Chris Gragg out against Texas A&M.

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