FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Frank Ragnow knew better than most how the Arkansas offensive line was struggling for much of the game against Louisiana Tech a week ago.
That’s why the Razorbacks guard was so desperate to convince coach Bret Bielema to give the line a chance to redeem itself by putting the final touch on the narrow win over the Bulldogs.
The coach listened to the pleas of his linemen, who then led the way for a fourth-and-inches conversion with just over a minute remaining to secure the 21-20 season-opening victory.
“I think we were all kind of pumped up at that moment and we realized that maybe we hadn’t played the greatest game, but we wanted to seal it,” Ragnow said. “Me and (left tackle Dan Skipper) were definitely looking in (Bielema’s) eyes and telling him, ‘Hand the ball off, we can get them.'”
The late fourth-down conversion helped Arkansas avert a familiar early-season disaster, similar to a shocking loss to Toledo a year ago. It also gave a much-needed boost of confidence to an offensive line that featured three new starters from a year ago and allowed four sacks in the win over Louisiana Tech.
“I really thought, ‘I need to do this for our offensive line. I need to do this for what we need to do to seal the game and win it,'” Bielema said. “I felt it was important to do.”
To put the first-week blocking woes into perspective, consider that the Razorbacks allowed a total of 14 sacks in each of the last two seasons — and only eight in Bielema’s first season in 2013. And after averaging 5 yards per rush a year ago, Arkansas gained only 106 yards on the ground on 40 carries against Louisiana Tech, an average of 2.7 per carry.
Ragnow and Skipper are the lone two returning linemen from last year’s talented group that featured current Tennessee Titans guard Sebastian Tretola, among others. This year’s newcomers — Colton Jackson, Hjalte Froholdt and Jake Raulerson — played well at times last week, but they were also slow to react to Louisiana Tech’s adjustments.
Bielema and Arkansas offensive line coach Kurt Anderson said several of the mistakes, and sacks, were a result of miscues by players not on the offensive line.
However, they also know the line must rapidly improve as it prepares to face a TCU team that had four sacks in a season-opening 59-41 win over South Dakota State. The Horned Frogs averaged nearly 2 ½ sacks per game a year ago, and that was without injured defensive end James McFarland.
McFarland, who led TCU in sacks two years ago, returned and had a sack in last week’s victory. The senior plays opposite fellow end Josh Carraway, who had nine sacks last season, to give the Horned Frogs a rush tandem that should test exactly how far Arkansas’ offensive line has come in one week.
“No one likes giving up sacks; every sack is on the offensive line,” Anderson said. “If (the quarterback) wants to stand back there for 14 seconds, we have to block for 14 seconds.”