Saturday's loss to Rutgers was a hard pill to swallow for Arkansas. With a 24-7 lead in the third quarter, head coach Bret Bielema and his Razorbacks watched as the Scarlet Knights tacked on the next 21 points to win, 28-24.
Most of the time, blowing a 17-point lead in the final 23 minutes of the game would be considered a big collapse. But, taking certain factors into account and the Hogs self-destruction on key plays, the loss shouldn't surprise anyone.
Not to say the Razorbacks' loss wasn't a collapse. It was. And, not to say it wasn't a major disappointment. It certainly was that, too.
However, it's not a shocker like Nebraska going up, 21-3, on UCLA in Week 3, only to watch the Bruins score the next 38 points to win, 41-21. What happened Saturday at Rutgers was inevitable.
The most important position on the field is the quarterback, and that is not debatable. A team's chances of winning a game on the road aren't nearly as high if the starter is out. With Brandon Allen unavailable due to a shoulder injury, the odds were already stacked against Arkansas from the moment the ball was teed up to kick off the game.
In fact, the biggest surprise was that the Razorbacks built a 17-point lead, despite struggling on offense as much as they did.
Arkansas went up, 24-7, with 8:38 left in the third quarter on a 21-yard touchdown pass from running back Jonathan Williams to tight end Hunter Henry. Leading up to Rutgers biggest deficit of the game, Gary Nova and the rest of the offense were out of sync.
The first three drives resulted in two turnovers. Saying the first half of offense was bad for the Scarlet Knights would be a vast understatement. They did put up 244 yards, but it resulted in just seven points, two turnovers, a missed field goal and two punts.
The third quarter didn't start good either. The first three drives of the second half resulted in another turnover and two more punts. Yet, Arkansas remained up, just 24-7, which shouldn't have sat well with anyone.
The Razorbacks failed to widen the margin due to their own offensive ineptness.
The pressure was put on Derby to make plays with Rutgers shutting down the ground attack. He made a few nice throws, including a 17-yard touchdown pass to Javontee Herndon, but not nearly enough.
Sitting back watching the game, it should have been clear to anyone that if Rutgers could get going the Razorbacks were in trouble. All the Scarlet Knights needed was a big play to get the comeback started.
That happened when Janarion Grant returned an Arkansas punt 58 yards to cut the lead to 24-14. Still, the Razorbacks had plenty of chances to keep the Scarlet Knights from turning aspirations of a comeback into a reality.
However, they indulged themselves in self-implosion, allowing Rutgers to steal the win. Two plays in particular changed the game and can be tabbed as huge reasons why the Hogs lost.
The first came on Rutgers first touchdown drive. On 2nd-and-25, Nova had no one open and ran four yards out of bounds. However, instead of a 3rd-and-21, linebacker Jarrett Lake thought it would be nice to hit Nova two yards out of bounds, earning himself a 15-yard personal foul and awarding Rutgers with a first down. That, in turn, resulted in a 15-yard touchdown pass.
The second came in a critical juncture of the game. Down, 24-14, with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter and on a 4th-and-12, the Arkansas secondary gave up a 33-yard touchdown pass from Nova to Leonte Carroo.
You can go ahead and add the special teams coverage lapse on the 58-yard punt return for a score to why Arkansas lost a game it could have easily won.
Three crucial mistakes led to 21 points by the Scarlet Knights.
Here, you can watch how Arkansas lost the game by giving up big plays to Nova and the Rutgers offense when the game was on the line:
Numbers don't lie. If the loss surprised you, take a look at the stat sheet, and your take on what happened might change. Arkansas rushed for only 101 yards, and it forced an inexperienced Derby into throwing. His impact was minimal, as he threw for a "buck-37" and the lone touchdown.
Rutgers couldn't run either, but then again, they really didn't have to. The Arkansas secondary was shaky all afternoon, and his 176 passing yards in the first half, despite all the troubles, foreshadowed the Razorbacks' fate. They couldn't stop him in the first half, and as the second half unfolded, it became apparent they weren't going to slow him down at all.
The Hogs led most of the game, but stupid mistakes and poor play on both sides of the ball should have been a clear indication to fans that things weren't going to end well. Take away the Scarlet Knights' mistakes and the Hogs put up a blistering 10 points.
On a day where the offense sputtered, the defense looked more like the 2012 version and mental lapses were abound, it's remarkable the Razorbacks could have came out unscathed, at 4-0, on the year. One of the the program mottoes is "never yield," but as SB Nation's Arkansas Fight noted, it did exactly that:
Rutgers 28, Razorbacks 24: What? How? Why? They yielded. http://t.co/ubye2CrxZA— Arkansas Fight (@ArkansasFight) September 21, 2013
The Hogs looked very impressive in the previous three games, but Saturday's blown lead was a message. Arkansas has Texas A&M this Saturday, and if it wants to avoid getting embarrassed, Bielema and his team have a lot to address.
Don't be surprised about their fourth-quarter collapse. Be surprised that, with as poorly as the Hogs played in just about every facet of the game, it took till the fourth quarter for them to lose it.
The SEC is looming, and if Arkansas continues to shoot itself in the foot in weeks to come, fans won't have to wait until the fourth quarter to know if the Razorbacks will lose.