USA TODAY Sports
DE Trey Flowers
One of the hardest things for a team to learn how to do when it's rebuilding is closing out games—you know, taking care of the ball down the stretch, making key stops on defense and running the ball effectively.
The Hogs may have finished 3-9 in 2013, but they had several games where they gave up the lead in the fourth quarter. The Rutgers and LSU games immediately come to mind.
At Rutgers early in the season, Arkansas gave up a 17-point lead in the second half. In the last 10 minutes of the game, the offense couldn't move the ball, and the defense gave up 14 points as the Razorbacks lost a game they had control of entering the final quarter.
Then there was the heartbreaker in Death Valley against the LSU Tigers. A battered and beaten-down Arkansas team entered the final game of the year as big a underdog. The Hogs played valiantly and had a 27-21 lead with 7:14 left in the game.
However, the offense became stagnant. The Tigers kicked a field goal to cut the deficit to three with 4:56 remaining. After another three-and-out, punter Sam Irwin-Hill pinned LSU at its own 1-yard line. Down 27-24, the Tigers needed a 99-yard drive with 3:04 on the clock and did just that, marching the length of the field to score a touchdown and win the game, 31-27.
Though the defense allowed LSU to drive 99 yards for the decisive score, the offense was also to blame. In the final quarter, the offense managed only nine plays for 24 yards on three drives. A Brandon Allen fumble on the Hogs' last attempt to win the contest following LSU's 99-yard drive sealed the loss for Arkansas.
If the Hogs want to leave behind all the losing they've done in the last two years, they must close out games.
Bielema knows that his team will be in similar situations in 2014. While it's understandably hard to win games against teams like LSU, when you have a late lead, you have to do the necessary things to win.
The offense has to continue to make plays and not be so conservative. Of course it wants to be somewhat conservative and run the ball to keep the clock ticking. But running up the middle on first and second down for minimal gains then passing on 3rd-and-long is predictable and isn't going to fool anyone.
The offense's failure to make plays late in games made the defense have to stay on the field a lot, which didn't help it as far as rest was concerned. Still, the defense has to make plays itself and not give up long, meticulous drives to opponents.
Taking care of the ball is also something the Hogs have to do when closing out games. Even after LSU scored to take the lead, Arkansas had a chance to win the game, but Allen's fumble ended any hope the Razorbacks had.
If the Hogs want to start winning games, they must learn to close out foes. It's going to be a big challenge, but doing it could be the key to winning two to three more games.