Change of plans? Hogs consider moving pocket for Jefferson

Arkansas quarterback KJ Jefferson (center) is sacked by BYU cornerback Eddie Heckard, forcing a fumble and a turnover during the fourth quarter Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville. The Razorbacks travel to Baton Rouge on Saturday to face No. 12 LSU. (NWA Democrat-Gazette/Charlie Kaijo)

FAYETTEVILLE -- Something University of Arkansas Coach Sam Pittman said during his Monday news conference rang so true it behooves the Razorbacks to make it happen quickly.

As in before the Razorbacks (2-1) face the menace of linebacker Harold Perkins and the rest of his teammates at No. 12 LSU (2-1, 1-0 SEC) on Saturday at 6 p.m. Central at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge.

Because BYU was able to zero in on quarterback KJ Jefferson's location in the pocket, the Cougars racked up four sacks, two of them forcing fumbles, and applied several other hits.

"We probably need to move the pocket a little bit more," Pittman said. "We can't just stand back there and let people blitz-a-thon or bull us."

The banged-up Arkansas offensive line is just one of the concerns for the Razorback offense as it opens conference play and the start of a wicked four-game stretch away from home.

Even though the Razorbacks gained a season-best 424 yards against BYU, including 177 rushing yards, they had their struggles on third down with a season-worst 2 of 13 (15.4%) conversions and a flurry of holding calls in obvious passing situations during a 38-31 loss.

In a road game at LSU, the Razorback offense will face added difficulties: the roar of 102,000 fans, an improved level of defensive talent and Perkins.

The 6-1, 220-pound sophomore terrorized the Razorbacks as a spy in last year's 13-10 LSU win at Reynolds Razorback Stadium with Jefferson on the sideline nursing a shoulder problem.

Perkins racked up 3 sacks for 27 yards in losses and forced 2 fumbles as LSU held the Hogs to 249 total yards.

When fleet-footed quarterback Malik Hornsby sprinted toward the edges, Perkins was there to meet him, often behind the line of scrimmage.

"Just unbelievably fast," Pittman said Monday to assess what makes Perkins special. "Fast. I went back and watched last year's game this morning actually, and I mean he ran down Malik Hornsby several times, so I know he's fast.

"He hasn't rushed as much as he had in the past, but really his plays against us he was a spy. He was a spy and when Malik broke, he went and ran him down. I don't know if that's what they're going to do with KJ or not. I would assume not."

The presence of Jefferson makes a big difference in the Arkansas attack, LSU Coach Brian Kelly asserted Wednesday.

"He can extend plays with the size that he brings to the position," Kelly said. "He breaks so many tackles, keeps plays alive. It forces from a defensive perspective to stay in coverage and then when he gets out, it's getting him on the ground.

"He brings a huge dimension to what goes on from a defensive structure standpoint. You have to be so sound fundamentally. He breaks down the play and all kinds of things can happen after that. So it'll be a great challenge that we have this Saturday with him."

The Razorbacks will not only want to change Jefferson's delivery points, they'll have to improve in other areas to give themselves a chance against the fast Tigers.

Notably, the offensive line will need to get some protection help from the tight ends and running backs on occasion; the Hogs receivers will have to get more separation than they did last week; and the Arkansas running game must provide balance to keep the LSU pass rush from teeing off.

Freshman tight end Luke Hasz was asked about the potential for more "chipping," which is when tight ends and running backs pitch in to block, particularly on the edges of pass protection.

"We're still working on our game plan," Hasz said. "It's been a great week so far. We haven't finalized yet anything that we're going to do, but we've definitely been working really hard to figure out what we can do to put ourselves at a great advantage to win."

Pittman explained the pros and cons of moving Jefferson around behind the line.

"If you move the pocket, what you do for the most part is you cut half the opportunity," Pittman said. "You cut half the field off. You're throwing to two receivers instead of four. You can flood it and get three out there as well.

"But ... let's say you can't hold up on third and 8 and they've got some really good players over there, you have to have something in the offense that's going to make them slow down."

That's where screens to the backs and wideouts come into play, he said.

"Obviously we have the screen game, [and] it hasn't been very good," Pittman said. "If we catch the ball the other night, I think we're going to make a lot of yards on the screens. So you have screens, you have draws and you have opportunities to move it. All those we have ... and those are the things we have to look at."

Pittman said three offensive linemen are dealing with hand injuries, which obviously makes it harder to deliver initial blows, block and push. Center Beaux Limmer is one of those three.

Additionally, tailback Raheim Sanders is still questionable in his third week of recovery from swelling in his left knee.

The Razorbacks managed 133 rushing yards in last year's game against LSU in which the Tigers owned a 286-249 edge in total offense.

  photo  LSU linebacker Harold Perkins had 3 sacks and forced 2 fumbles in the Tigers’ victory last season at Arkansas. “Just unbelievably fast,” Razorbacks Coach Sam Pittman said Monday on Perkins. (AP/Vasha Hunt)