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Dark days aheadArkansas Razorbacks
Posted 14 September 2012 - 10:59 AM
The Arkansas Razorbacks are in big trouble. They are in danger of going from preseason national championship contenders to a .500 team (or worse) in SEC play. Saturday's stunning breakdown to the 30-point underdog Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks put the Razorbacks' season on the brink of collapse and revealed cracks in Arkansas' program.
Not everybody views it this way. Many Razorbacks fans still believe Arkansas can bounce back from its humiliating loss the way Virginia Tech did two seasons ago after its stunning 0-2 start (losses to Boise State and James Madison). But that's not likely in this case -- the Razorbacks are in a more precarious position than the Hokies were, and to make matters worse, No. 1 Alabama is coming to town this weekend.
It's not just this season that Arkansas fans should be worried about, however. The direction of the program also is at stake. Once thought to be close to reaching elite status (as recently as this April), the program might soon have to push the reboot button.
We'll return to that issue shortly, but first we'll get into where the Razorbacks are going this season. We'll give you a hint: It isn't to a BCS game. The truth of the matter is that the expectations were wildly misplaced from the start -- this team was never going to be that good.
All the signs were there last season. Arkansas rose to No. 3 in the BCS standings on the strength of an elite passing attack and the SEC's reputation as the best conference in college football. The reasoning went like this: Since Arkansas lost only to Alabama and LSU (the participants in the BCS Championship Game), it must have been one of the top teams in the country.
However, pundits overlooked issues. LSU and Bama both took Arkansas to the woodshed last season with easy 24-point wins. Both ran the ball at will on the Razorbacks' defense and knocked around quarterback Tyler Wilson. In other games, Arkansas wasn't exactly dominant. It barely squeaked by mediocre Texas A&M and Vanderbilt teams, and struggled against an awful Ole Miss squad. Yet Arkansas got the benefit of the doubt and was tabbed as a national championship contender going into this season.
This year's team is no different than last year's -- except it is missing fired coach Bobby Petrino, one of the best playcallers and in-game-adjustment coaches there is. Without him, the Razorbacks' flaws are more evident. They are again a pass-happy team that is weak defensively and can't protect its quarterback. Jacksonville State and Louisiana-Monroe had no trouble moving the ball against the D, combining for almost 900 yards of offense. And the Warhawks landed several vicious hits on Wilson, eventually knocking him out of the game with a head injury.
Perhaps the most disturbing thing is that Arkansas failed to show character, toughness and leadership when it faced adversity in the Louisiana-Monroe game. It is understandable that Razorbacks players would be upset seeing Wilson knocked out of the game and two other teammates carted off the field, but teams with high-level character overcome those things and focus on the task at hand -- especially with a 21-point lead at home.
Instead, coaches and players alike lost their composure and made mistakes. When the game called for a tough rushing attack to shorten the clock and wear down the Warhawks, the Razorbacks inexplicably continued to pass and give the ball back to Louisiana-Monroe. When the defense needed a stop on multiple key third and fourth downs, no one could step up and make a play (with several defenders simply caught out of position).
Arkansas will not beat Alabama on Saturday, and the loss very well could cause things to fall apart. (Perhaps that's why Arkansas has yet to rule Wilson out of the game. One would hope that Arkansas won't take a risk by playing Wilson if his injury -- classified by the school as a "head injury" and reported elsewhere as a concussion -- is indeed as significant as it originally appeared.)
With a 1-2 record, players with NFL prospects (Wilson, Knile Davis, etc.) will be tempted to turn their attention to their personal goals since all the team goals will be gone. Razorbacks fans and administrators will begin to focus on hiring a new coach to replace John L. Smith. Assistant coaches will begin to search for jobs, since they have no assurance of being rehired after the season. With potential distractions such as those, losses to Texas A&M, Auburn, South Carolina, Mississippi State and LSU all appear possible, and in most cases, likely. This team could be looking at a worst-case record of 6-6 and a best-case record of 8-4. That's quite a fall from being considered a national championship contender just a week ago.
As bad as that sounds, it gets worse when you consider the long-term impact on the program. Finding an elite coach won't be easy for Arkansas. Athletic director Jeff Long found that out in April after firing Petrino. There was little interest from the A-list coaches, and Long turned to Smith for "continuity" and gave him a contract for only the 2012 season. Top coaches are unlikely to leave a high-level program to take the Razorbacks job. (Arkansas got Petrino only because he wanted out of the NFL and back into the college game.)
What's wrong with the Arkansas job? It has some good things going for it, but it's not an elite position. It has a limited recruiting base. This means Arkansas has to recruit outside of its state, where it has no advantage over programs such as LSU, Alabama, Georgia, Florida and others -- not to mention new SEC threats Texas A&M and Missouri. Arkansas is not going to win many, if any, recruiting battles against the SEC's blue-chip programs, which is a problem when you play in the nation's toughest division. (Consider this: Eight SEC schools ranked in the top 25 of the 2012 ESPN recruiting class rankings, and Arkansas wasn't one of them. The Hogs never ranked higher than 18th with Petrino at the helm.) Elite coaches want to have a realistic chance of winning a championship every year.
This doesn't mean Arkansas won't have attractive candidates. It just means the candidates are more likely to be up-and-coming assistant coaches who will get their first head-coaching shot, such as defensive coordinators Kirby Smart at Alabama and Manny Diaz at Texas.
Whoever becomes the next coach will have a difficult rebuilding job, because this team was built to suit Petrino's offensive system. If the next coach wants a more physical running style on offense or a more physical defense, that will mean recruiting different types of players.
That's just one of the ways in which Petrino's departure will be felt in coming seasons. In some ways, he had this program artificially propped up by a cushy nonconference schedule, feasting on the likes of Missouri State, New Mexico, Tennessee Tech and Troy. The soft schedule inflated Petrino's overall win-loss record to 34-17, when the truth of the matter was that Arkansas was barely above .500 in the SEC under Petrino. With a new postseason system on the horizon, teams that are serious about being considered for the playoff will have to play a more challenging brand of schedule than Arkansas has the past few seasons.
His skills as a playcaller and at making in-game adjustments also will be hard to replicate -- the Razorbacks were 8-1 the previous two seasons in games decided by 10 points or fewer.
Some of these issues were going to be problems for the Razorbacks after this season anyway, but the loss to Louisiana-Monroe accelerated things quite a bit. If the Crimson Tide get a blowout win against the Hogs on Saturday, as I expect they will, it could force Arkansas to push to reset button earlier than expected. That not only will cause the Razorbacks to tumble in the standings this season -- it could put the entire football program on shaky ground for the next few years.
Posted 14 September 2012 - 11:19 AM
Posted 14 September 2012 - 11:24 AM
" (Dakota) Prescott completed 58.4 percent of his passes in 2013, 11th among the 13 SEC quarterbacks with enough attempts to qualify. He threw 10 touchdowns to seven interceptions, a TD-to-INT ratio more on par with Arkansas' Brandon Allen (13-10) than Manziel. " -Hugh Kellenburger
Posted 14 September 2012 - 11:34 AM
You know no of us Arkansas fans knows nothing about all those fancy politics... HAHA
Posted 14 September 2012 - 12:43 PM
Posted 14 September 2012 - 12:50 PM
When I arrived for training at The Jungle Warfare Training Center in Panama, a sign over the entrance read: "This isn't hell... but you can see it from here."
Obama is an incompetent boob!
Sometimes mistaken for the Legendary Geaux
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