Doc Harper: Razorbacks Have Plenty of Growing To Do

 

Razorbacks Have Plenty of Growing To Do

Doc Harper Bio PageThere are few things more horrifying as a sports fan than watching a lead slip away after leading the entire game.

It’s a feeling of complete helplessness. It’s especially worse for road games because the crowd, at least the portion that didn’t give up and leave early, becomes as loud as if the stadium is full. The energy on the opposing sideline is at pregame levels. You look at the game clock, begging it to tick faster. Plead for just one player on your team to make a play even though momentum stopped and changed directions like a subway train at the end of its route.

And then, seemingly inevitably, the lead is gone and the team has lost.

Of course that describes the Razorbacks’ game against Rutgers on Saturday. It also describes nearly half of the road games I’ve ever traveled to. I wasn’t in New Jersey for the game, but the feeling was all too familiar. The game it felt closest to, and coincidentally, the season as a whole, is the 2008 Kentucky game.

That game, with a first-year Razorback coach and a not-so-great Hog team, was a toss-up swing game that would likely determine whether or not the Hogs would become bowl eligible. Rehashing that game is still painful, so I’ll just reiterate that it was a game Arkansas led until very late in the fourth quarter, but a meltdown in the final few minutes threw the game away.

Interestingly, another similarity between that 2008 season and this one is that both featured a 4-game gauntlet against highly rated teams. 2008′s was Alabama, at Texas , Florida, and at Auburn. Auburn turned out to be overrated and Arkansas pulled the upset on The Plains, which helped serve notice that the Razorbacks were continuing to improve – even if the next week’s game in Lexington proved that they were still inconsistent.

That same maddening inconsistency seems to be applicable to the current Hogs as well.

How else to explain a defense that was mostly dominant in the second and third quarters, but let the Scarlet Knights move nearly at will in the first and fourth quarters? How does AJ Derby throw so many “juuuuust a bit outside” passes, then throw a gorgeous touch pass to Hunter Henry to keep one of the team’s two decent drives of the whole day? How does the punt coverage team do what the punt coverage team did? How does Jarrett Lake, whom Bielema described in the off-season as one of his favorite players on the team, commit a personal foul penalty to allow Rutgers’ first scoring drive to keep going? What happened to the team I believed would be disciplined enough not to beat itself?

Like in 2008, the team must continue to work toward improving if there is any chance to pull off an upset at some point through the next four weeks. Florida and South Carolina would seem the most likely candidates, although neither will be the 5-7 disappointment that Auburn squad turned out to be. Many of the mistakes Arkansas made against Rutgers are fixable, and in order to be competitive during the next few weeks those mistakes must not happen.

But regardless of all the things Arkansas did wrong in New Jersey and must improve upon, how far can the Hogs expect to go with AJ Derby filling in for Brandon Allen?

I’ve gone back and forth since the game ended, trying to decide what to think of the idea that the Razorbacks would have won with Allen at quarterback regardless of the mistakes that the team made in his absence. I understand that Allen is a much more consistently accurate passer than Derby, and that ability would have made the Rutgers defense pay for stuffing the box against the run, but it feels like too much of an oversimplification to argue that’s all that mattered.

That seems like just as much a “what if” as is punt coverage or the penalties or the three 25-plus-yard passing plays on Rutgers’ 98-yard drive.

I don’t know if Arkansas can keep up with Texas A&M’s offense with Derby at quarterback (or Allen, for that matter), or if they can fight with Florida’s defense. But I do know this, Bret Bielema has awarded six scholarships to walk-ons since arriving in Fayetteville, and AJ Derby is not one of them. That feels like a shame, if for no other reason than the spotlight on him as long as he’s Arkansas’ starter is worthy of being on scholarship.

Stopping negative momentum is not easy, but it can be done. After I witnessed four heartbreaking Arkansas road losses I thought I was about to see a fifth against Georgia in 2010, but the Hogs had grown up and made enough plays to put together a game-winning drive in the final minute. This Razorback team can get back to that point, but it’s never as quick as we’d like to hope.

Doc Harper is the managing editor of Arkansas Fight and a contributor to Sporting Life Arkansas. You can email him at heydocharper@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @doc_harper.

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  • Brian

    Hey Doc. Are u on any weekly podcast nowadays?

    • Doc Harper

      I don’t host a weekly podcast but I do occasionally do guest spots on various shows.

      • Bri

        Bummer. It’d be nice to hear your thoughts each week.

  • Will

    I agree Derby deserves a scholarship. He’s avoiding sacks and interceptions and doing his best. Bielema made the right decision being upfront and honest with both Brandon Mitchell and McKey when they wanted to leave. Of course, there’s a price to pay as now Mitchel would be starting and we would have another good receiver.

    Sometimes doing the right thing is painful but it’s best for the long run. This season is about getting better, and whatever results we achieve we have to accept.

    Sometimes it is interesting to think of what we would have had if Funderburke, Marquel Wade, McKey (or McKay), Keante Minor, and Dorial Beckham-Green were playing receiver here now.

    Remember, Horton and Herndon, our best receivers so far, were rated in the mid 200s by most recruiting services out of high school, two star players I believe. They, like Derby, deserve credit for hanging around, but we aren’t putting AJ Green and Dez Bryant on the outside for Derby to throw to.

    • dave martig

      when 75% of the plays are runs who needs wr’s

      • dave martig

        welcome to the big 10

      • Drew F.

        You might want to check the actual number of run plays vs. pass plays yesterday. It just might make you look silly for these past two comments.

      • dave martig

        yes drew silly me . of course i may appear silly to the facile and uninitiated.. first of all the stats from the rutgers game are no indication of this offense. the pass run percentages before rutgers were 75% and 25 %. second the current percentage is 68% run. 194 runs vs 79 pass. as to my point about wr’s out of that 79 pass number 20 were to tight ends and backs. one was to other ie. long snapper. i will leave it to your considerable deductive skills to figure out if we really need wr’s or not. of course they do make nice decoys. welcome to the big ten

      • J. R.

        Do yourself and everyone else a favor, find a team you like and cheer for them and follow their stories and blogs. I’ll never understand why anyone spends their time on a sports team that makes them unhappy all the time. MOVE ON to something that makes your life better.

      • dave martig

        excuse me junior?

  • Servius

    We just need a QB with an arm that can hit the downfield receiver at the same time we have two stud running backs a monster fullback and a line that can block for them.

    Everybody knows how football works when you can do it. When they load the box to stop the run, throw over their head. When they double cover the receivers, run over them.

  • Zeke

    We’re just young and thin right now.

    It leads to these sort of back-and-forth results.