Jim Harris: Hog Coaches Feed Fan Narrative That They Have No Clue

Chad Morris, I’m told, let his Hog coaches know after Saturday night that they were totally taking the blame on this publicly, that horrible 31-24 loss to lowly San Jose State. You know, the game that immediately drew comparisons to the 1992 Citadel loss that got Jack Crowe fired or the 2012 loss to ULM that assured there would be no more Smiling that year. There was to be no throwing players under the bus, that their situation of perhaps fielding one of the least talented Hog teams in decades was not to be blamed.

So, that’s what the fans – who already believe it’s all on the coaches – are hearing. What amazes me is how anyone with eyes can’t see the type of hand the coaches have been dealt in their first 16 games at Arkansas. Yes, there appears to be plenty of blame for the coaches to accept so far in “Morris: Year 2,” the Ole Miss offensive game-plan being prime evidence. But I trust my own eyes, and I also have devoted much of my 62 years talking to the coaches and former players who were at this level, rather than fans who never played beyond junior high, if that, as to why the Hogs find themselves in this quagmire.

It might even help the Arkansas fan base to speak with knowledgeable SEC fans elsewhere for an assessment of the Razorbacks. I don’t think they’d find anyone thinking it’s time for Arkansas to bus Chad Morris and Co. back to Dallas. (Cue the smart-aleck fan who now says, “Of course they wouldn’t. They’re kicking our butts.” Again, ask the truly knowledgeable among the fan bases of the SEC powers.)

Anyone with a realistic view and a historical knowledge of the Hogs can see that the talent in Arkansas’s offense line Saturday night hasn’t been this low in 25 years, and couple that with two would-be starters out (left tackle Colton Jackson for the game; right tackle Noah Gatlin for the season after a knee injury in August).

It should be obvious on the defensive side as well: Arkansas has former walk-ons playing significantly (throughout the linebacker spots, especially) and barely enough upperclassmen to fill the defensive line, plus mostly sophomores and freshmen in the defensive backfield to go with the solid junior safety, Kam Curl. In some areas it’s just inexperience; others because of low Football IQ, which is part of that talent equation; a lot of the problem, though, is the lack of speed throughout. Up front it’s the lack of SEC-level size and quickness for the older guys, while it’s hoped by many at the UA that it’s just the lack of experience and needed weight-training for three freshmen defensive ends now thrown into the fire. 

The one defensive end who made a significant play Saturday night – Jamario Bell with his sack on a twist stunt in the second half – is an athlete who has been tried all over the football field in his five years on The Hill. Arkansas had THREE quarterback pressures all night – granted, a lot of San Jose State’s offensive plan was to get the ball out fast to receivers afforded a decent cushion. Senior McTelvin “Sosa” Agim, the most highly decorated defensive player Bret Bielema managed to recruit in five years (Agim played at Hope), had one stop Saturday night from his defensive tackle position. Please cease with the “he’s doubled-teamed all game” nonsense. He had Mountain West O-linemen to deal with and usually only a guard one-on-one.

Still, the coaches are saying, “It’s fully on us.” Count on 99 percent of this fan base agreeing with them.

And still, the media in Fayetteville wondered Monday in offensive coordinator Joe Craddock’s weekly press conference: If the offensive line blocked so well last week against Colorado State – one figures the Rams are better populated in the D-line than San Jose State, and Arkansas’s coaches later agreed – then why was the effort so lacking Saturday against supposedly lesser players playing a three-man front?

Craddock let his relative youthfulness get the best of him when he fielded that question and still would not throw anyone directly under the bus for the deplorable lack of effort. “I don’t  know. You’ll need to ask them.”

Frankly, I thought it was a pretty good answer for the fan base: Ask them. Some of these players get on Twitter often to engage fans, ask them. They celebrate every good play they make as if they’ve scored a goal in a English Premier League soccer game – heck, they make such a to-do now about their recruitment out of high school. They’re love attention. With all that, they seem big-boy enough that maybe we should get to ask them. “What happened Saturday night?” If only the Arkansas sports information office would march them out onto the stage to ask.

OK, I’m joking now, but this isn’t funny to a salivating fan base catching the heavy scent of coach blood in the air. Let’s move on. Remember, above all else, we as media and especially the fans are NEVER to criticize the players and their effort, or lack of it. Not in Arkansas. They are doing the very best they can, even when it is obvious they are not. It is solely the coaches’ fault when players make mistakes or show up with no effort to even match a Mountain West Conference team. It is the coaches’ fault, mind you, when players aren’t prepared to play. 

Which, as everyone whoever played or coached on that level tells me, is poppycock. Good players get themselves ready to play. If you need a coach to motivate you to play, you were never good enough to  play to start with.

But this is where we are today with Arkansas football. The job for rebuilding Arkansas, which is at its lowest mark in talent, is too big for Chad Morris, the masses are saying. I saw this on Facebook by untold numbers of fans that if it wasn’t obvious as many times as they’d screamed it two years ago, it should be clear as mud today that the game as passed John Chavis by. Any other defensive coordinator would easily be able to take the lack of a pass rushing ability and lack of speed all over the field and do wonders with this. See, Joe Craddock just admitted he doesn’t even know what his offensive line is doing or what their mindset was to decide not block the worst team in the Mountain West. 

The play-calling, according to the fans, is atrocious. I mean, how do you call a counter run play on fourth-and-2 at the SJSU 4-yard line when you know the walk-on tight end you have out there probably won’t hold his block (he didn’t), your junior center is going to be knocked backward 7 yards after snapping it off line to the quarterback, further slowing the play, and your senior left guard is picking this play to just not block anyone? First question: Why didn’t you have better players in those spots where they failed? (DING, DING, DING: Because they don’t have them!).

Doesn’t matter to the fans. YOU SHOULD KNOW THESE THINGS, COACH. You should call plays based on knowing than three of your guys simply aren’t going to execute correctly or lack the ability to do it. You must devise an offense than will work with just eight players doing their job, and guess who those eight will be. (Kudos to true freshman guard Ricky Stromberg for pulling correctly and blocking well, and for first-year juco transfer Myron Cunningham at left tackle, one of the four positions he typically plays in a game, take care of his man. If only football plays were contingent on just two guys up front doing what they’re supposed to do.)

I get it. Fans are tired of this. I hate to tell you this, but either way you go with your faith, or lack of it, in Chad Morris, you’re going to be tired for a long time. This staff needs a recruiting class next December-February equal or better than last year’s good haul. They need another one after that. Instead, since 99 percent of the fan base now think Morris and crew are overmatched for the job, that probably isn’t going to happen. Word travels way faster than an Arkansas center snap around the SEC, and recruiting is dog-eat-dog. So, that’s going to be one more failed year in recruiting, or four flops in the last five. Look closer at all that has transpired in the past decade and that’s seven of the last 10. Those bad years add up. They’ve added it. The proof is in front of you.

Those years all add up to the futility of players showing up convinced that just showing up is enough to beat another college football team. 

Hog Coaches Chavis

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