Jim Harris: Hogs Must Raise Their Game, Especially in O-Line, at Colorado State


If an Arkansas Razorback fan woke up today from a 20-year coma, one of the first thoughts might be, “Why are the Hogs playing at football game AT Colorado State? And why are they doing it with a first-year head coach?”

Imagine that fan’s surprise when you noted that Arkansas played at Rutgers, of all places (and this before surprisingly being welcomed into the Big Ten), in Bret Bielema’s first season, too.

Arkansas is only playing Colorado State, period, because Michigan opted out of an agreed home-and-home series in 2018-19 with the Razorbacks when a chance arose to resume its rivalry with Notre Dame. Bad decision, it turns out, for Wolverines Coach Jim Harbaugh, whose squad looked worse than the 24-17 final score might indicate in losing to the Fighting Irish last week. All the same, the SEC decided that starting in 2018 all its teams would play a Power 5 nonconference game in addition to its eight league games and the three creampuffs that SEC teams schedule. And yes, Arkansas State fans, Alabama views you this week as a creampuff (but you’d still give Arkansas plenty of trouble, maybe even win, if you played the Hogs this week).

Anyway, given little time to find a suitable Power 5 replacement for Michigan, then UA athletic director Jeff Long worked out the home-and-home with Colorado State, which has been a fairly decent “Group of 5” program of late. The SEC said OK to this, most likely because the first of those two games would be an 836-mile road trip for the Hogs. No doubt Colorado State loved the chance to get an SEC team into Fort Collins, too.

In better days of Arkansas football, Colorado State would be coming to The Natural State, and there would be no return game. The Rams show up on Arkansas’ past history three times since 1974 (coincidentally Jack Crowe’s first year as head coach, 1990, was the last meeting) with appearances in Little Rock.

Frank Broyles built up his squads leading into Southwest Conference play by somehow convincing the likes of Oklahoma State (then in the Big 8) and independent Tulsa to come to Arkansas every year (OSU was usually the opening game, in Little Rock, at night in front of a raucous Hog-loving audience). When Broyles determined early in his tenure that he couldn’t beat Johnny Vaught and Ole Miss, especially after his Hogs expended so much emotion battling Texas the week before, he dropped the Rebels rivalry in that post-Texas slot for the likes of lowly Wichita State, competitive independent North Texas and then-Big 8 bottom-feeder Kansas State.

(As an aside, reminded by “Mean” Joe Greene’s appearance at the Little Rock Touchdown Club on Monday, North Texas State in 1968 had a handful of players like Greene go on to great NFL careers, and in essence may have been the second most-talented independent in Texas behind Houston. Then nicknamed the Eagles, NTSU left Little Rock a 17-15 loser that night, my dad and others convinced they had beaten the Hogs everywhere but the scoreboard, perhaps cheated out of the victory by a questionable call or two. Meanwhile, an 11-year-old future sports columnist was wowed by the arm of NTSU’s quarterback, Steve Ramsey, but still thought the Hogs ruled supreme, fair and square.)

Can you believe, today at least, that Broyles was able to convince Stanford, with a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback in Jim Plunkett, to play one game in Little Rock without demanding a return from the Hogs? Or that Southern Cal, then perennial among the top programs in the country, agreeing to two visits to Little Rock for just one Arkansas trip to the L.A. Coliseum?

Colorado State, Utah State, Iowa State, Air Force, Vanderbilt (as a nonconference game then), Navy, Northwestern – they weren’t getting return games in their stadiums from the Hogs. When Broyles had retired from coaching and was solely athletic director, he was still making the schedule, and what a salesman he must have been with these opposing ADs. It’s as if Frank had you over for dinner, and whether you could stomach what he was serving, you’d already have agreed you were coming back for dinner at his place the following week. 

Maybe all that illustrates not only how much college athletics has changed in a generation, but how far the respect of the Arkansas athletic program has fallen. Suddenly, we have Frank’s successor in the athletic director’s chair agreeing to home-and-home series with Rutgers and Colorado State and unable to hold Michigan’s feet to the fire on an agreed-upon contract. Do you think the great John McKay would have called up Frank Broyles and said, “You know, Frank, about that game we’ve got with you in Little Rock coming up, doesn’t seem right now we have to play you twice in Little Rock, I’d like out of it …”? Just as a reminder of those good old days: Arkansas won that second Southern Cal game played in Little Rock, 22-7, and the Trojans still went on to win a version of the 1974 national champion.

But now we’re to today, where Arkansas looks like it might be in a two-year-or-more rebuild of a five-year failed rebuild, especially in the offensive line. Last week’s O-line starters couldn’t consistently block a weak, small Eastern Illinois Panthers defense. I mean, Samford they weren’t. Already, there was shuffling in this brief run-up to the trip to Fort Collins, particularly on the left side where starting redshirt freshman tackle Shane Clenin was hobbled and redshirt freshman guard Kirby Adcock reportedly was working as a backup on the right side Wednesday. Injured fourth-year junior left tackle Colton Jackson, who has mostly struggled so far in his career, was hurried back into playing after undergoing offseason back surgery. Redshirt freshman Dalton Wagner, who had his appendix removed in the preseason, was back at left guard.

Maybe the coaches decided to just wing it with what they had for EIU and have the line in better shape for CSU. Or maybe all the rules changes concerning preseason contact and no more two-a-days have changed how coaches can fully evaluate what they have, meaning it takes an actual game to adequately see what they’ve got. Nevertheless, seeing the run game produce just 80 yards (or, better put, just 2.2 yards per rush), the staff decided the line needed a different look for CSU.

Arkansas depended on big plays from a surprising performance by quarterback Ty Storey to break open a close game against an outmanned FCS squad. The Hog defense pursued well and had hands on the football in strips, fumble recoveries and pass breakups all day, but there was still that specter of allowing the deep completion that still haunts. Rest assured, CSU Coach Mike Bobo, who was offensive coordinator for Mark Richt at Georgia, has already figured out all of the Razorback weak spots and will attack them. 

Road games are never easy. Frank Broyles knew that and rarely allowed them to be scheduled. Arkansas is forced to play them now, and they’ll have to be a significantly better team this week to win in Fort Collins, even if CSU has struggled mightily in two games. Even scarier is knowing that North Texas is back on the schedule next week, in Fayetteville, and may be as talented as it was back in Mean Joe Greene and Steve Ramsey’s era.

Make sure you catch Jim on KTHV’s Hogzone 10:30 Saturday night.

colorado state ram_walk


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