Jim Harris: Hogs Need No Fan Finger-Pointing Now


Even though Arkansas is right where the young Razorbacks were supposed to be, based on how everyone forecast them in the preseason — Georgia was the pick to run away with the SEC East Division and now looks the part, in fact — the Hog fans at this point are expecting better and looking for someone to blame.

No one wants to complain much about the head coach, Bret Bielema, who has Arkansas competing harder and playing better overall in year two of his Hog tenure.

First-year defensive coordinator Robb Smith is safe from criticism, simply by taking the awful excuse of a Razorback defense and making them look at least SEC worthy most of the time. At times he seems like he’s doing it with smoke and mirrors; Arkansas is still woeful at safety on an SEC level, and that deficiency reared its ugly head last Saturday at War Memorial Stadium against a versatile Georgia defense.

Let’s see, what coordinator can we all throw under the bus?

Did anyone say “Jim Chaney”?

Gosh, did anyone? Try “nearly everyone.”

Looks like a good portion of Hog fans on talk radio or the Internet has decided that if Chaney could just call plays better, Arkansas would be 6-1. Heck, the Hogs would have won that second half at Auburn too if only Chaney had not “abandoned the run so soon” as the line goes nearly every SEC game. So, if only Arkansas had a Bobby Petrino-like genius calling plays instead of the “failed” Chaney, who has only won two SEC games in six consecutive seasons coaching at an SEC program, Arkansas would enter this breather week vs. Alabama-Birmingham sitting 7-0 and getting ready for a No. 1 vs. No. 3 showdown against Mississippi State in Starkville, with No. 4 Ole Miss lurking. (As it is, since Arkansas is a failure at 3-4, Ole Miss is ranked No. 3, and next week’s game at Mississippi State won’t have near the national urgency as it would have, if not for Jim Chaney).

Just in case my sarcasm isn’t coming through, this slam of Chaney is completely ludicrous.

Yes, we can scratch our heads over a few called plays here and there over the past seven games: Throw to A.J. Derby every chance you can, but why would you ever run him on a tight end reverse against the speed of the SEC, not once but twice? Do you know your personnel well enough by now not to call for slow-developing play-action passes against the very fast Georgia Bulldog defense with athletes coming off the edge, especially when you just rammed it down the ‘Dawgs’ throat with nine running plays out of 10 snaps and they just gave you the ball on their 45-yard line?

We can pick at nits, we can second-guess (or, to the frank, we were first-guessing Arkansas going to the air after Georgia’s failed first-quarter onside kick, and of course the Hogs lost 23 yards in two plays because of it) every play call, but the 3-4 record is all about execution, or the lack of it in critical moments. It’s about talent, and Arkansas hasn’t had enough of it for those critical moments.

Georgia and Auburn defensively (and offensively, if we want to be fair) were significantly faster than any players Arkansas had on offense. Chaney, offensive line coach Sam Pittman and the rest of the offense staff are trying to build a consistent offense with great running backs but without game-breaking speed to counter the SEC defenses and with just an average-throwing passer at quarterback. Fans want Chaney and crew to “outsmart” the best defensive coordinators in the business; it’s rarely going to happen, especially without the weapons in place.

Now, we have the viral breakdown of Arkansas’s passing game from last week where the Hogs and Brandon Allen passed better from the shotgun and/or spread formation than they did from under center using play-action passes. Well, of course they did; nothing has ever frustrated us more than watching a play-action team continue to stick with play-action fakes on third-and-a-mile or in games when the team trailed by 32 points at the half. The defense knows in that situation that you’re going to pass, so why even bother with play-action fakes.

When the games were still close, such as in the narrow losses to Texas A&M and Alabama, Allen’s shotgun passing was no more effective, and really not as good, as from under center with play-action.

The good news is that even though Georgia knew Arkansas would be winging it in the second half last Saturday, Allen was able to do it to the tune of 70 percent in the second half. In case you didn’t notice, the Bulldogs had their defensive regulars in the game and they were also running their offense with their starters against a Hog defense that refused to be humiliated in the second half the way they were in the first.

And, as much as Brandon Allen or Hunter Henry or any other player we interviewed afterward brushed off the second-half showing as really not mattering in the grand scheme of things, because Arkansas lost, it did matter. It showed that, unlike this time last year, the Razorbacks weren’t going away without some measure of fight. They didn’t turn tail at halftime and mail in the next 30 minutes and lose 52-12.

We understand that none of that makes it anything less than another L in the loss column. If it was by 52 or by 1, they are all adding up as 1 under loss and the number of consecutive L’s keeps growing.

But these are the same players Arkansas was suiting out Aug. 30; they haven’t filled their needs with a trade or two or a free-agent signing. Any personnel changes will come with recruiting, and with safety Dre Greenlaw’s commitment on Thursday, the Hogs’ commitment list is up to 16.

Fans will be fans, and with that comes complaining when the losses mount. Something has to be wrong, but nobody seems to want to admit it’s a personnel problem. Many simply believe that with better coaching, play-calling and the wave of a magic wand, all would be right and the Hogs would be the team, rather than the long-woebegone Mississippi schools, surprising the world.

Look how many veterans dot the two-deep chart at Mississippi State. Bulldog fans (mostly the ones not in the know) groused about how Dan Mullen in his fifth season just couldn’t get it done and a change needed to be made. Mullen and State started a win streak at War Memorial Stadium by beating the Hogs in overtime, beat Ole Miss the next week in overtime, and haven’t lost since.

Hugh Freeze had terrific recruiting classes in his first two seasons that have helped the Rebels overtake Alabama finally and, with a senior quarterback finally not making mistakes, is heading into its toughest road trip of the year so far as a 3.5-point favorite in Baton Rouge vs. LSU.

Arkansas needed a defensive shakeup on its staff, particularly when last year’s coordinator didn’t think he could get it turned around; but, Arkansas fans would be making a mistake if they think the same offensive shakeup might be needed in coming weeks. That will be up to Bret Bielema to decide whether his style and Jim Chaney’s don’t blend well enough, but imagine how a change in offensive coordinator might affect the way some big-time commitments are thinking in terms of their college future. They are seeing Arkansas open it up as best as it can with the talent on hand. Speed and hands at wide receiver, and more experience among the great young talent on the offensive line, is the remedy on the offensive side — not what specific play is being called.

The best proof of this is taking note of how well Arkansas has played against teams it has outmanned. Whether you like it or not, the Hogs have nobody outmanned or out-experienced on their SEC schedule this year, and yet they can say without doubt they’ve left two wins on the field.

razorbacks offensive coordinator jim chaney

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