Jim Harris: It Has To Get Better For The Razorbacks, Fans


It has to get better for the razorbacks

The story as told by Orville Henry in the book he co-wrote with Jim Bailey, “The Razorbacks,” has a frustrated first-year coach, Frank Broyles, wondering aloud to an assistant if Arkansas would “ever be able to beat these Texas schools.”

Broyles, unlike Bret Bielema, who came along just 55 years after Broyles’ debut, didn’t have the benefit of a couple of patsies and a middling Sun Belt team to start 3-0 before his team was beaten down with six straight losses.

Granted, it was a different era, one completely unfamiliar to probably two-thirds of the Razorback fan base these days. The private schools in the old Southwest Conference still held sway, and the college game was not two-platoon football as it became in the 1960s. Everyone was a two-way player. Arkansas had only had a scent of what real college football success was like when Bowden Wyatt came and went in 1953-54 and he unveiled the Powder River Play, Buddy Bob Benson to Preston Carpenter for a 6-0 win over then No. 4 Ole Miss in Little Rock, sending the Hogs rocketing up the polls and on to the 1955 Cotton Bowl.

There was no Alex Collins for Broyles to lean on; freshman weren’t eligible then, so Broyles didn’t have some fabulous first-year players like Lance Alworth at his disposal. Broyles could only wonder if his first recruiting haul, pulled in just days after leaving Missouri where he coached only one season, would be able to right the ship. Here was Arkansas, headed for a losing season; heck, Jack Mitchell, Broyles predecessor, was able to win six games a year.

Broyles had started with a bust, a 12-0 loss in Little Rock to Baylor in which his Wing-T fluttered and broke quickly — three first downs total. As Orville Henry would remember later and recall, fans were grumbling from that first night. Broyles chucked the Wing-T as fast as he told Houston Nutt some 48 years later that he had to start Mitch Mustain at quarterback.

Broyles didn’t suffer any 52-7 beatdowns before the home folks, he just wasn’t beating anyone; 17-0 was a rear-kicking then. Texas, which beat Arkansas by that score, was on its way to its greatest glory in year two of Darrell Royal, and Ole Miss was the best it would ever be under Johnny Vaught. Arkansas played those two teams back-to-back.

With that 0-6 record, Broyles took his humbled Hogs to College Station, Texas, where the Aggies still had some quality holdovers from the departed Bear Bryant, who was starting his Alabama coaching career.

I wonder now if the odds were about the same, Arkansas winning that Saturday in College Station 55 years ago as compared with Arkansas winning in Oxford this Saturday?

We do know that somehow Arkansas did win that A&M game, holding on 12-7. And with small-college Hardin-Simmons and SMU and Texas Tech to follow, Broyles’ beleaguered program gave the fans some hope for the next year with four straight wins.

It begat Broyles’ favorite saying, one borrowed by Houston Nutt when his teams struggled early on only to finish with a flourish, such as in 2001: “They remember what you did in November.”

Those great recruits Broyles brought in meshed with his veterans who bruised each other up during the next spring practice, and Arkansas shared the first of three straight SWC championships. It started a decade that looks more amazing the further it moves into hindsight, when Arkansas and Texas tied for the most wins in the 1960s, trailing only Bear Bryant’s Alabama Crimson Tide.

November for Bret Bielema in his first year at Arkansas has started 0-1. We got what we fully expected last week: a squad fresh from a week off and rejuvenated on the practice field gamely fighting a very confident but still dubious Auburn team. What we didn’t expect, but probably should have considering how this season has gone, is the continued run of amazingly bad luck for Bielema’s squad.

Not to make excuses, but it did Arkansas no favors for sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen to get his shin stomped on and cut open in the first quarter as the Hogs were systematically slicing through the Auburn’s attempts at defense.

And not to pound anymore on poor A.J. Derby, who has done the best he could in Allen’s stead at Rutgers and in two series last Saturday, but an interception to stop a red zone penetration and a fumble on the Arkansas 29 to set up a two-play Auburn scoring drive were both gut-punches for a team with little if any margin for error in SEC games.

Throw in the ultra-conservative run calls from inside the 4-yard line near the end of the first half, and twice from the Auburn 1 that netted no points, and you can see where those three series resulted in a 21-point swing in the game. Arkansas lost by 18.

All you hear now in positives about Arkansas seems to be “at least they didn’t quit.”

They didn’t seem particularly well-schooled in defending the read-option, even after seeing it for nearly an entire second half against Texas A&M in late September. They’ll see it again in Oxford from Rebels quarterback Bo Wallace, who will also have better targets at receiver too. Ole Miss has more talent defensively than Auburn possesses, and the best players are all healthy again after an easy two weeks (a blowout of Idaho, then an off-week).

In fact, Arkansas can plan on seeing the read-option again when Mississippi State comes to Little Rock on Nov. 23. That appears to be the last game anyone around here is circling as a potential Razorback victory for the remainder of this season.

Back to that 1958 turnaround of fans’ hopes: Broyles didn’t have to face a nationally ranked Auburn or nationally ranked LSU in his final fourIt has to get better for the razorbacks Frank Broyles with early staff games, and the Ole Miss that the Hogs are playing now may not be Johnny Vaught quality, but the Rebels easily could be ranked in the Top 25. Arkansas, in the lowest point its been in overall talent in years, maybe be playing its toughest schedule in school history.

Nothing about this slate shapes up to be a November to remember, but nobody was expecting much of Broyles’ first team by this point in the season either. If Arkansas is to have any chance in Oxford, it has to find a way to somehow flip that minus-12 turnover margin statistic in five SEC games with a handful of takeaways. And stop with the giveaways.

Maybe Bret Bielema could borrow a phrase that Houston Nutt got a lot of mileage from in his terrific first season here: “Gimme four, guys. Gimme four.”

For a while, it became THE catchphrase in 1998.

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