Jim Harris: Razorbacks Should Have It Easy for One Week


Arkansas dips into the Southland Conference — the University of Central Arkansas’s league, to be exact — for Saturday’s cannon-fodder of an opponent to get things right in week 2 of the college football season. The Razorbacks should plunder Nicholls State to the tune of 45-7 or worse, rolling up 600-plus yard of offense in the process. Arkansas should look lightning quick compared to how the Hogs appeared against a much-faster Auburn last weekend.

That’s what week 2 after an opener like Auburn, or Southern Cal, or Michigan or any big-time power should look like for Arkansas or anybody else. The UA really doesn’t want to open, especially in conference play, against a team the quality of Auburn, but the Hogs also have to play along with the $EC’s ever-constant money grab so that the athletic department can afford all the minor sports, new facilities, eventual expansion of Reynolds Razorback Stadium, and so forth.

We get it. What we won’t get is playing Nicholls State in front of maybe 55,000-60,000 fans (it will be announced higher than the turnout actually on hand) and adhering to 1946 policy when playing UCA of the same conference would perhaps excite enough fence-sitting fans to show up and fill the stadium.

We get it. It’s not going to happen. Jeff Long may have changed the whole look of the athletic department after Frank Broyles was eased out, but he didn’t change one thing, and that was the policy Broyles kept from his athletic director mentor, John Barnhill, about playing in-state teams.

And really, the next few paragraphs aren’t about playing UCA or scheduling Arkansas State or any of that same-old controversial opinion that gets all sides yapping at each other. Really, I’m indifferent about Arkansas playing any in-state school in football — it’s the other sports where I think the fans suffer because the Hogs would rather play Grambling than UAPB in baseball, or would rather play Louisiana-Lafayette or South Alabama instead of ASU in basketball. Maybe there was a fear in John Barnhill’s mind, when the events were not that too distant, that the likes of Ouachita or Hendrix could run with the Hogs. The University of Chicago also had a powerhouse football team in the 1930s, and a Chicago star, Jay Berwanger, won the first Heisman, too. Point is, times change. UCA isn’t just known as the State Teachers College either, for that matter.

Here’s what will happen, and Jeff Long and crew can act like it doesn’t matter, but it does: The football fans of this state are going to be watching very closely next weekend when Arkansas goes into Lubbock to play Texas Tech, where UCA battled the Red Raiders closely and lost by 42-35 last weekend. To be sure, every matchup is different, and every game shouldn’t be compared to another, but fans do it anyway. And they’ll do it next week. If Arkansas doesn’t run over Tech’s awful defense, but instead somehow loses by 14 or more points to the Red Raiders, a lot of Razorback fans are not going to be pleased with the direction of their program in contrast to UCA, who the UA won’t schedule.

But Arkansas will schedule plenty of other Football Championship Subdivision teams, such as Tennessee-Martin next year (seriously,jeff long at work Jeff?). It’s the playing of these FCS teams that ought to stop, and it has ended in the Big Ten, but not in the SEC. There are four SEC vs. FCS matchups this weekend. Now, it’s nice that these big-time programs would send a few hundred thousand dollars to these smaller schools to bolster their athletics, but it’s a meaningless game otherwise. To tack them on a season-ticket schedule and charge what they’d expect for better nonconference matchups is unfair to the ticket-buying fanbase anyway.

At least there are the tailgates to enjoy, as well as the chance to watch the backup quarterback finally get some much needed action.

* * *

razorbacks offensive coordinator jim chaneyWhat a contrast the two Razorback coordinators provided this week in post-Auburn press conferences. Offensive coordinator Jim Chaney was cool and collected, if not a little nonchalant, in his assessment of the Hogs’ good first half and poor second in the 45-21 loss to the Tigers in that sauna of a Jordan-Hare Stadium. On the other hand, defensive coordinator Robb Smith looked tense liked he’d seen a frightening phantom.

Watching that defense for the first time against a real opponent will do that to a coach.

Remember us discussing here the prospects of the defense in the first week of August drills? Remember Drew Morgan looking like an All-SEC receiver even against first-team coverage and Keon Hatcher a man-among boys at times in the Razorbacks’ first scrimmage?

Well, Morgan, who we still believe will help the Razorbacks’ offense soon enough, has yet to catch a pass in a college game. We saw what a real man-among-boys looked like in Auburn’s D’haquille “Duke” Williams looked like matched against the Hogs’ back seven

Arkansas at times even had an outside linebacker in coverage against Williams. While Auburn fans already seemed well versed about Williams before he’d even taken his first snap in a Division I game — every time he caught the ball the stadium erupted with a unison of “Duke” — Arkansas meanwhile looked completely unprepared for a receiver ranked No. 1 in junior college last year. (Arkansas, meanwhile, who could use somebody in the Duke Williams style, recruited a juco receiver whose only other offers were to Troy and Wyoming).

Arkansas had seven months to prepare for Auburn’s read game, but when Nick Marshall entered at quarterback for Auburn to start the second half, it’s as if on some plays nobody on Arkansas’ defense knew who they had or could find the ball quick enough. On Marshall’s 19-yard touchdown run, you had a defensive tackle penetrate and go for a tailback who didn’t have the ball, and the middle linebacker also was watching the back and too late to get over to fill the gap that Marshall sprinted through for his touchdown.

We’re certain you’ve heard enough about missed tackles. “Bad angles” could have also been a catch-word for the week, as they led to some of those whiffed tackles, but that term was spared for the most part, though it was true.

As for Chaney, he noted that some games he’s at fault for his play calling and other times it’s about execution, and the Auburn second-half flop (61 total yards, 2 yards rushing) could be attributed to bad execution. If a receiver holds on to a third-down pass beyond the stakes on the Hogs’ first drive of the second half, no one is complaining about the play calling.

Arkansas dropped too many passes. And the Hogs missed too many tackles. That sounds like basic football, but it was the overall difference. When those dropped passes came on third down, or those missed tackles came on a key Auburn conversion on third down, it just multiplied the problem and resulted in the 24-point difference.

Yet, fans wanted someone to blame on talk shows and message boards this week. Smith didn’t get many if any daggers; he’s new, of course. Chaney, though, has already built a following of haters among the disenchanted Hog fan base. If he’d tried to run into what often was a 10-man front within 4 yards of the line of scrimmage, with every gap covered, he’d been crucified for not passing. He and his quarterback went to the air, as Auburn dared Arkansas do to, and the passing game failed in the second half, so Chaney is criticized for abandoning the run.

If only he had the opportunity to see his calls play out before they happen, so he can make the right one.

Here’s betting Chaney calls a pretty good game this weekend.


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