Jim & Kane: How Do The Hogs Measure Up?



Jim Harris and Kane Webb’s Water-Cooler Analysis

With three down and nine to go, how do the Hogs measure up now?

By Jim Harris and Kane Webb

Well, Jim, we’re already a quarter of the way through the regular season, pending a bowl bid. (And that’s a big pending.) Let’s start with a “macro” question first:

Does the Hogs’ victory over Texas Tech at Lubbock make you reconsider what kind of season they’re going to have? Not necessarily talking about wins and losses but performance on the field and progress.

JIM: Arkansas is right where I expected, although the margin of loss at Auburn is still a surprise to me. Arkansas followed script exactly as I saw at Texas Tech, and the margin was right on what I expected. (I had predicted 56-35, as my Twitter timeline will show; however, before the season, before season Tech struggle to dispose of UCA and UTEP, I would have expected it to be closer.) I still see 6-6 and I still expect the wins to be difficult over the course of the SEC slate, but in preseason I saw Arkansas getting two wins out of those eight games and I will stick to that. I fully expected Arkansas head coach Bret Bielema to have the program more competitive in his second season, and it is. However, as stated, Arkansas’s best players, with the occasional solid junior (Jonathan Williams, for example) or senior (Brey Cook, for example) are sophomores and freshmen.

My forecast was for Arkansas to be significantly a better team in October than on Aug. 30 at Auburn, and better down the stretch of November than it would be in October. And yet, the schedule would be somewhat murderous, and that hasn’t changed. (Texas Tech could not beat a team on Arkansas’ SEC slate.) A&M is better than I suspected; Georgia may be weaker defensively. Alabama is not where it was defensively nor in great shape at quarterback now, but will be better when the Hogs play them. I expected a little more from Ole Miss offensively but their great defense is right on line with expectations because of the great talent on that side. Mississippi State will be a tough out for anybody. Missouri is clicking on offense now better than I expected with the loss of all those tall receivers, because Maty Mauk is a heckuva quarterback with a great touch.

LSU is the wild card, with plenty of talent, albeit young, on both sides of the ball. The question still begs, where does Arkansas get its wins, even two? My thinking is that Arkansas will slip up on two of those teams, but who they are remains to be seen. I just don’t see Arkansas physically dominating the SEC defenses the way it crushed Tech, and the defense still is maybe the worst tackling defense among 14 SEC teams.

KANE: “Where does Arkansas get its wins?” That’s the key question. The Hogs could be vastly improved and yet still go 5-7. Let’s say they split the next two against Northern Illinois and Texas A&M. That leaves the Razorbacks at 3-2 with this SEC murderer’s row: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi State, LSU, Ole Miss and Missouri. There’s one loss among those teams right now. Aside from Alabama-Birmingham at home on Oct. 25, is there a game in that group you feel comfortable predicting a Hog victory? As you know, the problem with getting better in the SEC is that you’re getting better in the SEC. Even Kentucky, where Mark Stoops has somehow been recruiting like a mad man (have you seen those facilities?), is showing signs of life.

As my buddy D.B. pointed out to me in an email, this week five of the top 10 college football teams in the AP poll hail from the SEC West. Not the SEC. The SEC WEST. (No. 3, Alabama; No. 5, Auburn; No. 6, A&M; No. 8, LSU; No. 10, Ole Miss.) If I’m not mistaken, that’s the division Arkansas plays in. Or to quote D.B., “Day-yum.”

It’s clear that Bielema knows how to coach a running game; the offensive line understands who to block for how long and the backs find the holes. (What vision! Alex Collins’s long run to seal the deal was all him. It was actually one of the few plays during the game when the back didn’t have a clear hole.) And isn’t it nice not to have to suffer through those damn “stretch” plays, where the back inevitably takes it too wide because the linemen are confused as to whom to block? Gawd, I hate that play more than any in football. The defense would be solid in the Big 12, which means it lags in the SEC. But I do see progress. Two basics: Catch the effing ball when it’s thrown your way and tackle, tackle, tackle.

Again, better but that schedule may not result in a bowl game.

JIM: Have you ever seen anything in Arkansas’ talent pool in the line over the years like that vine that’s gone viral of Dan Skipper throwing the Texas Tech defender about five yards across the field, then going to look for somebody else to block? Was that not the highlight of the Tech win, outside of the running backs’ individual performances?

KANE: No Arkansas offensive lineman has gone viral like that since Jerry Jones. Ba-da-bing! Drive safe! Don’t forget to tip your waiters and waitresses! But seriously, Jim, Skipper sure is fun to watch. How often can you say that about an offensive lineman? Let’s think back on the O-line stars of the past, those players who, through a combination of talent and backstory/personality, managed to capture our fancy: Steve Korte, the muscle-beach tackle; Freddie Childress, the first 300-pounder who’d be a small fry in this lineup; Shawn Andrews, who dominated from his first snap as a freshman …. Arkansas has had some great offensive linemen over the years, but those guys spring to mind because they had that “It” factor as well as mega-talent. Skipper may not be the best lineman on this team — I think that’s Denver Kirkland — but he’s got an on-field personality as outsized as he is. The broadcasters never fail to single him out. Yes, his made-for-social-media moment against Tech will be the take-away from that game years from now.

KANE: During the Tech game, the broadcast crew put up a graphic of all the offensive linemen Bielema coached at Wisconsin who are now in the NFL. It filled the screen. I can’t imagine another coach sending that much line talent to the pros. Plus, he’s had a number of running backs make their living in the NFL. And don’t forget J.J. Watt and Russell Wilson, who aren’t too bad. Does Bielema get enough credit as a recruiter? Maybe he can get top-level SEC talent to come to Fayetteville, Arkansas. To be specific, and I know it’s early yet, but do you think Bielema will turn out to be the best recruiter the Hogs have had at head coach in the modern era?

JIM: I think, when he was hired, that this was the expectation — that he would prove to be the best recruiter Arkansas had hired since Frank Broyles. He’s getting what could prove to be top-level NFL talent to come to Arkansas already in the handful of offensive linemen brought in so far, and it was the right way to build the program back, starting in the lines. Of course, the other position areas still remain in question as to whether Arkansas can fill them with SEC-type talent the way Sam Pittman and Bielema have recruited for the offensive line. Think about this, though — Bielema’s strength may not be in recruiting immediate SEC-ready players as much as it is in development of players, and that should speak volumes to recruits in the future. Wisconsin was never rated extremely high in recruiting classes among those “expert” services (you and I both agree in the nonsense those can be). His Arkansas class last year, which was supposedly 10th to 13th in the league according to those services, was still higher than any Wisconsin class he brought in. Yet, obviously from that list of players he’s sent to the NFL, he and his coaching staffs must have done an exceptional job of (1) spotting talent in the recruiting process that could be developed and (2) developing it. To me, that’s most important in building the program. Anyway, all that aside, I’ve been impressed since day one with the way the Bielema staff markets itself to recruits, and I don’t doubt that the very graphic you saw on TV was either provided by the staff to the UA to broadcast or will be used by the staff to send to recruits in some kind of photo or tape. Actually, it’s probably both — they got that info to ABC and they’ll pass that televised moment via social media to recruits. This is a long way of saying that YES, this will be the best recruiting staff Arkansas has had since Broyles employed Jimmy Johnson and Leroy Montgomery as assistants in 1973.

JIM: You and I and everybody who watched that runathon at Lubbock know full well, Arkansas will have to have a passing game in the eight games against SEC competition coming up (if not this weekend against a loaded-in-the-box defense of Northern Illinois). Do you believe Arkansas can pass the ball successfully — receivers consistently catch it, Allen consistently throw it on target with touch down the field, over the defense, etc.?

KANE: Ah, yes, the elephant in the room. OK, let’s address it. No, I’m not convinced that the Hogs can pass the ball successfully if they have to pass it when the defense knows it’s coming. For example, if they’re behind by more than one score late in the game, if it’s third-and-10. (That said, I do like the patience Bielema showed against Auburn when the Hogs were down 21-7; he and OC Jim Chaney stuck to their strengths and mixed run with pass but didn’t panic and go pass-happy.) As impressive as it is to watch a running game like the one the Hogs employed Saturday, in the back of your mind you’re thinking: gosh, the passing game isn’t getting much work. And a good passing game takes work. It takes game reps, timing and trust between quarterback and receiver. At its best, this run-run-run offense can do what the old Wishbone could — force other teams into overloading at the line of scrimmage and leaving one-on-one or one-on-two coverage in the secondary. Remember those ducks the Oklahoma option QBs would wobble out to wide-open receivers two or three times a game for big yardage? No reason Arkansas can’t take advantage of a defense creep, creep, creeping up closer to the line to stop the run. But, much as I admire the way Brandon Allen is playing and handling himself this year, I haven’t seen anything yet to convince me that the Arkansas passing game can compete in a real shootout. And I’ve seen a few plays to make me think it can’t. (Exhibit A: that misfire to a wide-open Keon Hatcher on the flea flicker early in the game against Texas Tech. Exhibit B: Hatcher’s drop on a perfectly thrown long ball from Allen against Auburn.)

What about you?

JIM: I remain to be convinced they can throw with decent efficiency. I want to believe, though. I would really like to see Allen possess more of a touch on his throws like I saw from Maty Mauk at Missouri last week (yeah, I’m kind of in that Maty Mauk fan club now). I see some very impressive “lasers” from Allen at times. Unfortunately, that was pretty much a laser-like throw at Texas Tech he made with Keon Hatcher streaking wide open in the first quarter on the flea-flicker, when it needed to have a little air under it for Hatcher to run under. Allen lowers his chance at completing any of those deep throws with his delivery, which seems more laser-targeted than designed for the player to run under it the way Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson could do it under Bobby Petrino (ah, the other big elephant, no longer in the room, who could take a quarterback like Allen and elevate his game to a solid, successful quarterback). I see Arkansas’ receiving as still being a little spotty as well. I don’t see any glue-fingered guys, not even Hunter Henry. OK, maybe A.J. Derby can catch everything close to him, and maybe Cody Hollister can, but those aren’t the speed guys that need to be the deep threats, the guys who are going to be wide open on the play-action fakes after Arkansas has pounded a defense a few plays in a row. Do want to give a shout out, however, to Demetrius Wilson? Remember, Arkansas did throw twice in the second half, and once was to start the half, the out route to Wilson that was caught, which you have to think was huge. Maybe it didn’t matter; everybody was saying “Just run the ball” even then.

KANE: Will Arkansas fans fully embrace a run-first style of attack? I keep thinking about the way fans turned on Ken Hatfield even though he posted 10-win seasons and picked up conference titles.

JIM: Arkansas runs first now because that is what it can do best. Bielema again made sure to get this out there Monday in his press conference, that perhaps his philosophy is being totally misunderstood in that people expect him just to run, run, run, like at Tech. Rather, he wants a balance, as he said, where he’d love it for 215 yards rushing and 215 yards passing every game.

You mentioned Russell Wilson earlier, and certainly that’s about as balanced as it can get, what that great Wisconsin team was able to accomplish with Wilson and the Badgers receivers and with Montee Ball and the running game. So, I am going to trust Bielema and say we would all be mistaken if we think Arkansas is being built just to run 70 out of 72 snaps every game for the duration of the coach’s time here. That’s what Arkansas can do now, very well in cases where it has an outmanned foe like Tech or Nicholls State. That’s what Arkansas should do now, because it does it well and because its defense is nowhere near where Bielema wants it and will have it, though building it from the ground up also takes a few recruiting classes.

To offset that porous a defense and do use what strengths they have at this time (this includes our previous discussion about the current state of the passing game), Arkansas needs to lean on its running. But, remember, that was Texas Tech last week. Stevie Wonder would have seen in Tech last year and in its first two games that Arkansas needed to just pound away at Tech’s weak defense up front with its running backs and massive line, which it did. And, I’d sure as heck rather see Arkansas run, and run, and run, than to try any more cute plays like it did when the game was 21-all in the second quarter and the ball at Tech’s 11.

This will not be the flexbone days of the 1980s; but, to be fair to Ken Hatfield, that was what Arkansas could do best for his six years as coach, and where most of his talent was, and the defense also needing some protecting with a ball-control offense. Yes, Ken was far more conservative (and probably Houston Nutt got that way, too, after his first couple of years) and not near as well-manned in the lines than I think Bielema wants to be and has to be against the extremely gifted SEC foes on the schedule. The 1980s were boring to some fans because, basically, Arkansas did it without near as much skill as, say, Oklahoma did with its wishbone. OU was pretty darn fun to watch running all the time; Arkansas plodded. That wasn’t a plodding effort in Lubbock last week. Fans should have been electrified by some of those plays by Collins and Williams.

KANE: I hope you’re right about Bielema’s offensive philosophy. I ran the numbers on his last two seasons at Wisconsin, and I found his offense slightly more balanced than I expected. Here’s the breakdown: 


Rushing: 3,336 yards on 598 attempts.

Passing: 3,280 yards on 326 attempts. (Note: Russell Wilson at quarterback.)


Rushing: 3,345/621

Passing: 2,270/289 (Note: Three different QBs each threw for more than 500 yards.)

So that’s roughly a 2-to-1 rushing-to-passing attempts ratio. The yardage is almost even in 2011 (Wilson’s year) and more tilted toward the run in 2012 (with Montee Ball at running back and QB-by-committee). It should be noted that both seasons ended in the Rose Bowl for the Badgers.

We know this about Razorback fans: Historically, they barely tolerate a run-most philosophy and only then, grudgingly, if the team is winning. However, things have been so bad for so long on the Hill that fans may be willing to compromise, especially if Bielema develops an NFL pipeline of a running attack. Note that he does have two quarterbacks in the league, too. But if you’re getting huge chunks of yardage on any given running play, that should pacify any fan — even those remaining Bobby Petrino loyalists.

Thanks, Jim, for another edition of Water-Cooler Analysis. We’ll check back in later in the season. In the meantime, fans can catch you regularly here at SportingLifeArkansas.com and weekly on KTHV Channel 11’s “Hogzone” at 10:30 p.m. every Saturday and on Wednesdays at about 6:50 p.m. I know you’re also on Twitter, the radio … everywhere! See you next time.

Will Hog fans buy into a run-first offense?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Hogs Where do they stand



Tags: ,