Pressbox Roundtable: Hogs Where Expected With A&M, Manziel Arriving


We return with our Pressbox Roundtable, our sit-around, talk-about-football feature that covers the Hogs, the Red Wolves and college football.

This week, Jim Harris sits in with several of our regulars in the prediction department – regular columnist and Arkansas Fight website operator Doc Harper, new 93.3 FM producer and former KTHV, Channel 11 producer Jessica Duff, KABZ-FM 103.7 program director and show host Justin Acri, and Arkansas State writer and 920AM radio show producer Jeff Reed.

Let’s get it rolling; game time approaches:

Sporting Life Arkansas: Is Arkansas where you expected the Razorback to be after four games?

Jim Harris: I thought in the preseason, with 5 or 6 wins the most I expected, a win at Rutgers would be a bonus. The Hogs didn’t get that bonus. I still think there are possibly two wins out there. I think the Hogs are in better position for A&M than I expected, actually, and that they aren’t that far off from most of the competition, although without Brandon Allen the task is more difficult.

Doc Harper: After the ULL game I really thought they’d get to 4-0. I don’t think anybody should be pleased with 3-1, even considering the quarterback situation. Especially since Arkansas lost the Rutgers game in the fashion they did. It would be different if they were never in the game or something, but that’s a game they should have won.

Jessica Duff: Yeah, actually. I think it was expected the Hogs win the first 3 games and hopeful that they’d win the 4th. It was the first true road test of the year and not an easy one at that. Playing without Brandon Allen definitely impacted the game. But I still think it’s reasonable to be 3-1 at this point.

Justin Acri: The Hogs are actually a better team than I even thought they would be and of course Alex Collins has surpassed all our expectations.  I figured Rutgers was a toss up so yes they are about where I thought they would be. That being said, my preseason prediction of 6-6 looks optimistic at this point.

Jeff Reed: Based on the schedule I would have to say yes. I thought Lafayette might a little more of a challenge. But 3-1 is not far off. Did not expect them to win at Rutgers.

Brandon Allen appears out for the A&M game, and his presence even for Florida next week is in question. Do you prepare true freshman Austin Allen to get some snaps in the A&M game or stick with A.J. Derby throughout, no matter how the game goes? What were your impressions of Derby against Rutgers, while we’re on the subject?

Justin: Derby is a 50 percent passer historically (JUCO, limited action at Iowa).  I thought he improved immensely week one to week two and I think he will be adequate.  I have not seen a practice at Arkansas and if you are not a coach or administrator at the U of A, chances are you haven’t either.  I would assume if Austin Allen was the better option, he would have been the backup, not Derby.  I would also assume if he was more prepared than Derby, he would have started last week at Rutgers.

Doc: Austin Allen should be prepared to go just in case, as any backup should. He’s just a play away from being forced on the field, as the cliché goes. I thought Derby was better in the second half, but I don’t think he’s a natural drop-back passer.  He was a 4* athlete out of high school and was moved to linebacker at Iowa, so I’d like to see Arkansas utilize his athleticism more and have him move around a little.

Jessica: Austin Allen needs to be ready as the number 2 guy. It’s as simple as that. That’s how the chain of command goes. Number 1 is out – so everyone moves up a slot. Plain and simple. Derby had a rough game against Rutgers, but it wasn’t ugly. It was the kid’s first big game of his career. So obviously there are a few jitters. But he’s not the reason they lost that game. Believe me.

Reed: I did not think Derby’s performance, for a first time out on the road, was that bad. The UA coaches are in a tough situation. Is Austin Allen ready to salvage the season? That is a lot of ask of a true freshman with a team that is short on talent. Or do you save him for the future? And is he good enough to beat out his brother down the road? All tough questions. For now, unless he is no doubt the future of the program, I leave the redshirt on.

Harris: Derby didn’t do anything to lose the game, didn’t make any real mistakes, and considering the bad O-line play he did OK. I expected much more for the running game at Rutgers and that surprised me. If Austin were ready, I’m sure the coaches would put him out there.

Arkansas’ running yardage has statistically dropped by significant margins since the opener against Louisiana-Lafayette. Why?

Reed: They’ve seen the Arkansas passing game? USM had a decent defense, just no offense. Rutgers is getting closer to the level they will see in the coming weeks. Coaches are figuring out that the Hogs are serious about running the ball and then coaches load up and dare them to beat them passing.

Doc: The passing game has been mediocre-at-best since then. The play-calling hasn’t been very creative, save for the few trick plays. I’d like to see them try more high-percentage passes like screens or to running backs in the flats.  The 2006 team started to take off when they realized it might be a good idea to have both McFadden and Jones on the field at the same time, so I’m curious to see if they can figure out a way to have Williams and Collins on the field together with any frequency.

Jessica:  I’d like to say it’s because you played tougher defenses. But Samford really isn’t statistically better than ULL. Maybe the adrenaline of being the season opener played a factor in the run game? So much excitement to get out there and play hard? Yeah…maybe that’s a stretch.

Harris: I’m still trying to figure out why the passing game was so off against Samford. I’m certain of this, that Arkansas proves humongous linemen don’t mean you can block. Arkansas failed to handle small, quick linemen and simple blitzes against Samford and against Rutgers. Looking at it now, Louisiana-Lafayette gave everyone a false sense of how good the line was, as well as how good the running game was. Also, it became obvious real quick, I guess, even to Samford, that Arkansas had only one wide receiver and no real deep threat.

Justin: Better competition. The offensive line was called out by Coach Pittman after Rutgers so I assume there are a lot of assignments being missed.  These guys can get by with that against lesser-thans, but will have to be much better against better teams.  They have been through a lot of change.  I will bet we see improvement through the year.

What has been the biggest positive surprise about the Hogs’ season so far?

Reed: 3-1. Almost a perfect run through the nonconference. And for Hog fans, you have to feel there is a direction now. They players know who is in charge. And a foundation is being put in place.

Doc: Javontee Herndon stepping up as a big-play receiver. And other than Brandon Allen, most of the players that were hurt in August are coming back pretty quickly.

Jessica: I’ve gotta say the defense. Yeah, they’re a big reason the Hogs lost last week against Rutgers. But think about the plays Chris Smith, Tevin Mitchel, Trey Flowers to name a few. These guys have stepped up huge! Sacks, interceptions, tackles for loss. Defense is definitely a plus this season.

Justin: Collins.  Defensive line.

Harris: Herndon’s been a positive surprise. Tight ends. Swanson’s ability to get outside and pull. Robert Thomas’ rise as both a leader and consistent player up front defensively. Arkansas’ trainer for getting injured players back on the field quickly, with the exception of Brandon Allen.

Can Arkansas slow down Manziel?

Doc: No. And nobody else can, either.

Reed: It all depends upon what your definition of slow down is? (Thanks WJC). I think the Aggies win. Manziel is a lot like Matt Jones, he is more dangerous when plays break down. He also extends the play better than anyone in the college game.

Justin: I don’t see how since nobody else has.  Hopefully he will have some turnovers and the Hogs find a way to score consistently and keep the ball away from him.

Jessica: Considering I just praised Arkansas’ defense…I’d like to say yes. That’s gonna be the key to winning the game. Slowing down Manziel. The Hogs must get to the quarterback in order to stand a chance in the game. Apply pressure to Johnny Football, get in his face, knock him down. Only way to have a hope.

Harris: I can’t resist this, you can’t stop him  you can only hope to contain him. That’s the key, containing him. Rain won’t even stop him.

Will Arkansas win another game this season? And when?

Jessica: Wow, negative nancy!

SLA: We’re just asking the questions. Not all of them can be sweet and easy.

Jessica: Of course they’ll win another game this season. I think they have a great chance to beat Auburn again this year. The Ole Miss game should be a good one and another chance with Mississippi State. I’d say Florida would’ve been a possibility if Driskell still played. But former backup-turned-starter Murphy is pretty dang good!

Doc: I think so. I don’t think we know how good they can really be if/when Allen comes back. I’ve always felt like Mississippi State was a very winnable game as long as the team is still healthy and fighting by that point. Keeping the team positive through the gauntlet is Bielema’s biggest challenge this season. Although, at the rate Florida is losing players that could be a very competitive game.

Justin: YES!  For sure in Little Rock against Mississippi State.  Not sure they will be favored in any others except Auburn.

Reed: Yes. Before Nov. 30.

Harris: If they can stay healthy, I think they’ll be a better team in the final third of the season. They’ll win at least two of those. Maybe they’ll surprise the world at Florida, or beat South Carolina at home. I don’t think it’s out of the question.

Arkansas State took a turn for the worse at Memphis last week and journeys to Missouri this week? What are your concerns about the ASU program in week 5?

Reed: Who are these guys? The loss to Memphis, which is pretty solid in its front seven on defense, was like a sucker punch to the gut. I think there might be some identity crisis in Jonesboro right now. The bottom line, the Red Wolves were 2-2 at this point last year. What matters are the seven SBC games remaining.

Doc: How do they play so poorly in Memphis and travel to an SEC stadium (insert snarky Mizzou joke here) and expect to compete? Missouri looks much better than last year. I have a really hard time seeing the Red Wolves being competitive in Columbia.

Jessica:  I don’t know what’s up with A-State this season. So much talent the past 2 years and a good portion stuck around this season. I think losing leader and star Ryan Aplin is affecting the team more than expected. They’ve got to get some consistent play in that position in order to see success elsewhere on the field.

Justin: The whole league has been a disappointment in the non-conference schedule.  That was a shock last week and I can’t imagine this team can figure out all what went wrong fast enough to beat Mizzou.  Hopefully they can before they play in the Sun Belt.  Man is that conference WIDE open or what?

Harris: I agree, I didn’t see the Sun Belt following off this badly this quickly. How did Troy get so awful so fast? Lafayette? ASU is feeling the effects of having four head coaches in four years. That has to be a problem in the recruiting end. The defense looks really bad. The quarterback is different for the first time in three years, and that’s a factor. Harsin has never been a head coach. All those things are concerns, especially against a team like Missouri, but they can still compete for the league title.

What is your biggest surprise on the national college season so far this season?

Doc: There doesn’t seem to be an elite defense out there, at least among the top teams compared to the last few years. It should be interesting to see how that plays out.

Jessica: Biggest surprise so far? I think a surprise is how much trouble Texas and USC are having already. I can’t say I’m disappointed to see Lane Kiffin struggle at USC…. But seriously, how do 2 programs who have such a strong reputation of success have so much trouble right now? Sheesh, it’s rough.

Justin: Unfortunately that Johnny Manziel may be even better than he was last year.  Jameis Winston would be a second for me.  What a great start to a promising career.

Reed: Baylor and coach Art Briles, who will be the next coach of the Texas Longhorns.

Harris: I’m surprised former UT defensive coordinator Manny Diaz was so quickly discovered to be a fraud, I guess. I’m surprised Oregon hasn’t missed a beat with Chip Kelly gone to the NFL. I’m surprised Zach Mettenberger at LSU has improved as much as he has in a year. Michigan’s poor play of late is surprising me. Other than that, it’s about what I expected.

What do YOU think? Is Arkansas where you expected? Can Derby do the job or should the coaches turn to Austin Allen? What’s wrong with A-State? Let us know in the comments section. 

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