Tuesday, September 15, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Site, quarterback not why Hogs lost

Leader sports editor

Arkansas lost to Toledo. The only things more puzzling than how that happened are the excuses for why it happened concocted by the bewildered Razorback faithful. Some blame head coach Bret Bielema and the coaching staff for not having the team ready to play, others say the vaunted “largest offensive line in all of football” was lackluster. These are two legitimate observations.

Other theories defy logic, and belie the desperate emotional and intellectual upheaval experienced by folks who take their football way too seriously.

The funniest theory put forth is that War Memorial Stadium is to blame. An unofficial internet poll indicates nearly 60 percent of Razorback fans believe Arkansas would have won the game had it been played in Fayetteville.

What those voters fail to see is that a “yes” vote on whether Arkansas would have won the game in Fayetteville, is a tacit admission that Fayetteville is the only place in the world that Arkansas could’ve beaten Toledo.

Nowhere else in the world, besides Fayetteville, is the home field advantage any greater for Arkansas than in Little Rock. A case could even be made that, before Bielema’s arrival at the U of A, the home field advantage was greater in Little Rock.

One clear sign that emotions had replaced all cognitive abilities was the suggestion that the sights and smells being different than what players are used to in a home game, threw them off their game.


Is it possible that when you’re used to smelling Ballpark Franks during pregame warm-ups, you just can’t fire on all cylinders when suddenly you’re breathing in the aroma of Nathan’s Hot Dogs?

Others blamed Brandon Allen, primarily because they made up their mind years ago that Allen isn’t any good, and when Hog fans make up their mind about a quarterback, nothing that actually happens on the field can change that.

There is still a large contingent of Razorback fans who will argue that Mitch Mustain should’ve been the greatest Razorback ever, and would’ve been if not for Houston Nutt.

But these are just message board experts, and the college football message board community is not unlike an SNL goat boy sketch – 20 years removed from being hip, and every cogent thought is lost in a virtual cascade of incoherent bleats and whinnies.

It’s a cyberspace middle-school playground for 40 year olds, where people threaten each other one day over a disagreement about the coach, then the next day, make donations in solemn unity to raise money for a pigpen. (That actually happened.)

Allen did miss some passes, and probably should’ve tried to tuck and run for the game-winning touchdown instead of throwing high and into coverage. But Allen’s 32 of 50 passing for 412 yards was the only reason Arkansas still had a chance to win the game at that point.

He failed to make the clutch throw, but the real concern should be why Arkansas needed a clutch play at the very end to beat Toledo.

Arkansas’ run blocking was terrible, and Alex Collins has not shown that he can be a feature back in the SEC. The Razorbacks have rushed for 182 and 103 yards in their first two games. On Saturday, they couldn’t convert on fourth and 1, and scored just one touchdown in six trips inside the Toledo 20-yard line.

As for Bielema, he said, once again, that a lot of the mistakes were correctable and will be corrected by the time Arkansas hosts Texas Tech in Fayetteville at 6 p.m. Saturday. But he said that last week when Arkansas’ run game failed to impress. He also said the six penalties the Hogs received in their 48-13 win over UTEP would be cleaned up. Instead, the Hogs were flagged nine times against Toledo, including one that erased a punt return for a touchdown by Jared Cornelius.

There was also a stretch in the second half where seemingly every play saw another Razorback lying on the turf receiving treatment from trainers. Most of the injuries were apparently not severe, which leaves one wondering if the team was in shape and ready to play. Bielema made a big deal of not doing two-a-days this preseason. Maybe that was a mistake, too.

One of the injuries was not minor. Keon Hatcher, the team’s best receiver, is out at least six weeks. That hurts the one facet of Arkansas’ offense that’s played well, though it’s hard to say how much it will hurt against next week’s opponent. Texas Tech’s defense has been a veritable matador against run-oriented offenses in recent years, so the Red Raiders could be just what Arkansas needs.

Though teams have only played twice, Arkansas and Texas Tech already share a common opponent. The Red Raiders rolled up 69 points in their 69-20 win over UTEP on Saturday. The good news is, Arkansas’ defense has played well. Texas Tech won’t score anywhere near 69 points on Arkansas, but still might be able to score enough to beat a Razorback team whose offense is reeling.

Bielema had earned all the praise, and nothing but praise, he’s received since arriving at Arkansas. He had his detractors in the very beginning, but the team’s steady improvement in seemingly every single game won over most of those detractors. That honeymoon is officially over now that the team has taken an apparent step backwards.

If Arkansas loses Saturday in Fayetteville, he’ll find out the whole truth of what it’s like to be the head coach of the Razorbacks.