Editorial Commentary: Let the Arkansas Razorback Finger Pointing Begin


Sep 8, 2012; Little Rock, AR, USA; Arkansas Razorbacks head coach John Smith looks on in the game against the Louisiana Monroe Warhawks during the second quarter at War Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Nelson Chenault-US PRESSWIRE

A series of events led to one of the greatest losses in Arkansas’ long respected college football history Saturday night when Louisiana-Monroe beat the No. 8 Razorbacks 34-31 in overtime.

There are two points of interest to view as the finger pointing begins from within the program and from college football fans and pundits from across the country. The first point is the short term problems Arkansas has to overcome and the second is the overall view of Arkansas football and how everything has spiraled down to this one monumental upset.

The quick overall glance goes back to an April Fool’s Day accident that has turned into a “massacre” of sorts for Razorback Nation.

A motorcycle accident involving then head coach Bobby Petrino with a salaried University of Arkansas employee, Jessica Dorrell, working in the football department shed light on an affair that was taking place off the field.

Petrino tried to quickly cover up the affair with Dorrell by lying to Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long about his relationship with his mistress, Dorrell. Days later Jeff Long fired Petrino hiring former special teams coach John L. Smith as Petrino’s interim replacement on a 10 month contract.

With his back against the wall due to the time of the year, Long presumably did not have many options but to coax, putting it nicely, Smith away from his alma mater a couple months after Smith took the head coaching position at Weber State.

This answers the overall problem, no Bobby Petrino or someone of his equal at the helm for Arkansas’ football team to guide the Hogs on the field through tough times.

Smith let it be known that he was well aware of how important his role was as head coach at Arkansas but doubters will question his sincerity to this role. Smith vowed to keep this talented Razorback team with two preseason Heisman Trophy candidates (quarterback Tyler Wilson and running back Knile Davis), a preseason Macky Award finalist (tight end Chris Gragg), a preseason finalist for the best center in the nation (Remington Award – Travis Swanson), and 13 overall players listed as first through third-team preseason All-SEC by Athlon magazine on track to play for a SEC Championship with a chance to play for a national championship.

One particularly devastating drop back into the pocket to pass Saturday night for Tyler Wilson proved to be the beginning of a crack in the Razorback’s season that all hoped would never happen. The Arkansas offensive line failed to block well enough for Wilson forcing him to leave the game with an injury that is unknown at the time of this writing.

Many Razorback fans may say Wilson’s injury was a long time coming after the hits he took in 2011 and is sure to take in SEC action assuming he returns to the field this season.

In 2011 Wilson ran for his life behind Arkansas’ offensive line that under performed throughout the season. The line was credited for only giving up six Wilson sacks but the amount of times Wilson was knocked down, hurried, or had to throw the ball away under duress was beyond belief for an 11 win team that finished their season No. 5 in the nation.

Arkansas offensive line coach Chris Klenakis has either been really good over the last couple of years or really bad depending on how one looks at the situation.

Good if you believe Arkansas has not recruited talent ready SEC offensive linemen to campus or bad that Klenakis has not coached his line better to pass protect and run block for the skill players on the field.

The Arkansas offense has seemingly performed well despite the poor play of the line overall.

Saturday night new offensive coordinator Paul Petrino abandoned the run after Wilson’s injury forcing true sophomore Brandon Allen to make plays with his arm. The result was a 6 for 21 performance by Allen, passing for 85 total yards with one touchdown and one interception.

The confusion of Petrino’s decision is great. Arkansas was nursing a 14-point lead to start the fourth quarter over ULM. All the Razorbacks needed to do was run the clock down and out by giving the ball to their Heisman Trophy candidate in Knile Davis and their backup running back, 2010 All-American kickoff returner Dennis Johnson.

The prevailing thought is to let Arkansas’ bigger offensive line wear down the thought smaller Sunbelt Conference defensive line of Louisiana-Monroe to the point where every other run placed Arkansas in a third and short situation. This strategy would have made Allen’s passing efforts if needed more manageable with a higher probability percentage of a completion ratio that could have changed the outcome of the game. Too bad that did not happen.

The offense went six straight second half series three and out, or worse, to finish regulation.

Who was there to tell the offensive coordinator what he needed to do to right the ship… no one.

The lack of offensive output placed Arkansas’ defense on the proverbial ropes. With no time to make adjustments, rest, get a drink of water, and figure out how to stop Warhawks quarterback Kolton Browning, Arkansas’ defense gave up an embarrassing 557 total yards, 410 yards in the air.

First-year Arkansas defensive coordinator Paul Haynes came to Arkansas as a coach with a strong background coaching corners and safeties at Ohio State.

The selling point on his resume was a co-defensive coordinator position for one year (2011) on a team that finished 6-7 after defensive coordinator Luke Fickell took over as interim head coach when their former head coach, Jim Tressel “resigned”… in other words Haynes was promoted to a position that he would not have filled had circumstances not changed.

Does this mean Haynes is not talented enough to fill the position… not necessarily but…

During the 2011 season OSU gave up over 34 points twice with each finishing to no surprise in defeats (No. 14 Nebraska 34-27 and 40-34 to No. 15 Michigan). Haynes did not call the defensive plays as co-defensive coordinator; Jim Heacock called the plays for the Buckeyes defense.

Should Arkansas fans be surprised by the Razorbacks lack of defensive intensity and performance under Haynes? After all his background and overall resume does not add up to great success or a lot of experience.

One could understand if Haynes was still feeling his way through being a first time defensive coordinator, having to make all the adjustments, call all the plays, and be the sole person accountable for a defense’s performance at a lower tier school with no real aspirations for a run at a national championship. This is not the case at Arkansas in 2012. The stakes are high and there is no wiggle room on the schedule to figure it all out.

Pro-Haynes fans will point to the five OSU players selected in the 2012 NFL draft, all just happened to be defensive players. One could assume with that much talent on the defensive side of the ball OSU should have had a better all around defense with a better win-loss record.

Another argument in Haynes favor would be the defensive performance Arkansas displayed in the 2012 Cotton Bowl against Kansas State after roughly one month’s time under Haynes supervision after he left OSU to take the coordinating position at Arkansas.

One could argue that the defense was in place under former defensive coordinator Willy Robinson and Haynes did little to affect the outcome of Arkansas’ play in the game.

To further the point KSU was a one dimensional team relying heavily on quarterback Collin Klein’s ability to run mixed with the occasional pass. Wildcat receivers dropped some “give-me’s” early in the game that worked in Arkansas’ favor.

What happens when the opposition’s receivers actually catch those passes? Please see the Arkansas vs. Louisiana-Monroe outcome.

Early in the 2012 college football season the Razorbacks have been strong stopping the opposition’s running backs. Running back Troymaine Pope for Jacksonville State gained 65 yards on 14 rushing attempts. Saturday night Jyruss Edwards gained a paltry 36 yards on 15 attempts.

What about the opposition’s passing attack? JSU quarterbacks Marques Ivory and Coty Blanchard combined for 227 yards passing. Warhawks’ quarterback Kolton Ivory threw for 410 yards. Arkansas has allowed a two game average of 318.5 passing yards per game to a FCS school and a Sunbelt Conference team that finished 4-8 the previous season.

Over those same two games the opposition has converted 17 of 43 third down attempts. Laid out another way, 40 percent of the time Arkansas’ opposition has converted their third down opportunities, again, by a FCS program and a Sun Belt Conference team not against SEC West rivals like Alabama or LSU.

Call it rustiness or a lack of rhythm Knile Davis never got into a groove against Jacksonville State. Yet he ran for over 80 yards in the first half against JSU but finished with 70 total rushing yards by game’s end. Sounds like pretty good numbers for a first half especially after a one year absence.

Davis was not rusty in the first half against the Gamecocks but all the sudden became rusty as Razorback fans are led to believe? The running back that can bench press over 400 pounds, squats over 600 pounds, and runs a 4.3 forty-yard dash is not in good enough shape to add to his overall rushing totals but actually diminished his total yardage gained come the second half against an inferior opponent?

Due to missed blocking assignments by Arkansas’ offensive line the lack of second half output was blamed on Davis not the offensive line. Davis took the blame as leaders do protecting the guys up front that are supposed to do the same for him and Wilson play after play.

The Arkansas offensive line and offensive line coach (Klenakis) took credit for exceptional play in 2010 and should take credit for poor performances overall in 2011 and to date in 2012. What has once worked is no longer working.

Tyler Wilson is the engine that makes this Arkansas team go, as evident by his play last season without much of a running game to support his passing efforts. Make no mistake the extent of Wilson’s injury will influence the overall success of Arkansas’ season.

Can Arkansas protect Wilson and run block for their talented backs this season?

Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino must learn to trust his offensive line on running downs or Arkansas’s season will be a disaster per preseason expectations, if not already there. The hopes of an 11-2 2012 season or better could turn into 7-5 quickly if drastic changes are not made first by the coaching staff and then executed by the players.

Adding to Arkansas’ possible success or decline going forward is the play of the defensive secondary. Already thin per the coaching staff’s words in SEC ready talent, the Razorbacks could be without the services of their best cover corner, true sophomore Tevin Mitchell.

Mitchell took an accidental helmet to helmet hit from a teammate Saturday night forcing him to leave the game on a stretcher. His complete health status with knowledge of his return to play is also unknown at the time of this writing. John L. Smith’s update on Mitchell’s status in his post game press conference was, “he is moving and he will be okay.”

Regardless Paul Haynes must find a way to defend the pass or again, this will be a really long season for the Razorbacks. SEC offensive coordinators have to be salivating over the chance to play the Hogs as the situation currently appears.

Near the top of the finger pointing is John L. Smith. The only problem is how do you blame Smith? He was hired to let the coordinators do their job and oversee the team as a whole. No accountability by Smith for the outcome of Arkansas’ play.

Smith has already passed the buck when the opportunity has risen. Before Arkansas’ mock scrimmage in fall camp he let the world know that Knile Davis overruled his decision to not let him be tackled to the ground in the final preseason scrimmage. Somehow this let Smith off the hook had Davis been injured… it was his (Davis’) fault he got hurt, he the player overruled me the head coach and my decision.

One can understand the decision Smith made but why can Smith not take credit for the decision? That is lack of leadership making Saturday’s outcome against ULM more understandable.

Let’s look at the current situation without the expectations fans have come to expect while Bobby Petrino was the head coach.

If someone was to tell Razorback fans these are the coaches the Arkansas athletic department was going to put in charge of a very talented 2012 Arkansas football team what would you say?

You are going to receive a co-defensive coordinator from a 7-6 team that did not call his own defensive plays, an offensive coordinator from a 7-6 team that had a six-game losing streak which the team posted 66 total points for an average of 11 points a game during that losing streak (two of those games coming against Purdue and Minnesota), and you’re head coach is going to be the special teams coach off an 11 win team or worse the current head coach at Weber State? How confident do you feel about the Razorbacks winning the SEC West now?

Despite the negative attempts to see the coaching staff for what they might really be, there is so much talent on this Arkansas team how could everything go so wrong in only two games without the original engineer of said talent, Bobby Petrino?

Over time Razorback Nation became a fan base divided under former head coach Houston Nutt. Fans either loved him or hated him. Before Petrino’s motorcycle accident Razorback Nation stood as one supporting the tough as nails offensive genius that guided Arkansas to an 11 win 2011 season with a No. 5 final AP ranking.

Now Razorback Nation stands alone, confused, and rightfully upset at the downward spiral their once optimistic season has taken in two short games against inferior opponents.

Smith told the press Saturday night that he expressed to his team after the game that they “have to pull together and not divide (going forward).” He also stated that he did not want the team to “start finger pointing because that is what losers do.”

Is anyone else having a Danny Ford flashback?

Smith took accountability stating that “they (ULM) out coached us and outplayed us.”

Accountability is one thing, realization that your No. 8 team in the nation lost at home in Little Rock, Arkansas to a 30.5 point underdog is something else.

Questions should be asked of John L. Smith and the coaching staff. Fingers should be pointed and changes should be made. More should be demanded of the Arkansas coaching staff on the field of play by the loyal Arkansas fan base.

The players deserve answers and the fan base should receive more than a three point overtime loss to an inferior opponent.

Why did Paul Petrino abandon the run in the second half or even in the fourth quarter against Louisiana-Monroe? Why could Paul Haynes not stop Kolton Browning? Both coordinators keyed on one half of their coordinating positions one passing the other stopping the run.

By these outcomes one could assume that Arkansas’ pass defense should be great considering they are lining up against a very talented passing offense. The same could be said on the flip side, Arkansas’ running game should be great going up against a stingy run defense. Come game time this is not the case.

John L. Smith should know better for no other reason other than he was an assistant under Petrino. He should know what needs to happen in week long preparations to get the Razorbacks ready to succeed come Saturday or are we asking too much of the current coaching staff? With no one getting in their face telling them how it is and how it should be, as Bobby Petrino was known to do with results, life presumably has been easy up to this point with Petrino gone for the current coaching staff.

Before the season started this very question was posed, what happens if the Razorbacks lose early in the season. Of course looking through rose colored glasses the worst case scenario was an early season loss against Alabama not Louisiana-Monroe. The question remains to be answered, what happens now?

Will the players check out? Will the coaches start coaching for themselves promoting certain aspects or players on the team to showcase their abilities over what could be best for the team?

From the outside looking in it appears that the coaching staff has done just that, coaching to serve their own best interest. Petrino is relying solely on the passing offense without regards to the running game and Haynes is keying on a defensive line to win games without focusing on his pass defense. Both coaches appear over matched at this point without even facing a SEC defense or offense.

One thing is clear about Arkansas’ future after Saturday’s final score against ULM, expect a complete overhaul on the coaching staff at season’s end. John L. Smith will become a footnote and trivia question in Razorback coaching history, no matter how the season evolves over the next 10 regular season games.

John L. Smith, the once likable and charming head coach for Arkansas fans, has gone from a possible Larry Coker (University of Miami) inspirational story to a Jack Crowe in waiting.

The culmination of the finger pointing should go to the top, all the way to athletic director Jeff Long for firing Bobby Petrino and hiring John L. Smith.

The fan base was divided over Petrino’s firing on a morality issue not a college football issue. The fan base was not divided over Arkansas’ success on the field, after all is that not what college football is all about? If that is not true then why are so many Arkansas fans upset over the loss to Louisiana-Monroe?

Now the fan base stands united that a new head coach is needed, the only problem is that head coach will come one promising season too late.