Mitchell: Arkansas Craters
Arkansas' J.L. Smith
Arkansas may have lost its leader this spring, but they didn’t begin feeling it until this fall. We've pointed out the Razorbacks defensive flaws all offseason, yet it was absent its leaders, Tyler Wilson and Bobby Petrino, that this team cratered in the second half against ULM. What comes next for the Hogs?
By Russ Mitchell
Follow me @russmitchellcfb
UL Monroe has a proud history of notching a major college football upset every now and then. In November 2007 they beat Nick Saban's Alabama in Tuscaloosa, 21-14. However, that was a .500 Alabama team nowhere close to being ranked. Arkansas is ranked in the top ten.
So much for preseason polls.
The Hogs have been playing on borrowed time with quarterback Tyler Wilson's health, and lady luck turned her back on both of them Saturday against the Warhawks. Other than Tennessee’s Tyler Bray, no SEC quarterback took more punishment in 2011 than Wilson, yet he regularly bounced up and performed at a high level.
However, last year Wilson had ex-coach Bobby Petrino roaming the sidelines, thinking up plays to protect Wilson. To take him out of harm's way, if only so he could clear his head for a play or two. This year, Wilson’s offensive line has twice the experience it did in 2011, yet Petrino is absent. We saw the effect that had in the first half against ULM.
If he was in fact removed from a game due to head trauma, there is absolutely no way he should play against Alabama's defense in six days. No way; period. To do so would be negligent.
We wrote about this after Tim Tebow’s injury in Lexington, though Tebow had a bye week before his scheduled appointment with the LSU Tigers. Not that that was enough time to be safe. As Tebow himself acknowledged in his autobiography, he intentionally misled doctors as to the state of his health in order to play early in Red Stick.
If we are truly concerned about the well being of the young men who put themselves in harms way for our entertainment, then Wilson should sit. Particularly as a national championship shot is over, though it was only a mirage to begin with.
WHO NEEDS DEFENSE?
We've pointed out the glaring weaknesses with this defense, though few in the Natural State cared to listen. The secondary is porous and the run defense is only slightly better than its mediocrity of the past five years...though that’s likely because teams would rather pass against it. Here's a scary though: Arkansas hasn’t even started SEC play yet.
Without both of its leaders (Petrino & Wilson), this team cratered in the second half against ULM. For the second week in a row, new defensive coordinator Paul Haynes called a frenetic game, and his unit performed to match his play calling.
On the day, Arkansas’ defense surrendered – and we do mean surrendered – 550 yards of offense to the Warhawks, while only recording 377 itself. 412 of those yards came by way of the forward pass, though UL Monroe also ran for four yards per on 35 carries (138 yards).
ULM did better than Arkansas on third down conversions. It did better on passing efficiency. It did a better job tackling, and it clearly did a better job putting pressure on the quarterback. The Razorbacks, meanwhile, had more penalties, more turnovers, and less coaching.
ULM had 103 offensive plays to the Hogs 66. It’s not surprising then that the Hawks had nearly TWICE the time of possession – 39:19 to 20:41.
I remind you, this is a Sun Belt team that hasn't had a winning season since 1980, playing a ranked SEC team…ranked in the top ten, no less. Yes, a grossly overrated SEC team, but nonetheless...
Perhaps most telling of all, in terms of both this game and perhaps this season, the Arkansas defense stopped ULM on just one of seven fourth down conversion attempts. One.
Petrino may not be nominated for many Best Man or Husband of the Year awards, but during his tenure in Fayetteville his offensive genius was often enough to make up for Arkansas' defensive woes. Even with Casey Dick under center.
THE ARKANSAS OFFENSE
As to the current state of all things Hogs football... The 2012 Razorbacks are not a top ten team - not without Petrino and with this defense. They weren’t two weeks ago and they’re not now. Moreover, they’re not even a top twenty team without Wilson.
On offense, minus Wilson the Hogs have a great running back corps with an average offensive line to block for them, and with no passing threat. They also have a decent starting receiving unit, though again, without a proven quarterback to get them the ball.
Arkansas may have lost its leader this spring, but they didn’t begin feeling it until this fall. J.L. Smith looked overwhelmed on Saturday; imagine what he'll look like next week across from Alabama’s Nick Saban. Certainly Bobby Petrino bears a large share of the responsibility for this soap opera, but as we wrote at SEC Media Days, AD Jeff Long deserves just as much of the blame for his poor business decision.
All offseason I’ve been warning the Arkansas faithful that this defense was a paper tiger, terribly thin at linebacker, inexperienced at secondary, with no legacy of run defense to stand on. And that that, combined with the firing of Petrino, would be this team’s downfall.
We also worried that the wheels would come off the cart when the Hogs struggled with their first bad loss.
Now we get to find out.
Russ Mitchell is CFN's lead SEC Columnist. Follow Russ for SEC and CFB analysis @russmitchellcfb
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