November 1, 2014

Execution Wins Championships

The text message from my friend in Tennessee arrived just after the Hogs’ second touchdown.  One word: “Wow.”

The Hogs had an ‘all business’ look to them on the sidelines.  Not only were they up 14-0 on #1 LSU, but they had driven the ball 62 yards in 11 plays over five minutes of game time to score first.  And…surprise…8 of the 11 were rushing plays.

Then the snowball took off down the hill in a bad direction.  A face mask turned a third and six into an LSU first down.  The Razorback defensive line begin to play as if it had never occurred to the coaching staff that LSU might run an option play.  What should have been a huge sack for a loss turned into a casual throw-away after failing to close the deal by actually tackling the quarterback.

And then, after the LSU score changed the momentum a bit, Tyler Wilson takes a 14-yard sack on a corner blitz, which changed the momentum a lot.  Poor execution of a directional punt combined with terrible coverage in general led to a 92-yard punt return for a touchdown.  On the play before the punt return, record-setting senior Jarius Wright dropped a bullet into his chest that would have given the Hogs a first down.

On the next possession…surprise…Dennis Johnson doesn’t wrap up the ball with both hands while being tackled and is stripped.  Five passing plays later, LSU is in the end zone again.

The Hogs had a chance in the second half to tie the game, but a poor snap to Brandon Mitchell pretty much wasted that.  On the next possession, Wilson took another costly eight-yard sack on first down.

Let me give LSU credit — they were the much better team.  Yes, they had a few mistakes, but they were solid on just about every play.

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, the ‘play good most of the time, but not all of the time’ habits of the entire year led to appearing to not be able to compete with both Alabama and LSU.  The shame is that there were many points in both games where they competed quite well.

You have to question the offensive game plan in both games.  The combination of play selection and Wilson holding the ball and taking sacks is not going to get it done against defenses of the quality of Alabama and LSU.  Hot reads and check downs appeared to be non-existent in both games.  You have to wonder why, after four carries for 21 yards in the first (only) touchdown drive against LSU, Broderick Green touched the ball only one other time.

On defense, gaps, angles and stunts have been issues in every game it seems.  The Razorback defenders seemed to be out of position a lot this year.  To appear unprepared to play the option or the smash pitch play (both LSU staples) AND to get caught in stunts over and over in the red zone — well, I think scheme has been a serious question mark in many games.

Why the punt coverage failed us in the two biggest games of the year is beyond me.

People can talk about a talent difference between the Hogs and Alabama / LSU, but the bigger difference to me is this: Those teams don’t make a lot of mistakes during the course of a game.  They play very fundamentally solid.  They play with great patience.  They are well prepared for the specific opponent.

The Razorback program under Coach Petrino has definitely stepped it up to become part of the national conversation.  Back-to-back 10-win seasons to cap his first recruiting class is amazing progress.  Like all Razorback fans, I’m thrilled with the overall results.

But…the Hogs probably have as far to go as they have come.  This year has been a great success, no doubt.  It has also been a great opportunity to learn what it’s really going to take to win a National Championship.

  • OwassoHog

    A lot of good points here but I take exception to the “we probably have as far to go as they have come” comment. We are definitely up there in terms of being a Top 10/15 teams. LSU/Alabama are exceptions to ALL teams this year. OSU, Oregon, Stanford, etc are not close… to say that we have as far to go from a Top 10/15 to a Top 1/2 is really stretching the facts. I understand the disappointment but lets not miss the forest for the trees here. We have a good solid team. We still have work to do but not near has much as we’ve done the last 4 years.

    Personally, my biggest disappointment is the number of players that we’ve recruited that haven’t panned out (for whatever reason)… we need to continue to stock up with players and have them reach their full potential.

    Go Hogs!

  • Randy Young

    My biggest complaints all year have been our defensive scheme and in game defensive adjustments. While our depth needs to improve, the players we can put on the field, if in a better scheme with an improved game play and quicker in game defensive adjustments, should produce better results. Mental breakdowns, missed assignments plagued the team during critical moments in several games. Fortunately, our offense was able to overcome most of these lapses. But ‘Bama and LSU are just too good to give them a couple of easy TDs in each game. Take these breakdowns away, Hogs are that much closer to winning. The big question is Willy the coach to accomplish this?

  • HOG4EVER

    You make some great points. All I ask is that the normally impatient Arkansas fans not get disappointed in the season and start doing something STUPID like calling for the coaches job. A few things to keep in mind: The hogs had many injuries all season and played alot of young players (which was really the reason for many of the problems on defense). Also, I hear very little about the level of recruits Arkansas did not even play this year. Arkansas is starting to recruit as the same level as teams like LSU and Alabama. Case in point, Arkansas is reported to be in the final running as one of the final two teams recruiting the #1 player in high school this year. I win in the bowl is a top 5 finish- that is a GREAT season.

  • Roadhog

    Ten wins in back to back seasons is a big accomplishment. But look at the two losses. They were routs. We were not competitive in those games. All year the defense seemed to make boneheaded mistakes, penalties at crucial moments, like the facemask against Highsmith and right after that a defender lined up in the neutral zone. Our losses to Bama and LSU were so lopsided I am left wondering just how far we have to go to truly compete, to be FAVORED to win the SEC. That’s elite status.

    He who lives by the bomb dies by the bomb. All year we have survived by completing big plays, but obviously, as shown by Bama and LSU, the key to success is physicality and fundamental football, nothing fancy. If you get beat on a play, line up and go again, but don’t beat yourself.

    Like HogBlogger says, “execution wins championships.”

  • Hawgfan100

    “All year we have survived by completing big plays, but obviously, as shown by Bama and LSU, the key to success is physicality and fundamental football, nothing fancy.”

    Possibly the key to ‘elite’ success is as simple as you suggest but I seem to remember a certain bunch out of Florida who managed to bomb away on folks with something called the ‘Fun and Gun’, and that was pretty fancy at the time (just to name one fairly recent example). True, their best teams had that physical defense but they still had success even without that assistance.

    I agree the Hogs need to improve physically and fundamentally but to belittle, even by implication, back to back ten win seasons (with the possibility of garnering just the third 11 win season in Program history to boot), well that just ain’t right.

    Try to look on the bright side because it is pretty bright (assuming of course we can actually win the bowl game we get an invite to ;^).

    • Roadhog

      I never “belittled” anybody you asshat. The only thing that “just ain’t right” is your deliberate misrepresentation of my comment.

      • Hawgfan100

        “Ten wins in back to back seasons is a big accomplishment. But…”

        The implication I referred to occurs after the above…now run along and study your own statements so you can intelligently interact with the grown-ups.

      • http://www.razorbloggers.net/ HogBlogger

        You might want to review my actual post and then the way you have framed your inaccurate quote from it. You chose what you wanted to take rather than what I actually said. Nobody, other than you, has “belittled” anything in this thread so far.

      • Hawgfan100

        You statement would be true, Hogblogger, if my “inaccurate quote” was actually taken from your post. It wasn’t. It was taken, verbatim as far as it went (and I indicated that more did follow), from ‘mr. asshat’s’ post.

        His posting does indeed belittle Arkansas’ efforts this year, if only by implication, as I noted.

        Now, who exactly needs to review again?

      • http://www.razorbloggers.net/ TipsterHog

        Let’s refrain from the name calling, folks. Thanks.

      • T-towner

        So, asshat is not Les Miles new, CBP-bestowed, official nickname?

      • Hawgfan100

        :^) I believe the nickname CBP is fond of for Miles begins with a letter found much deeper in the alphabet.

      • Roadhog

        Copy refrain from name calling. Sorry, Tipster. I must have had a Bobby Petrino moment.

  • http://www.razorbloggers.net Walking on Sunshine

    It looked to me like Willy was calling a ton of stunts, loops, scrapes, exotic blitzes…I suspect because he knew we could not stop them otherwise. When these don’t work, you can look pretty foolish. Many times these calls resulted in defenders being out of position or, at times, completely ‘running themselves out of the play’.

    When we get to the point where we can line up and play ‘straight up’ defense, and refrain from gimics to stop the other side, you’ll know we are serious contenders.

    • GolfHog

      Exactly. Its easier to execute when you are playing your base defense or running your offense straight up.

  • GolfHog

    You won’ t have to beat the likes of this year’s LSU and Alabama to win a title every year. These two semi pro teams are something very special in college football. Arkansas has a ways to go. Depth is still being developed. A defense is still being developed. Leadership is still being developed. We didn’t appreciate how losing DJ and Mallett was going to effect the focus of this team, or the loss of Childs.

    Bobby has done an amazing job. Very few people could touch it.

  • soupdhog

    First, I am so excited for back to back 10 win seasons and the potential for an 11 win season. Bobby is doing an outstanding job and I hope we don’t lose Garrick McGee due to all of the vacancies. I can see it happening though…after all the publicity with Depth Chart I think he’ll be gone. I disagree with a number of points in the post and comments…

    1.Our #1 issue continues to be defense. Against Bama and LSU, we scored enough points to win. If we had a stout defense that could hold teams to 10-13 points a game we are in a position to win. It’s said over and over again, and I hope Bobby gets it – defense wins championships.

    2. I beleive that Bama and LSU this year is not an anomaly. I’m afraid that this is a new standard we will see from now on of these elite teams. I’ve been to many games this year (including the LSU game), and the LSU defensive players are incredibly imposing – other SEC teams just do not compare, obviously. It doesn’t really translate on TV, but they are simply bigger, faster, and nastier. Their linebackers are stout. The secondary is fast and athletic. This is the type of defensive manpower that is needed to flip the field, force turnovers, and wreak havoc in the backfield. Their defense sets up their average offense. The Hogs have a LONG way to go in this area. This is recruiting, not development of talent..which brings me to…

    3. Recruiting and talent development. Bobby does a great job of this on the offensive side of the ball. He took a bunch of mid-star Arkansas kids and made them some of the best offensive players in the country. This has not happened on the defensive side of the ball. I love Bequette, Tank, Franklin, Nelson, etc. But after 4 years these guys have either maxed out on talent or have not had the best coaching and development out there. Given their physicality, I think it’s the latter.

    4. I think the original post said it best – the defense was out of position or looked unprepared most of the year. Having a defense that gives up over 20 points per game for our schedule (which was VERY weak this year) isn’t going to cut it.

    I’ve taken it easy on Willy this year cause he’s pulled a few rabbits out, but I do think it’s time for him to go. We need someone who can scheme for 4 quarters, make quick adjustments, and develop defensive talent to a high level as we will not be able to attract ten to fifteen 4-5 star defensive recruits every year. Our offense is solid and is set up well. It’s time to focus on the defense.

    • Hawgfan100

      “…but I do think it’s time for him to go.”

      Sigh. This has been said at the end of every season since Willy got here. Ok, here we go one more time…who do you get who can: “…scheme for 4 quarters, make quick adjustments, and develop defensive talent to a high level…”?

      I’ve yet to hear even one good, let alone, awesome candidate (which is the least this guy should be to meet all the above requirements). Let’s have some realistic choices, alright? For example, Bumpas sounds good and all but he’s not leaving TCU (and if you know something the rest of us don’t, by all means…)

    • soupdhog

      Hawgfan, I stand by my comments. If Arkansas wants to compete for a National Championship it has to improve it’s defense dramatically. We will not get there by recruiting. We will not get there by luck. I think we’ve proven we can’t do it with Willy. We will only get there with someone who can take mid star talent and develop it, and through a coach that can adjust on the fly and scheme for the whole game. IMO, Willy can’t do that. You can point to Bama, A&M, Ole Miss, Vandy, and LSU as examples of where we were all scratching our heads wondering why our defense couldn’t adjust to stop what those teams were exploiting. Those aren’t elite offenses. They are largely one dimensional, and by putting pressure on their offensive strengths they could be stopped.

      I don’t have the name(s) you are looking for, but I believe that it won’t take a Charlie Strong or John Chavis to get us there. Although, I think Jeff Long has proven he’s willing to pay to attract strong coaches, so nothing may be out of bounds here. I was one who said Mike Anderson would never come here, and Long made it happen. And for Long and the Foundation to get an elite coach like Petrino to commit to insane buyout numbers, I’d say nothing is impossible. I’d also say that Arkansas is now considered at the top of the middle tier of the SEC (just under the LSU/Bamas), a repeat BCS top 10 team, and have new facilities on the way so we have credibility and attractiveness to coaches out there.

      If we can’t get a ‘name’ d coordinator, I think you look at d coordinators out there that have taken lower level talent and made them effective. There are lots of those out there. Petrino is smart – I think he can identify someone out there that could take our defense to the next level.

      We all thought this was the year for our defense to step up – we found out it was more of the same. I can’t remember the exact quote, but it goes something like, ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over with the same result’. I think that’s where we are with our defense.

      • Hawgfan100

        I didn’t expect you to back off your statement. If we’re going to replace Willy though, I want more than “We need to replace Willy. Oh, mostly anybody will do.” sorta stuff. The likely dislocation from bringing in a new DC is going to be bad enough; we don’t need to compound it with a poor hire.

        I don’t think we lure in a ‘name’ coordinator. There aren’t that many to begin with and those that are out there are looking to get a HC gig or a spot with a ‘name’ program (which we are very close to becoming again but not quite yet). As you say, we need to get a guy who can do more with less and is creative/flexible in his scheming. I hope you’re right and “there are lots of those out there.” But if there are, why hasn’t Petrino tapped that resource before now?

        In fact, when this topic comes up every year, why isn’t there even a hint of dissatisfaction from Petrino to complement the vocal part of the fan base on this issue?

        I’m open to all things which can improve the program. However, until the guy I most put my faith in has a problem, I’m content to go with his judgement. And if that’s ‘Keep Willy’, so be it.

      • http://www.sethgunderson.com sg

        I haven’t been overly pleased with Willy’s scheming, either. The guy is seemingly great at halftime adjustments, but it doesn’t seem he can change anything during the game. I have a lot of belief in Petrino’s ability to turn 3-stars into a great offense — he finds the right pieces. I don’t think Willy has done a great job on his side of the ball. It’s also reassuring to see people like Chris Bahn talk about how they overstated the “improved” line in the preseason (see comments http://www.arkansassports360.com/27961/two-minute

        If you want names for other D Coordinators, there are about 50 of them listed ahead of Arkansas here: http://www.cfbstats.com/2011/leader/national/team

        Sure, some of them are at big name schools, so we likely won’t see any movement from them. But there are some smaller schools that have impressive Defenses.

        Here are some more names — the top 40 D Coordinators: http://www.coacheshotseat.com/DefensiveCoordinato

        Please note that Willy is not on the list, nor do I recall him ever being offered other jobs in the off-season.

        Willy isn’t a bad coach, but I don’t think he’s the guy that will take Arkansas’ defense to the next level and help us compete on the level of this year’s LSU and Alabama.

      • http://www.sethgunderson.com sg

        Scratch that Defensive Coordinator list, it appears to be a little dated.

  • http://razorbloggers.net arkfaninmi

    Why not let our assistant defensive coach who used to work at Tennessee (can’t remember his name now) a chance at the DC? With all the firings going on there’s got to be some good talent out there and the NFL (where Willy came from) would have some candidates. I don’t think Willy is a bad coach but believe he’s possibly maxed out his abilities. I’ve heard though that Petrino is very loyal to his coaches but sometimes a change is better for all the parties involved. Also, felt like offensively the team was too vanilla in doing the same things over and over too much and not trying some different plays to mix it up and throw off their defense. Maybe some short crossing routes or some trick plays or even have Wilson run it? But their D is hard to do much against so really you have to step up our D to have a chance w/ them. Not so down about loss as I am w/ getting routed. Hope we can route whoever we play in our bowl game.

    • Hawgfan100

      Caldwell? There’s a possibility I could get behind, with the added plus of potentially mitigating that dislocation factor.

  • Anonymous

    This is Bobby’s team. You can bet Willy is doing as directed.

    • bacon bits

      I’m with you on this one Anonymous. I think there is a reason Willy is our DC for more reasons than he’s a ‘good coach’. I think there has to be a balance of elite players on both sides of the team for this to work. We need ‘difference makers’ on D, plain and simple and if you look at our recruiting list, i don’t see a whole bunch of studs on the D side. I like the athletes we are recruiting but 190lb – 200lb linebackers aren’t going to stop 230lb running backs……..

      • soupdhog

        Bacon, this is my point exactly – we won’t win the recruiting battles for 4-5 star defensive players – heck, we may not even get 3 stars. Bama, LSU, FL, TX, etc has the lock on most of those. We need a coaching staff that can take those marginal players with raw talent and big bodies and develop them into studs and difference makers. Particularly on the D line and Linebackers. If we can stop the run and get pressure on the QB more we can get away with more in the secondary.

    • GolfHog

      And, that’s fine. But, I think we found out this year that if you are going to be an offensive football team, on the field and on the recruiting trail, and play enough defense so the other team can’t catch up, you have to also have a good offensive line. You can lose one line of scrimmage but you can’t lose both.

      • soupdhog

        I used to think that we’d get there by being a great offensive team; now I disagree. If we want to really get serious about a championship, we’ll get there with defense, not by offense and winning shootouts. If that were the case, Oregon, Boise, OSU, OU would have locked this up a while back. Look at the last 3 years – we’ve led the SEC in offense and the best we could come up with was second place in our division. What teams win? Those with great defenses.

      • GolfHog

        A defensive team wins by keeping the other offense on the sideline with 3 and outs and ball control offense. An offensive team wins by keeping it’s own defense on the sideline with first downs and points. It is two means to the same end. The tired defense loses the 4th quarter. But, a great defensive team has a great D-line and, a great offensive team has a great O-line or plays in the Big 12.

        What you really want is to excel in all three phases. That takes recruiting and depth. Bobby had to build his offense first. He has to maintain his success offense first. It is who he is. Hopefully, he will continue to build depth and defense. One of the changes in recruiting today is that kids want more playing time. Once you establish a good top 44 you have more trouble on the next 22. It’s tricky.

        I still believe that this team was two senior offensive tackles away from competeing with the big two. If you keep Tyler upright, give him more time, it is a much different ball game. We just ended up leaving our defense on the field too long.

      • Roadhog

        Soupdhog, I agree with all you’ve said here, especially your four-point position on the current situation. Like you, I think Bama and and LSU are not anomalies this year but that they represent the future of college football. Georgia will soon recruit and develop up to that level of talent, probably TN and FL afterward. If you can’t match their level of physicality you won’t be able to play with them. No doubt TX and other traditional powers will follow suit as soon as they can. This is just plain ol’ fashioned football. There are reasons the old coaches played this style: they wanted to win. Despite the rule changes to encourage more passing, conservative offense and stout defense are the keys to victory.

      • GolfHog

        Just give Bobby a couple of more years, you may change your mind. I think Tenn and Florida are going Bobby’s way. Texas has been in the spread for years now.

      • soupdhog

        Golf, last time I checked Texas, Tenn and Florida were average teams. Not sure you want to throw those out as examples. When those teams were championship contenders they led with their defense, and were competent on offense.

        I do agree that ideally you excel in all 3 phases, but that is not realistic – but certainly a great goal. I would argue that not many championship contenders had this characteristic, with the exception of Florida a few years ago, and MAYBE Bama 2 years ago.

        And I agree that if we had last years offensive line those Bama and LSU games may have been a bit closer; but we would have had to score 50 on LSU to win last Friday. I’m convinced that to win a championship you have to be able to hold a challenging opponent to 14-17 points to be a contender. Imagine if we could have stopped the LSU running play they ran 20 times in a row in the 3rd quarter? Imagine if LSU had to rely on Jefferson’s arm to score? The Hogs’ 17 points can be enough to win a game, just ask LSU. They scored less than that against Bama.

  • Anonymous

    The guy making the big bucks is the one responsible for finding good assistant coaches. That’s what the money is for!

  • Jim Dogg

    OK, OK Free Willy! I have a candidate. Reggie Herring will soon be available, if not now. Excuse me, I have to go to the ER, I just pushed my tongue through my cheek. Hey, Soup, “the best we can do is second place in our division” (sic). That was second place to the National Champion. Jeez.

  • mohogg

    Way to go! Be happy with close and almost every year. And that’s what you will get.

    • Hawgfan100

      Way to go! Set over the top and unrealistic goals every year. You’ll be disappointed far more often than not. And deservedly so.

  • Defense Wins Champio

    Florida under Myers had an excellent defense. They also could run the ball when they wanted to do so.

    Fans like Offense and seems as if most believe defense is boring. So be it, but you will win more championships with a great D than a great Offense. Of course you need a decent offense, including the ability to run the ball when you get into the fourth quarter, but a great defense is a MUST. Bottom line is you have to have the talent in place to go higher. And you need a “heady” QB rather than one who did as Wilson did when he threw the ball up as he was going down. Not a heady play for a junior QB. Teams normally win, if they have the talent, when they have an experienced QB that is better than average. Manning was an exception at Tenn. They do not come along very often. I hope that Mitchell progresses enough that he replaces Wilson next year. Yeah right, Wilson has great passing yards and can run a little, but Mitchell is more the type QB that I believe Petrino needs, such as Griffin III at Baylor. Unless a defensive player gets the Heisman, that man should be the Heisman pick. Texas rode to their national title on a run/pass QB. LSU also has a good run/pass QB whereas Alabama does not. Florida rode to their national title with great passing and running and defense and a seasoned QB.

    As far as Arkansas’ injuries, well most teams have had their share, too. Some even worse than their share of injuries, such as TTU who had at least 24 out this season.

    A big plus for Alabama, LSU, Texas and Florida is that it appears that they can attract great assistant coaches. (This may be deceiving because there are many coaches who can do a great job of coaching IF they have the talent.) It is yet to be seen whether Petrino can do likewise in attracting great assistant coaches. Talent evens most things out. It does not appear that P has been able to attract a great QB in spite of his heavy tilt toward offense nor has he been able to attract those game changing linemen. (I see where he is only picking up 5 from Arkansas thus far. That may be good and that may be bad.) That surprises me. Perhaps that will change this year but I do not know whether he is recruiting any big time QBs. It appears that he lost potentially a great one out of KY this last recruiting cycle. Is he on to any big time QBs now? Sure have not heard of any.