Hogs’ weaknesses on display despite blowout victory

The first group of performers on the legendary variety show “Saturday Night Live” were dubbed “The Not-Ready-for Prime-Time Players” by the show’s creator and producer Lorne Michales in the mid-1970s.

Of course the name was facetious. Chevy Chase, John Belushi, Gilda Radner, Dan Ackroyd, and Jane Curtain among others were not only talented and gifted comedians and actors but also became household names if not stars during the course of the show’s first couple of seasons.

First-year Arkansas coach Chad Morris in no way called his Razorbacks the Not-Ready-For-Prime-Time Hogs, but he also wasn’t being facetious when said his team has a lot of work to do and a long way to go on Monday.

The Razorbacks are 1-0 this week as they prep for a trip to Fort Collins, Colo. to play the 0-2 Colorado State Rams at 6:30 p.m. Saturday. The game will be televised by CBS Sports Net.

Next up for the Razorbacks…

Opponent: Colorado State
When: 6:30 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 8
Where: Fort Collins, Colo.
TV: CBS Sports Network

After that…

Sept. 15 – North Texas
Sept. 22 – at Auburn
Sept. 29 – Texas A&M at Dallas
Oct. 6 – Alabama
Oct. 13 – Ole Miss at Little Rock
Oct. 20 – Tulsa
Oct. 27 – Vanderbilt
Nov. 10 – LSU
Nov. 17 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – at Missouri

After struggling to get the offense out of the gates, the Razorbacks flew past Eastern Illinois, 55-20, by throwing over the top of inferior players and by forcing five turnovers on defense.

The Razorbacks could probably have scored more if they had wanted, but what would have been the point?

The Hogs couldn’t have beaten the Panthers bad enough to prove anything more than they did on Saturday or to cover up some troubling issues.

Some fans grumble about Arkansas playing the likes of an Eastern Illinois squad that was clearly outmatched, but for the program Morris is trying to build at Arkansas — and unfortunately the Razorbacks remain in a rebuilding phase — it wasn’t bad for the Hogs to get a dress-rehearsal victory last Saturday.

Hopefully, the Razorbacks can add five more wins along the way this season because Morris, his staff, and the players desperately need the additional practice time that comes with a bowl game this December to keep pushing the program forward.

Arkansas picked up a victory, and we learned that the Razorbacks have have a way to go before they will be ready to compete in the SEC.

After watching the Hogs’ Saturday and samplings of other SEC games during the weekend, the media had every right to pick the Hogs last in the SEC West and probably in the conference.

Arkansas just didn’t look like a SEC football team in terms of physicality against Eastern Illinois.

Posting just 80 yards of rushing offense against Eastern Illinois and allowing the Panthers to accumulate 127 yards on the ground does not bode well for the immediate future of the Hogs’ program in the SEC.

Razorback fans witnessed what happens to a team in the SEC that have a suspect running game and can’t stop the run the last two seasons under Bret Bielema.

Morris and his staff do not have a magic wand. As sound, solid, and attractive as Morris’ Spread Option offense may be, no scheme is a cure-all.

Games are won with a combination talent, coaching, and desire, and at the moment, the Hogs are lacking talent on the offensive front. Help is hopefully coming in the near future with the return of Colton Jackson to man the left tackle spot, but unfortunately Arkansas’ offensive line issues aren’t a problem one player can fix.

Not all of the issues were with the offensive line. Arkansas’ backs, tight ends, quarterbacks, and receivers had busts in the running game, too. A successful running game is a function of an 11-man unit, but an offensive line that plays too high and creates little push against a squad like the Panthers doesn’t create a lot of confidence at the moment.

This was just the first game, and the running game should improve, but the competition level is going to advance light years in the coming weeks as Arkansas enters SEC play. Arkansas’ Sept. 22 date at Auburn is shaping up to be a nightmare, and the rest of the SEC schedule is almost as scary or even worse.

Now, this is an issue Morris and his staff inherited from the previous regime. It is not of their making. They have not had enough time to recruit and to coach to correct it, and the issue isn’t going to vanish this year. Three of the Hogs’ starters — Hjalte Froholdt, Johnny Gibson, and Brian Wallace — complete their eligibility this season, leaving more holes to fill.

The program would be wise to redouble their efforts in replenishing the talent and numbers along offensive line through their recruiting efforts this year even though there are few spots left in the recruiting class.

The four-star commitments from a number of defensive linemen are impressive. The Razorbacks need every one of them, but there is an even greater need for players of similar caliber on the opposite side of the line of scrimmage.

Speaking of the defense, the effort and intensity they played with was exciting. That it something that will pay dividends all year long. The pursuit and gang tackling led to six forced fumbles, five of which the Hogs’ recovered, including one for the first Razorback touchdown of the season by Briston Guidry.

Arkansas defensive coordinator John “Chief” Chavis said he would play a lot of players, and that was not just lip service like several former Razorback defensive coordinators. Chief knows it takes playing time for players to improve, and that you have to let players work through mistakes. We saw some of that Saturday, but playing through them and correcting those mistakes will benefit the squad down the line. Chavis said there were some correctable misalignments, and the Razorbacks will work on those this week.

As for the quarterback situation, some are perplexed that Morris didn’t just go ahead and name Ty Storey the starter after his 12-of-17 passing effort for 261 yards and three touchdown, plus one rushing touchdown. His quarterback efficiency rating of 257.8 is second in the nation behind Toledo’s Mitchell Guadagni (269.76).

Storey was noticeably more comfortable Saturday than first-game starter Cole Kelley. Kelley seemed a little jittery and lumbering, while Storey looked nimble and nifty handling the ball.

I would agree that Storey should get the start on Saturday, but it is too soon to write off Kelley. There is a reason he earned the starting shot against Eastern Illinois based on his practice work leading up to the game.

While not to demean what Storey accomplished Saturday against Eastern Illinois, it was against Eastern Illinois.

The first big pass play Storey hit to Jordan Jones on third and 11 in the second quarter could have been intercepted. In fact in SEC play, I would go as far to say the pass would have been knocked down and possibly intercepted. Had it been intercepted, a pick six would have been very possible.

The Panthers brought their safeties up for run support leaving Arkansas’ receivers in one-on-one coverage, and La’Michael Pettway and Jones just ran freely down the field and made easy wide-open catches.

On one of Pettway’s two touchdown receptions, the ball was thrown so far behind him that he fell down in an attempt to reverse course to get back to the ball. He caught it flat on his back with no one around him in the end zone. Arkansas’ receivers aren’t going to be that open in SEC play and probably not against the other nonconference opponents, either.

As Morris said Monday, the Razorbacks will likely need both Storey and Kelley at points this season. Though Kelley looked uncomfortable, he has a stronger arm than Storey. In some instances, he might be the better option at quarterback for the team.

As a Hog fan, it’s always fun to watch the Razorbacks win, and to see a performance like the one Storey provided. Under the circumstances, it’s just hard to say what it will lead to.

As disturbing as the Razorbacks’ running game was, the Hogs’ punting scared me even more. It was atrocious. Maybe Arkansas can rebound and get better performances going forward.

If not, Morris might need to audition some punters from the student body. There has to be a former high-school punter on campus that can do better than what we saw against Eastern Illinois. The punting alone would be enough to get the Hogs beat in a closer game.