Haze of last season hard to lift for Razorbacks

Talking Razorback football reminds of that old Beatles tune on their “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.

You know the one, where Paul sings, “I’ve got to admit it’s getting better, a little better all the time.” Then John and George respond in falsetto, “It can’t get no worse.”

Hog fans certainly hope “it can’t get no worse” after last year’s 2-10 first year of the Chad Morris era. Morris called the results unacceptable several times in his postseason press conference.

That’s true. It was unacceptable and embarrassing, too. Some have called it the worst season in Razorback football history. Certainly, it’s among the worst of the modern era of Razorback football, which began when Frank Broyles took over as head coach in 1958. However, it’s hard for me to say the 3-8 season in 1990, the 3-9 mark 2013, or even the 4-8 mark in 2012 were that much better. They were embarrassing, too.

Jack Crowe in 1990 and John L. Smith in 2012 were in over their heads as head coaches. Crowe was too indecisive for a major head coaching job, and Smith, well, he was over the hill at that point in his career.

Certainly, Bret Bielema’s tenure at Arkansas didn’t work out, but as poor as his very young team’s record was in 2013, you could still see it improving as the season went on.

That was not the case with Morris’ first Razorback squad. After the season, Morris said on his own that the squad never recovered from a 37-33 loss to Ole Miss at War Memorial Stadium, despite the fact the Hogs beat Tulsa the following week, 23-0.

The squad tried and couldn’t against Vanderbilt, losing 45-31, at Razorback Stadium in a very winnable contest. Vanderbilt simply wanted it more.

A lackadaisical performance by LSU saw the Tigers ahead 24-3 in the third quarter. Cheyenne O’Grady caught touchdown passes of 11 and 32 yards from Ty Storey in the fourth to make the game look interesting, but it was too little, too late

Arkansas’ two final games were debacles, losing 52-6 at Mississippi State and 38-0 at Columbia, Mo.

As bad as those blowouts look, it’s hard to say if those two losses were more devastating on morale than the back-to-back losses to Colorado State (34-27) and North Texas (44-17) during Week 2 and 3.

The dye was cast early against the Bulldogs and the Tigers, and many fans were already numb and only half paying attention by the final two games of the season.

However, Arkansas held a 27-9 lead on Colorado State with 7:48 left in the third quarter before the Razorbacks just collapsed.

Late in the game on a fourth and short in Razorback territory, Morris opted to punt and leave the game in the defense’s hands. It seemed like a bad decision when he made it, and proved to be so, but it could be chalked up to a first-year coach not knowing his team very well.

However, a similar decision to punt against Ole Miss, couldn’t be excused. Yes, Arkansas had lost Storey, and running back Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley, to injury during the game, but Arkansas’ defense hadn’t stopped the Rebels all night.

What made Morris believe Arkansas could hold the Rebels and then drive for a better chance to win that late in the game?

That type of judgment and decision-making worries me to no end as a fan. The Hogs’ lack of preparedness for Colorado State and the next week against North Texas also is concerning.

As bad as the loss to the Rams was, to come back the next week and literally have North Texas embarrass the Razorbacks on their home field was shocking.

As well planned and executed as North Texas’ punt return trick play was, that play was tough to stomach. It was even more sickening to watch the Hogs just lay down and take it the rest of the day.

As poorly as Arkansas played in Week 2 and 3 last year, it has me skeptical whether the same coaching staff will have the Razorbacks even remotely prepared for a pivotal Week 2 game at Ole Miss this season.

It may not seem fair, but the Razorbacks need to be as close to mid-season form on Sept. 7 at Oxford, Miss. as possible because their bowl chances might very well hinge on the outcome of that game with the Rebels, who are in a very similar boat as the Hogs going into this season.

While I do believe Arkansas would have beaten Ole Miss last year if any one of Storey, Boyd, or Whaley had been healthy at the end of the game, nothing I saw last season makes me confident Arkansas’ coaching staff will have the Hogs ready to play in a game of that magnitude that early in the season. I hope I’m dead wrong about that.

Though Gus Malzahn’s Auburn Tigers made the Hogs look silly again in Week 4 beating Arkansas, 34-3, with Week 5, Razorback fans could see some improvement. After giving up a 100-yard kick-off return for a touchdown on the game’s opening play, Arkansas battled A&M, losing just 24-17. That’s progress, I guess?

Entirely outmatched when it counted, Arkansas still managed to score 31 points on Alabama’s backups and scrubs despite allowing the Crimson Tide to roll up 65 points.

Most will tell you, just to forget Morris’ first season. He didn’t have a capable quarterback for his system, the culture Bielema left was rotten, and that things will be better after he culled about a third of his roster due to graduations and departures.

I hope those folks are right, and that Morris is every bit the football man he was purported to be when Arkansas hired him. He and his staff certainly did an impressive job recruiting after such a dismal season. Hopefully, the Razorbacks’ preparation and execution during ballgames will take a similar leap forward.

With the schedule Arkansas has this season, the Hogs need to go 6-6 and garner a bowl trip to keep some spark of hope burning for the future. The opportunity is now because the schedule won’t get any easier.

I’d like to predict right now that the Hogs will go bowling, but looking back at last year, there is too much evidence to the contrary for me to step out on that limb.