Execution matters more for Hogs than scoreboard against Portland State

Arkansas defensive coordinator John Chavis / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

As a football fan, I thoroughly enjoyed the first college football game of the season last Saturday when No. 8 Florida defeated Miami, 24-20, in Orlando.

The game was a poor example of execution by both squads with more mistakes, turnovers, and miscues than I’d care to count, but by no means was it a boring football game. I was riveted to my seat.

Florida appeared to be the better team, but the Gators gave Miami breathing room with turnovers and unsecured arm tackles by their secondary.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. Portland State
When: 3 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 31
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network

Remaining schedule

Sept. 7 – at Ole Miss
Sept. 14 – Colorado State
Sept. 21 – San Jose State
Sept. 28 – Texas A&M (AT&T Stadium in Arlington)
Oct. 12 – at Kentucky
Oct. 19 – Auburn
Oct. 26 – at Alabama
Nov. 2 – Mississippi State
Nov. 9 – Western Kentucky
Nov. 23 – at LSU
Nov. 29 – Missouri

I definitely wouldn’t want to be in Gainesville for the correction sessions head coach Dan Mullen will be conducting with his team after almost giving away a game against an overmatched opponent.

Other than the outcome, my hope is that the Arkansas Razorbacks will make their season opener at 3 p.m. Saturday against Portland State a much more boring affair. With all due respect to the Vikings, I expect the Razorbacks will win going away. It shouldn’t be close.

In no way, shape, or form should Portland State be construed as a litmus test for Razorbacks, especially not for the Hogs in SEC play.

This should be a game where the Razorbacks take care of business early, and the backups get a lot of work in the second half. It’s a matchup tantamount to a scrimmage between a junior varsity high school squad and a junior high team. Anything less than Razorback domination is not a good sign for the rest of the season.

The Razorbacks’ execution should be crisp and clean on offense, and the tackling should be sure and the coverage lock-down tight on defense.

Certainly, it’s a first game and with the Razorbacks playing more than their share of freshmen and sophomores, there will be mistakes, but an SEC team — even one that was 2-10 last year — should be able to rectify any flubs with pure talent against Portland State.

Arkansas coach Chad Morris announced Monday that Ben Hicks deserved to start at quarterback for the Razorbacks ahead of fellow graduate transfer Nick Starkel because of his overall knowledge of the offense that he ran for two seasons under Morris and Arkansas offensive coordinator Joe Craddock at SMU, an during the spring at Arkansas.

Hicks left SMU as its all-time leader in passing yards with 9,081 and touchdowns with 71. He had a dozen 300-yard passing games with the Mustangs. Hicks knows his role inside and out and more importantly with 10 freshmen and sophomores in the two deep, he knows the responsibilities of every other player, too.

That said, it shouldn’t matter who starts at quarterback against Portland State. It really shouldn’t be an issue of who starts at any position in the game because the Razorbacks should play well enough to make the game a route by halftime.

Understand, I’m not saying the Razorbacks only need a half effort to beat Portland State. That’s far from the truth.

I am saying Morris and his staff ought to have the Razorbacks so well prepared to perform and execute that Arkansas’ talent should overwhelm the Vikings.

If Arkansas’ execution is as poor as Florida’s was in its opener, the Razorbacks will leave a door of opportunity open for Portland State, and it will raise serious questions about the team and frankly the coaching staff going forward.

As poorly as Morris’ first team stumbled out of the gate last year when the Razorbacks did not look like an organized team until playing Texas A&M surprisingly well in a 24-17 loss in the fourth game of the season, this Razorback squad should want to make an early statement against Portland State and show their doubters and fans alike how well they can perform. This is no time for the Hogs to play down to their competition.

Good football teams play well no matter whether they are playing an FCS school like Portland State or an SEC opponent like Alabama. Proper execution and game-speed effort should be the same no matter the level of the opponent. The outcome is the only thing that should vary.

That’s the ideal anyway. Reality is that the Razorbacks will make mistakes, let’s just not hope they aren’t the crippling sort and they are relatively few and far between.

From the comments and attitude of the coaches and players, it appears this team is much more together and much better organized than last year’s debacle. Though this team is young, it seems more talented in key if not most areas. There appears to be more depth, but depth is always a tenuous subject.

My biggest anxiety going into the game is that injuries on the offensive front have hampered the growth of the players as a unit in fall camp. Left tackle Colton Jackson and left guard Austin Capps missed critical practice time during the second and third weeks of practice. Both seniors are expected to play Saturday, but we have to wait and see.

Likewise Morris and Craddock are hopeful that senior tight end Cheyenne O’Grady and freshman receiver Trey Knox will be ready for Saturday, too, but Craddock revealed that Morris has a rule that a player must practice on Wednesday to play on Saturday. Hopefully they will be healthy enough to practice Wednesday and play in the opener.

Defensively, the Razorbacks appear to be in better shape in terms of personnel. The Hogs went from Day 1 of camp until now with the same starting 11 even though there was solid competition, according the defensive coordinator John Chavis. He admits the Razorbacks are young in the back end, but he said playing young players isn’t anything new to him as he enters his 40th year of college coaching.

I personally have a good feeling about this team being far more competitive than last year’s Razorbacks. I think a bowl game is reachable. I hope I have the same feeling following the Portland State game.