Arkansas head coach Chad Morris / ArkansasRazorbacks.com
It had to be an uncomfortable several hours on Monday for second-year Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek, who spoke to the Little Rock Touchdown Club in the throes of the Razorbacks’ 31-24 loss to San Jose State last Saturday.
What was the guy supposed to say?
Yurachek expressed complete support for Arkansas head coach Chad Morris while acknowledging that the program had taken a step backward, but we all know that he had to say that.
Yurachek will publicly express support for Morris or any of the other coaches that serve under him until that coach steps away or Yurachek is forced to dismiss one of them. That’s the way the game of public relations is played.
Simultaneous to Yurachek’s speaking engagement in Little Rock, a subdued Morris met with the media in his weekly press conference in Fayetteville. Morris did his best to answer questions as honestly as he could, confessing that the Razorbacks’ performance last Saturday was unacceptable and that everyone within the program would be held accountable.
Morris didn’t do a great job of explaining the specifics of what he meant when he said everyone would be held accountable. Again, what could he say?
Morris did say his team wasn’t good enough to just show up in a Razorback jersey and win, even against what was thought to be an inferior opponent like San Jose State.
Following Morris, offensive coordinator Joe Craddock and defensive coordinator John Chavis took their weekly turn on the podium.
Chavis, who generally doesn’t like to talk about specifics, got to the heart of the Razorbacks’ issue against San Jose State when he said “possibly” the team showed its immaturity. It was a woeful defensive performance. Arkansas allowed the Spartans to roll up over 500 yards that included a game-winning 75-yard drive after the Hogs tied the game at 24 with two fourth-quarter touchdowns.
Craddock agreed with Morris saying the offense pressed too much to first make big plays that weren’t there, and then even more in an effort to catch up.
When asked about the offensive line’s up-and-down play from a solid performance against Colorado State to a poor one against San Jose State, Craddock told the reporter to ask the players.
Social media made more of the comment than I think Craddock intended. It was not the best choice of words given how touchy fans rightfully are now, but it did direct the responsibility for the loss to the players, which isn’t unreasonable.
It certainly is the job of the Razorback coaches to prepare the players, but the players in turn have to bear their burden, too. It’s their responsibility to execute within the system and play with effort. That didn’t happen last Saturday.
The alarming issue for fans isn’t just the loss to San Jose State, as egregious as it was. The Razorbacks (2-2, 0-1 SEC) have played poorly through a full third of this season. No matter how inexperienced or depth-depleted the Razorbacks are, an SEC program shouldn’t struggle as much as the Hogs have against the likes of Portland State, Colorado State, and San Jose State.
On the surface, the road loss to Ole Miss was understandable. It’s difficult to win on the road against any SEC squad, but that game was a wasted opportunity Arkansas won’t get back.
Many question the wisdom of Morris’ carrying a quarterback controversy into that game and having one for the second year in a row.
Considering quarterback Nick Starkel’s five interceptions against San Jose State, one can understand Morris’ indecision a bit more. However, it seems from the outside looking in that the wiser decision would have been to take all of preseason practice to groom the most talented quarterback.
And really, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The Razorbacks have not performed well on the offensive front against what should be inferior competition, and defensively have been pushed around and passed over almost at will this year and last.
Hindsight is 20/20, but that fact that sloppy early-season play at quarterback specifically and with the team in general has been a theme with Morris’ program two years in a row is deflating for fans who are struggling to find hope.
Arkansas fans should be looking forward to getting into the meat of the schedule. It should be exciting to move past the bulk of the non-conference schedule and to be able to look forward to the challenge of playing an SEC opponent in seven of the final eight games this season.
But it’s not.
Many fans are dreading what’s to come, starting with the Razorbacks’ 11 a.m. game with No. 23 Texas A&M (2-2, 0-1) this Saturday in the Southwest Classic at Arlington, Texas.
With memories of blow-out losses to Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, and Missouri last season, it’s hard not to wonder how bad it is going to get this season with the likes of No. 2 Alabama, No. 4 LSU, and No. 7 Auburn also on the slate.
Some fans are ready to toss in the towel on Morris now because they don’t see a way for the situation to get improve.
Morris may or may not be in over his head. The jury is still out. How the Razorbacks play in their final eight games this year will be telling.
The best thing for the program would be for Morris, his staff, and the players to show enough promise for the future that Yurachek is not put in a position where he has to make a tough decision.
The Razorback program needs stability, but based on Morris’ first 16 games as head coach, he has not proven that he can provide stability. Nothing has yet to happen on the field to give fans confidence he can lift the program out of its dismal state.
If the Razorbacks win only one or two more games, pressure is going to mount. It’s naive to believe Morris will absolutely be able to survive a 3-9 or 4-8 season. Much will depend on how competitive the Razorbacks are and how much improvement they show throughout the season.
Fans did not see sustained improvement in the program last year, and through a third of the season, they have not seen it this year either.
It’s going to be interesting to see what happens over the next nine weeks, and what actions Yurachek will or won’t be forced to make.