FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas didn’t just get bad in football when Chad Morris arrived, but is it being fixed and getting better under his guidance?
Arkansas’ best season since Bobby Petrino left was 2015 when the Hogs finished 8-5. Arkansas has been to three bowl games in the past eight seasons. Prior to Jeff Long arriving as athletic director, the Razorbacks went to 11 bowl games in 14 seasons under Petrino and Houston Nutt.
Many heated debates on who is to blame have taken place on social media and any places that Arkansas fans meet and discuss the state of the program.
The truth is there’s plenty of blame to go around for the state of the football program. Anyone trying to act as if all the blame is at the feet of Morris they are delusional. The program was broken when he got here.
But that doesn’t prevent Morris from also being part of the problem. Arkansas was 2-10 in 2018 and are 2-7 this season. They haven’t won an SEC game under Morris. They basically have one chance to do so this season when Missouri comes to Little Rock on Nov. 29. They likely aren’t beating LSU on Nov. 23.
Morris was asked Monday what message would he have for fans to convince them the program is headed in the right direction?
“When you consider and you look at the entire season and the layout of the season, when over half of your starters – or right around half your starters – have been true freshmen or sophomores,” Morris said. “As I mentioned earlier, when you play young guys, you’re going to have some growing pains, you’re going to have some tough times. We’re going through a few of those, but that’s no excuse in where we’re at right now.
“But it is, there are guys that are playing at a very high level. And I mentioned Scoota Harris, but Treylon Burks is playing at an incredibly high level. Used him as an example in front of the team last night, as well, and that’s a true freshman. When your best players are playing at a high level, you can point that out real quick to get the other guys up. So I think with the amount of young players that have been playing. There’s no one more disappointed in the performance of Saturday than our players and our staff. Back on the field last night and so, it was back to work at it.”
Against Mississippi State, Arkansas started one senior on offense and four on defense. On offense, the Razorbacks started six sophomores or freshmen. Defensively, Arkansas started six freshmen or sophomores.
On the other side of the field, Mississippi State started seven seniors on offense and no sophomores or freshmen. The Bulldogs on defense started four seniors and three juniors on defense with the other four being sophomores or freshmen.
So it’s absolutely true that Arkansas has a young team playing against older players. That is a fact, but is it also fair to ask that maybe Arkansas should be playing better after 21 games with this staff? Maybe John Chavis answered it best.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” Chavis said. “Again, it goes back to us and me. Certainly let’s just tell the truth. It was broken when we got here and we haven’t fixed it quick enough. What we did Saturday was unacceptable.
“We can talk about how young we are not gonna make excuses. It doesn’t matter. When we send them out there to play we expect them to play to a level that is acceptable here in the SEC and the University of Arkansas. It’s my job to make sure they do.”
Chavis feels the players are fighting and playing hard though many have questioned that aspect of the games.
“They’re fighting for us,” Chavis said. “I’ll give you an example. Look at Western Kentucky’s roster they’ve got eight or nine redshirt juniors starting for them. We’ve got five or six freshmen that are either starting or playing a lot. That’s 18-year-old versus 22-year-old. That makes a difference.
“That’s all I’m gonna say because I’m not an excuse maker. It falls on me and I’ve been in college coaching for 42 years and I’ve never been in front of anybody and made an excuse and I’m not gonna start today.”
What is troubling as much as the overall record under Morris is Arkansas being 4-3 against non-conference foes under him. The Hogs haven’t played a Power 5 non-conference team in the two years Morris has been at Arkansas. The losses have been at Colorado State and then to North Texas and San Jose State in Fayetteville. Arkansas has beaten Portland State, Tulsa, Colorado State and Eastern Illinois, all in Fayetteville, under Morris.
Saturday will be Senior Day and Joe Craddock talked about what this group of Razorbacks that will be honored prior to the game have been through.
“They’ve been through a lot,” Craddock said. “They’ve been through a coaching change. They’ve been through some hard times. They’ve given us everything they’ve got. A lot of buy-in by those guys. I can’t thank them enough for what they’ve done.”
Arkansas and Western Kentucky will kickoff at 11 a.m. on Saturday and televised on the SEC Network from Reynolds Razorback Stadium.