FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. — Arkansas’ fans are frustrated and some insist they’ve had enough.
The breaking point was Saturday night’s loss to San Jose State in Reynolds Razorback Stadium. Just two weeks prior to that, the Spartans had lost at home to Tulsa.
Arkansas’ fans are mad, upset and disappointed. That is all very understandable. But it’s not all about the loss to San Jose State or even the losses to Colorado State and North Texas in 2018.
A big reason many are upset is Arkansas hasn’t been very good in football since the 2011 season. Few knew when Arkansas’ players celebrated on the field on Jan. 6, 2012, after beating Kansas State 29-16 in the Cotton Bowl what the next seven-plus seasons would bring.
Less than three months after winning the Cotton Bowl, Bobby Petrino had a motorcycle wreck and the program took as big a hit as his face did. Jeff Long pretended to be long on integrity and fired Petrino while replacing him on an interim basis with John L. Smith and then on a permanent basis with Bret Bielema. Both were disaster hires.
In the one year of Smith and five years of Bielema, Arkansas was 13-35 in the SEC and 33-42 overall. The program slipped and so did recruiting.
Morris was hired after Bielema was fired and went 2-10 in 2018. As noted earlier, Arkansas lost at Colorado State and then at home to North Texas. They were 0-8 in the SEC.
The last time Arkansas has won an SEC game is on Oct. 28, 2017, when Connor Limpert kicked a field goal on the last play of the game in Oxford to down Ole Miss 38-37.
So it’s understandable Arkansas fans are fed up with the state of football right now. One even described hearing “wait until next year” so much they now know those words in 12 different languages.
So while all the reasons to be mad, fed up, angry, disappointed and all the other words similar to this one has to remember Morris has only been the coach for 16 games. I get losses to Colorado State, North Texas and San Jose State aren’t ringing endorsements for patience, but panic and knee-jerk reactions aren’t the answer either.
Morris has shown he can recruit well. He inherited a team that used different systems on both sides of the ball thus some of the players, while not void of talent, simply didn’t fit the type offense or defense he uses.
As frustrating as it is to hear that Morris deserves time to show if he can get the job done it’s the best thing and right thing for Arkansas to do. Now, he needs to do things to help himself like making sure his team is ready to play each week and not have the performance like they had last week particularly in the first half.
No matter which team has more talent, there’s no excuse to not be the team that plays with the most effort. San Jose State took the fight to Arkansas last week and that is inexcusable. A team coming off a 2-10 season should never overlook anyone.
But the San Jose State game is in the record books and gone. Arkansas and Morris now have to approach it as an eight-game season. They have got to go into AT&T Stadium on Saturday and take the fight to Texas A&M. They can do that and maybe still not win, but at least leave everything you have on the field.
Arkansas doesn’t need any more efforts like the one last week or the one at Missouri to close out the 2018 season. It will take time to get the talent level where Morris wants it to be, but it shouldn’t take any more time to get the effort level each week where it needs to be.
Arkansas can win in the SEC. I hear national pundits declaring Arkansas the “Rice of the SEC.” I tend to disagree that Arkansas can’t compete in the SEC. They point to the record since Petrino left.
But I have a 14-year window that says Arkansas can and has competed in the SEC. Petrino was at Arkansas for four years and Houston Nutt 10. Petrino and Nutt combined to go 109-66 during those 14 years and took teams to 11 bowl games in that span. They were 59-53 in SEC games.
So while frustration is understandable at this point, Morris deserves time to right the ship he took over that wasn’t exactly at the top of the SEC. Bielema’s last team was 4-8 and 1-7 in the SEC. His best team was 8-5 in 2015, but even then it included a loss to Toledo in Little Rock, getting blown out at home by Texas Tech and Bielema finding a way to play for a field goal instead of putting Mississippi State away with a touchdown at home and losing.
The first of an eight-game season starts on Saturday and Morris needs to have his team ready to play.