Rice Post-Mortem, Targeting Woes & a Funny Story About the ’69 Arkansas-Texas Game

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This and More in This Week's Ask Mike

Q. The Hog football season is officially underway. Our first question this week is from BloodRedHog who says: Even though we won, so many questions remain. Is the O-Line improved?
Does Fountain need 3 years to fix special teams? 112 yards in penalties?
Is KJ the answer?

A. I’ll take those questions in order.

  1. The run blocking is better but the pass blocking was bad in the first half. It got better in the second half.
  2. The big special team’s mistake was yet another blocked punt. Sam Pittman said one guy missed a block. He said they didn’t have anything like that in practice. The thing is, we heard that last year. I have no idea what Pittman is saying to Scott Fountain behind the scenes but a lot of fans are beyond frustrated with special teams mistakes.

There was also a fumble on the opening kickoff but Arkansas recovered it. On the other hand Ladarrius Bishop had 108 yards in kickoff returns including a long of 42. So that’s an improvement.

Fountain said a couple of weeks ago that COVID quarantines really hurt the special teams last year. Okay, but unless something really changes it looks like that’s not going to be an issue this season. If the mistakes continue I can’t imagine Pittman giving Fountain another year to fix things.

3. The penalty situation was totally unacceptable and was another reason for Jefferson’s struggles. Sam Pittman put the blame on himself and said it will get corrected.

4. K.J.? The first half was bad. It looked like the QB issues we saw under Chad Morris.
But football is a four quarter game and in the second half Jefferson settled
in and his passing improved dramatically. He ended up with 128 yards passing. Almost all of it in the second half. He completed just under 60 % of his passes. The goal set by Kendal Briles was 65%. Take away that bad first half and he’d be there. The TD pass to Tyson Morris was well executed.

I would also add that Jefferson didn’t get much help in the first half. The pass blocking was weak. There were several dropped passes. And to me the play calling was out of sync. When all of those things improved in the second half, Jefferson improved.

Q. Austin.hogfan says: We had almost no vertical passing game against Rice. Was it their scheme? Us holding back for Texas? Or something else? Also I know that you want to get the ball in your playmakers hands (Burks), but surely he can serve as a great decoy early.

A. I don’t think there was any holding back for Texas. Rice has a smaller but very quick defense and as we saw, at least initially, Arkansas’ linemen had trouble staying with those guys when they pressured Jefferson. I think Kendal Briles game planned for that so we saw Jefferson throwing short passes to quick opening receivers. But KJ was throwing high early on. And as I’ve mentioned there were some passes dropped in the first half.

I don’t know about using Burks as a decoy but I do think that Jefferson realizes that he’s going to get targeted which will leave other receivers open. Jefferson threw 9 passes to Burks. He caught 5 of them. KJ threw a combined 12 passes to four other receivers and 7 of them were caught. So overall I think he did a good job of spreading his passes around. The passing game was so rough in the first half it made the problems you mentioned seem worse.

Q: @Razorback_Jack asks: With the increasing number of on field injuries to officials, isn’t it time for them to wear some type of head protection?

A. Sounds good to me. Maybe they could outfit the refs with those pads that players wear over their in practice. But instead of reddish orange make them yellow so the players can spot them easier. Also if a player screws up and accidentally targets a ref, the ref would have extra protection.

Let’s do it.

Q. Gary Wayne Johnson wants to know: Do you think Frank Broyles would have allowed that kind of increase (in the donations required for baseball season tickets) all at one time?

A. A very interesting question. He’s not questioning that the donation level was undervalued and needed to be increased but the fact that the athletic department did it in one huge increase. Some of the season ticket holders under Frank have told me that he would handle donation increases in a series of smaller steps and also he had a policy that allowed current season ticket holders, if they were strapped for money before the season, to pay the donation installments during the season or even in a lump sum after the season was over.

I don’t think you’ll find much of that these days. The business end of college athletics is handled like a business. That is, supply and demand. If the product is better it’s going to cost more to purchase it. In this case the product is Razorback baseball season tickets.

Q: AlabamaHog asks: Based upon your observations of the offensive performance Saturday, what are the areas that require the most attention this week to have a chance to upset Texas?

A. Clearly the passing game needs work better. The good news is Louisiana quarterback Levi Lewis threw for 282 yards against Texas. The Ragin Cajuns had trouble running the ball, just 76 total rushing yards. With a more balanced approach I think Arkansas can move the ball on Texas. The issue is gonna be stopping Texas. Quarterback Hudson Card is a newcomer but he had a solid night going 14-21 passing for 224 yards and two touchdowns and a QB rating of 90.9.

Texas also rushed for 170 yards so they’ve got a balanced offense. Also Louisiana was ranked 23rd, I think, and Rice wasn’t ranked at all. But what does that mean? Maybe the rankings are wrong. Maybe Rice is better that Louisiana? Maybe, they’re not.

Again, I’d say Arkansas needs to play for four quarters against Texas, not two. They need a better passing game and they’ve got to slow Card down, while containing Bijan Robinson who rushed for 103 yards.

Q. sowmonella says: Off the subject of football for a second. What upgrades would you like to see at Bud Walton Arena?

A. I hope they’re mostly cosmetic. I do think they could do something to the concourse. There was an illlustration back in the Jeff Long days that had sections of brick removed on the outside walls next to the concourse. The floor was expanded outward and the new walls were glass. It made the concourse wider and brighter. You could order from two sides of a concession stand making the lines shorter.

Whatever ever they do I hope Eric Musselman convinces Hunter Yurachek to leave the number of seats alone. Reducing capacity from 19,000 to like 14,000 by turning the upper deck into skyboxes is idiotic. There is nothing like Bud Walton Arena with 19,000 plus fans going nuts and we’re going to see this this winter. Make whatever changes you want Hunter. Leave the seating capacity alone.

Q. Alex4Hogs88 wants to know: What was your favorite win against Texas and why?

A. The ’81 game in Fayetteville will always be my favorite. Why? Because Texas was number one in the nation and Arkansas beat them every way you can beat a team. It reminded me of that old line, ‘Get the lead and increase it.’ Arkansas was up 15-0 at the end of the first quarter, 25-3 at the half, 39-3 at the end of three. 42-11 was the final score. When the number one team in the nation gets run out of town and out of the state that badly, it’s not something you forget.

It was also great watching those Texas tea sippers headed for their cars with a full quarter of football still to play. The post game celebration was still going on at 1 am. Dickson street was jammed fans from Colliers Drug all the way down to the railroad tracks and back up to the U-Ark Bowl. It was amazing.

Q. corkypig wants to know: Do you think our players were better hydrated throughout the week prior to Saturday’s game as opposed to Rice? If memory is correct we had no cramping up of players or was it Rice’s way of trying to control the game tempo?

A. That’s a really good question and one I can’t answer for sure because it would take being on Rice’s team to know. I did think it was odd that their players, who practiced every day in Houston where the heat and humidity is way beyond what we have in NW Arkansas, seemed to have all these cramping issues when Arkansas didn’t.
On the other hand, I didn’t think Arkansas’ attempts to run a tempo offense was much of a factor in the game. In fact I would say Arkansas benefited from the stoppage of play due to the Rice players cramping. So this is just a guess but I would say that Arkansas strength and conditioning staff did a better job of getting their players ready for the heat and of keeping them properly hydrated than their counterparts at Rice.

Q. Lakecityhog says: I know this was the first game and all, but it appears to me that our O-line is much better at straight up run blocking than pulling. In your opinion should we put more effort into running between the tackles rather than all of the “wide” plays that just seem to get strung out along the line-of-scrimmage?

A. Sam Pittman said after the game the offense was spending too much time attacking the edges and not enough going right at Rice’s defense, which was working.
However I’m not sure if that is an issue with Arkansas O-Linemen or simply that Rice’s defense was smaller and quicker. Against a bigger defense attacking the edges might work better. I hope so because a good offense needs balance. Not just run/pass balance but inside and outside with the running game and middle, deep and on the edges in the passing game.

Q. Pigsfeat says: I am biased, but I have watched a lot of football and see hits like our linebackers make with no targeting penalties being called or even getting looked at. Do our guys have a reputation or are all our calls warranted? Personally, I feel the penalty, of being ejected, is too severe. What is your take?

A. There are different degrees in the severity of targeting sort of like the difference between roughing the kicker and running into the kicker. So to me there should a non ejection penalties for lesser forms of targeting.

But there are two other issues with targeting.

First of all there doesn’t seem to be a universal interpretation of what is or isn’t targeting. They need to get college refs into seminars and get them all on the same page.

Secondly, some of these guys don’t seem to be able to see what they’re looking at even with every opportunity to watch multiple replays from multiple angles. There was an obvious case of targeting in the Ohio State-Minnesota game that was not called at a long review whereas the targeting call on Bumper Pool, based on what I saw, was not targeting at all.

It’s a complicated issue that is angering college football fans and it needs to be addressed.

Q. Lanny asks: Do you have any funny stories about the Texas game?

A. I don’t know how funny it is but I have one that shows just how much I was willing to risk to watch Arkansas and Texas on TV. In my college days I had a part time job running the Boy Scout department weekends on the third floor of Leonard’s Department Store in downtown Ft. Worth.

They had an employees lounge in the basement with a TV in it. It was December 6, 1969. The day of the Texas-Arkansas big shootout. Number one vs number two. So Just before the start of the game I put up a sign on the counter in the Boy Scout Department that read, Back in 30 minutes. So I watched the first half hour of the game, took the escalator back up to the third floor, waited on three or four customers, then put the sign back up and went back down to the basement again. I did that for the whole game. Yes I missed some some of it but the manager of the Men’s and Boy’s department who, was my supervisor, never figured out what I was doing. I was lucky I didn’t get fired. But hey, it was the Big Shootout. I had to see it.

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