Are Fans Nit Picking the Close ‘Bama loss? Did Pittman Overrule Briles on 4th & 11? Is Mizzou a Rivalry Game?

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This and More in This Week's Ask Mike

Q. Our first two questions this week are about the same issue. Arkansas’ three-man pass rush. Patricia Kuhn says: The CBS announcers were saying that the Alabama quarterback would have it easy if we only kept a 3 man rush on him. Why do you think we didn’t try harder to disrupt him? The few times we did, he had trouble throwing the ball.

And

robs4516 says: I’m proud of the fight and competitiveness the Hogs showed at Bama. Having said that, what needs to change to prevent good QB’s from having career days against our defense? Is the answer better recruiting or is there more to it than that?

A. Defensive Coordinator Barry Odom is reluctant to blitz for fear that the secondary will get lit up. But as we saw against Alabama they can still get lit up even with a three-man pass rush and eight guys in pass coverage. A&M and LSU showed that heavy blitzing can affect Alabama QB Bryce Young. Let’s look at the difference:

Against Arkansas Young was 31 of 40 for 559 yards and five touchdowns for an average of 14 yards per pass with a QBR of 95.4.

Against A&M those numbers are way different. Young threw it more and had fewer completions. His passing yards were down, just 369 and three touchdowns instead of five plus the Aggies had a pick. Also Young had average of just 7.7 yard per pass, almost half as much per pass as he had against the Hogs. His QBR was 10 points less against A&M than Arkansas.

Now look at this: Against SEC West teams that did not blitz Alabama heavily, Arkansas had the best showing. The Tide scored 42 points against both Arkansas and Ole Miss but it was a seven point game with Arkansas. Alabama beat Ole Miss by three touchdowns. Alabama outscored Mississippi State by 40.

But Alabama’s scoring is reduced against both A&M (38-41) and LSU (20-14) under heavy blitzing.

So clearly the extra pressure helps. I think it helped Arkansas when its defense blitzed. A lot of those nine incompletions came under blitz pressure. But for most of the game we saw Young with all day to throw if he needed it as the Hogs three-man rush could not get to him.

Arkansas needs more speed in the secondary and at linebacker. If they get to that point I think you’ll see Odom more likely to use man coverage and bring the heat with linebacker, corner and safety blitzes.

So yes, better recruiting is the answer.

Q. @mousetown has a similar question about Arkansas’ offense against Alabama. He says: To play Alabama within 7 points makes me so happy but I really believe we could have won that game if Briles would have turned K.J. loose. He’s become a great passer but it’s like Briles can’t see it. He wasted too many plays trying to run the ball.

A. Briles is taking a lot of heat for his play calling in that game but I think most of the emphasis on running the ball is coming from Sam Pittman. He said as much after the game. He said he really believed Arkansas could run the ball successfully against Alabama. I really believe with recruiting the day is coming when Arkansas will be able to run on Alabama or Georgia but they are not there yet.

Let’s look at some numbers from that game: The Hogs managed just 110 yards rushing on 42 carries, for one touchdown and that touchdown was on a one-yard run after the refs overturned a 40 yard touchdown catch by Warren Thompson saying he was down at the one yard line. Arkansas average per carry? Just 2.6 yards.

Now to the passing numbers: 358 yards on 31 passes. Four touchdowns (really 5) and an average (11.5) of more than a first down every time Arkansas put it up.

So clearly throwing the ball worked a lot better than running it. That doesn’t mean you don’t run it at all. But look what Alabama did.

The Tide threw it 40 times and ran the ball just 36 times. Arkansas put up just 31 passes with 42 running plays.

Traditionally Alabama is a running football team but they’ve had some injuries and Young is having such a great year throwing to his outstanding receivers, they going with what they do best.

Now look, there are games when I have no problem with Arkansas being run heavy but against a defense like Alabama which is as good at stopping the run as Georgia, you have to open it up more.

Let’s hope that Sam continues to improve the O-line because he does love to run the ball.

Q. PorkSoda asks: 5 minutes left, we needed two scores. Briles called a bunch of run plays and sent the punt team out. Then Pittman called a time out and went to have a talk with Briles. I got the feeling that Briles thought the game was over, and Pittman obviously did not.

A. Actually on that drive Arkansas started off with three straight passes. The second pass got them a first down. The third pass was incomplete and then they ran it two more times and lost a yard. So it was 4th and 11 from the Arkansas’ 35. I asked Sam Pittman about what happened with the decision to punt and then overruling that decision during a time out. He said Briles had nothing to do with either decision. It was his decision both ways. He said his original thought was, if Arkansas doesn’t make the first down Alabama would probably score again on such a short field and a 14 point lead would go to 21 points. He said that would give the impression that it wasn’t a close game. But he overruled himself after realizing that he wasn’t giving his players a chance to win. He didn’t feel like they would forgive him for that he and wouldn’t forgive himself for it. So he went for it and Arkansas ended up making it a seven point game with a chance to win if that onside kick had been successful.

That decision and the thought process behind it tells you everything about why this guy is succeeding as a head coach.

Q. lakecityhog wants to know: When more of the coaching dominos begin to fall do you see the possibility of Briles actually leaving this off-season? Personally, I would like to see both Briles and Odom stick around for at least 1 more year.
What is your position on our Coordinators?

A. I don’t see anything right now that would cause either one of them to leave but of course that could change depending on how some of these openings play out. I think Briles gets a bad rap from fans who assume that every play he calls comes from him. I don’t share his love for backfield gimmicks. Double reverses. Wide receiver passes. Stuff like that. But that’s his business, not mine.

Like a lot of fans I don’t like Odom’s three-man pass rush. It’s maddening to watch against good quarterbacks. I’d love to see more blitzing. But that’s Sam Pittman’s call if he wants more blitzes, he can ask for them and Odom has done more blitzing lately.

What’s my position on them? It doesn’t really matter but I think they’ve done a good job. Arkansas wouldn’t be where it is right now if they weren’t doing a good job.

Q. Armon Abbe says: It seems to me that some of our fans have forgotten what it was like to get run off the field by Alabama. All this stuff about the three-man rush and too many running plays is nitpicking to me.

A. Here’s my take on that. Sam Pittman himself said, “We didn’t come to Alabama to lose by seven points.”

So playing the number two team in the nation close when you had a chance to win is not the goal. The goal is to beat the number two team in the nation.

I think you can appreciate the big improvement in this football program in a short time but still question some of the coaching decisions in a game that you may think Arkansas could have won. It’s not like they are coming up with this stuff based on nothing. We just went through the numbers. Numbers don’t always tell the whole story but to me the subject is a legitimate debate.

Q. Edwardclutchasks: Seeing how well KJ has done this year do you think we should have just played him last year and not went with a grad transfer? Just curious why you think the coaching staff made that decision.

A. Because he wasn’t ready to be the starter last year. I think the decision to bring in Feleipe Franks was the smartest move that Sam Pittman and Kendal Briles made during in those first few months on the Hill.
Franks made a real difference. Remember, Arkansas played a brutal 10 game all-SEC schedule. Those three SEC wins were three more than in the previous two seasons. What happened in 2000 gave Arkansas fans hope and it helped set up 2021. KJ learned a lot sitting behind Franks and Kendal Briles deserves a ton of credit for developing him as the starter this season. I can’t wait to see what KJ does in 2021.

Q. PatBoat asks: With the departure of a bunch of defensive tackles, O linemen and receivers what are your thoughts on Miller, Jalen Williams, Henderson and Turner?

Offensive tackle Marcus Henderson is a sophomore this season. He’s not on the two deep. I think they want him to get bigger.

Marcus Miller will be a redshirt junior next year. He’s also not on the two deep. He’s played in two games with two tackles. He has not redshirted so this will probably be a redshirt year for him.

Jaylen Williams was the top JUCO defensive tackle in the country last year. But the word I get is he’s not as quick as they thought. That’s why he’s not playing right now.

Daren Turner was a four-star receiver two years ago and the number three player in Tennessee. He redshirted last year and has no catches this year. I was told that a lack of speed is holding him back.

At the end of the season the coaches will sit down and decide where players like these four fit in. If they are not part of a solution for next year the coaches could go after grad transfers. It will be next spring before we have a clear idea of how the situation in the offensive and defensive lines looks. I think they’ll be fine at receiver. Frankly they are loaded at that position and have some outstanding freshmen coming in.

Q. LongtimeHogfan says: We all know we pay large sums of $’s for some of the smaller programs to come to Razorback Stadium and fill slots in our schedule. Do we also pay teams like Gardner-Webb to play us in the ‘Bud’?

A. Yes. Giving nonconference opponents a fee for playing in Fayetteville is a way of a avoiding a return game on their campus. You generally play home and home with major conference opponents, not midmajors. A guaranteed fee is also done in other sports for the same reason.

Q. Pigsfeat says: This may be a sensitive subject but I was wondering if you could give your thoughts on Title IX?

A. It was a Supreme Court ruling that cleared the way for the expansion and funding of the women’s college athletics programs that we see today. The ruling was that there has to be equal scholarships for men and women’s athletics at any school that gets federal tax dollars. The big issue with that is football. There is no equivalent sport on the women’s side that requires 85 scholarships. So that is basically waved from the ruling with some adjustments. In some of the so called Olympic sports the women get a few extra scholarships than the men. I don’t have any problem with that.

Dr. Strangepork says: Excluding the men’s and women’s track teams and the baseball team due to their sustained success-which team, men’s or women’s, has been the most surprising to you in achieving their success? Or rather, has had the steepest hill to climb?

A. Steepest Hill to climb, no question, the football team. That is hands down the hardest sport to compete in in the SEC. Every school but Vanderbilt pours big bucks into hiring coaches and building facilities. The competition in recruiting is insane. Has the success of this football team has surprised me. Not long term. I always thought that, given time, Sam Pittman would get the job done. But the fact that they’re doing what they’re doing in year two, yeah, that’s a big surprise because the schedule in both years has been so tough.

Q. We have two similar questions about SEC referees. Lanny wants to know: What are your thoughts on the Officials and Auburn? I was talking to a huge Aubbie booster after the Moo-cow (South Carolina) loss and he was upset about the officials hosing Auburn. I found this comical from what I have seen with the love affair with Bama Lite.

And Superhog1959 says: I watched the game 3X. I saw Bama false start 3x, saw targeting twice in the same drive. Saw pass interference at least twice. Watched the play that was reviewed, where KJ was trying for a first down. The Bama player hit him, helmet to helmet. No call. Don’t you think they should have seen that?

A. It is hard to imagine that with refs all over the field that they would miss that many calls. Those who take the side of SEC refs in this argument would point to the complaints by Auburn fans and say…See, even an Alabama school thinks the refs hate them. To me this subject has two components. Yes, referees make mistakes and they make ’em against all teams. But it’s the frequency of those bad calls and how many of those calls have decided games that separates Arkansas from other SEC schools.

I can’t say these refs are cheaters or that they are against Arkansas. I don’t know what’s in their heads. But I do know that it’s rare for an AD to post a shot at the refs on Twitter, which Hunter Yurachek did on Saturday. It’s rare to see an AD on the sidelines yelling at the officials. This tells me that Yurachek has seen enough and has decided that it’s time for him publicly make his feelings known. What we don’t know is what kind of conversations he’s has with SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey and what Sankey’s reaction has been. I’d love to be listening in when they chat over the phone, especially after all the missed calls and incorrect calls in the Auburn and Alabama games. When the guys in the broadcast booth start asking questions, there is a problem.

Q. Margo Kimp says: We saw some highlights of the game Saturday. We saw an official throw a yellow flag at that cheapshot to Burks at the end. Who overturned it?

A. The flag was because the kick went out of bounds. That’s automatic on any kickoff
including onside kicks. A lot of fans have commented on that play saying that Burks got cheapshotted by Alabama’s great linebacker Will Anderson probably because Arkansas had scored so many points on Bama’s defense. I can’t say what Anderson’s motivation was but it was a legal play. Players on the receiving team on a kickoff are allowed to block anybody even if they are going for the ball and are in a defenseless position.

Q. whippersnapper asks: Do you have a bucket list of bowl games you’d like to attend? Whether or not the Hogs are apart of the game either.

A. I missed the Fiesta Bowl in Lou’s second season at Arkansas. I like the desert. Not to live there but just to see it. I’ve driven through the Phoenix area and landed in the airport there a few times but never stayed there overnight. I think it would be fun. I might be nice to see the Rose Bowl just once but I suspect that the experience would be overrated. But I’ve already been to the best bowl several times. Nothing beats the Cotton Bowl. Not if you’re media. Those folks take care of us.

Q. BloodRedHog wants to know: If money were no object, what one major change or improvement would you make to the athletic facilities or grounds at the U of A?

A. I’d redo the entire west side of the football stadium including Razorback Road and the parking lot west of it. The street would be lowered to the level it is at the outdoor track. I would then lower the west parking lot to that level. That would allow wide concourse to be constructed above Razorback Road and extend westward into a huge park like area over the underground parking lot. It would be multi levels with lots of steps leading to various statues of ex coaches and players. There would be planters with trees and flowers next to these statues with benches and tables for sitting. This would be a visiting destination for fans in the offseason and a great tailgating area before games. I would also lower the north end zone lot to create more underground parking and extend the park-like setting over that parking lot with more statues in that area, creating a huge tailgating area to the west and north of the stadium. I think it would blow The Grove at Ole Miss away.

Q. Finally, Alex4Hogs88 is back with his weekly question about memories of previous games with the opponent. He says: We have a lot of bad bad memories when it comes to Mizzou. What was the most maddening loss against them?

A. I don’t think much about Missouri. I wish the SEC would dump them in favor of Oklahoma State. Mizzou is a Big 10-type school to me. The most maddening loss? It had to be the 2014 game in Columbia. Brandon Allen had a hip pointer. They shot him up before the game and Arkansas had the halftime lead. But the medication wore off in the second half and Arkansas slowly lost the lead. They were down one touchdown with the ball late and Allen got hit again. He could hardly walk. His brother Austin was completely healthy on the sidelines. He was their best chance to tie the game up but Bret Bielema let Brandon go back out on the field after that hit even though he was virtually immobile. After the game, when he was asked about not playing Austin Allen, Bielema came up with some excuse about the players wanting Brandon to stay in the game. I’m thinking, you’re the head coach. That’s your decision.

That was the day I starting wondering about Bret Bielema’s future at Arkansas and of course three seasons later he was gone.

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