Arkansas fans fall somewhere on the scale of disappointed, frustrated, agitated, or angry since the start of the Razorbacks’ football season, and they have been vocal about it.
Vocal enough for two lineman to discuss it with the media following Wednesday’s practice.
Both sophomore defensive end McTelvin “Sosa” Agim and senior center Frank Ragnow said that they had gotten wind of the fans’ disenchantment with the Razorbacks’ 1-1 start. Now, it’s not like either stepped to the microphone to announce that information. Both made the statements in response to questions asked by reporters.
However, the player’s willingness to speak about it shows that the criticism has sunk in. It’s seeped in from them absorbing traditional and social media. They’ve probably heard it in class and elsewhere on campus. Their coaches might have even used it as a motivation tool to prep for Saturday’s 11 a.m. contest against Texas A&M (2-1) that will be played in AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, and televised by ESPN.
Arkansas’ coaching staff has no doubt heard it, too.
Arkansas fifth-year coach Bret Bielema mentioned the need for positive vibes in his Monday press conference, and Arkansas receivers coach Michael Smith alluded to the criticism while speaking about the lack of separation his receivers have achieved in games.
Those comments, particularly by Smith, Ragnow, and Agim, might reflect a circle-the-wagons mentality within the program.
Former Arkansas basketball coach Nolan Richardson masterfully used such a motivational ploy during his program’s hey day to focus his players on the games and insulate them from the hype that began to build around his program.
During the 1994 NCAA Tournament, Richardson had his players believing that it was them against the world and that everyone else doubted them despite the facts that the Razorbacks entered the Big Dance as a No. 1 seed and that they had been ranked No. 1 in the polls longer than any other team that season.
Richardson motivated himself by feeling he had to prove that he was a great coach night after night, game after game, and he motivated his players in a similar fashion. Richardson’s athletes often reflected his comments to them back to the media. And those players played their hearts out for him.
Football is such a different sport than basketball. There are so many more moving parts with football, and even within offensive and defensive units there is additional fragmentation among position groups. It’s more difficult to get 105-plus athletes to play with one heartbeat and think with one mindset that it is for 15.
However, if it takes an us-against-the-world attitude for the Razorbacks to focus and execute at a higher level, it’s worth it.
If getting a bit fired up and uncomfortable concerning the fans is the pressure or “energy” it takes for this Razorbacks team to perform up to expectations and more importantly to its potential, then let this group of Razorbacks rally together and prove its doubters wrong on Saturday against A&M.
Arkansas’ offense played poorly against TCU. Its running and passing game were ineffective against an aggressive and fast Horned Frog defense. It truly was the little things that tripped the Hogs up in the game, and those issues are correctible, as Bielema indicated last week.
The question remains, though, whether or not Arkansas’ coaching staff got things corrected to the extent that the Hogs will be able to execute efficiently against Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies. Texas A&M also struggled before seemingly getting their groove back in the second half of their 45-24 defeat of Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday.
On paper the Aggies are the better football team based on recruiting rankings, but A&M’s recruiting efforts generally were considered better than the Razorbacks when they were members of the Southwest Conference; yet, the Hogs dominate the series 41-29-3. That’s with losing the last five games to the Aggies.
Five straight losses to the Aggies? That’s a streak that needs to end for the health of Arkansas’ program.
Going into the season, it appeared that Arkansas’ greatest advantage in this game or actually any game would be fifth-year, starting senior quarterback Austin Allen. Allen led the SEC in passing last season with 3,340 yards, but going into Saturday’s game, he’s rated 14th in the SEC with 273 total yards for an average of 137 per game.
While there is truth in the old axiom that a good quarterback can lift up a squad, there’s also truth had a good quarterback can be limited by the execution of the talent around him.
When a coach mentions a lack of execution, he’s talking about one of two things. The first is whether the players performed the plays properly — run the right route, block the right man, catch the pass, and so on. Second, is whether the opponent athletically overpowered or outmaneuvered the players.
There isn’t much that can be done about the second. Players can and do improve athletically over time, but not appreciably week to week.
When players look like they are playing slow, they either are slow or are thinking too much or have not been drilled sufficiently to understand and execute.
When Bielema said there were no mistakes on the TCU film that couldn’t be corrected, he was speaking of mental errors, and possibly confusion because of those mental errors.
With two weeks to prepare for the Aggies, one would expect the Razorbacks to play with a sharper edge and keener understanding of their responsibilities.
The Razorbacks should play well on Saturday. There really is no excuse if they don’t.
Now, that doesn’t mean they will or should win. The performance of the opponent is always a factor, and oddsmakers have the Aggies favored by 3 in what is considered a neutral-site game.
My guess is that Arkansas will win in a close game, but Bielema’s Razorbacks have confounded me dating back to the Texas A&M game last year. It’s time for a change, even if it’s by the slimmest of margins.
Prediction: Arkansas 28, Texas A&M 27