Photo by Travis Bell / GamecocksOnline.com
When hope turns to despair, what do you do?
That’s the question Razorbacks of all stripes are facing in the aftermath of Arkansas’ distressing 48-22 loss to South Carolina last Saturday.
The game was the Razorbacks’ fifth loss in a row to a Power 5 Conference team. The Hogs (2-3, 0-2 SEC) have not beaten a Power 5 opponent since outscoring Mississippi State, 58-42, on Nov. 19, 2016.
Considering the Arkansas’ upcoming schedule and the way the Razorbacks are playing, it might be November before the Razorbacks win again.
No one expects the Razorbacks to win this week when they travel to Tuscaloosa, Ala., to play No. 1 Alabama at 6:15 p.m. on ESPN, and not many, if any, more would give them a shot against surging Auburn on Oct. 21 in Fayetteville.
What will be left of the Hogs physically and mentally is uncertain going into a road game at Ole Miss on Oct. 28. A win there isn’t out of the question, but it doesn’t look promising at this point in time, either.
So as a coaching staff, players, and fans, what do the Razorbacks do when hope turns to despair?
From the looks of social media, many fans have either jumped off the cliff or are ready to push Bret Bielema and his staff off one.
With seven games left to play, change can’t come quick enough. They are willing to cut off the head despite the fact that there is more than half the season is left to play. Radical surgery is their only answer.
They are ready to light a torch to the whole of the athletic department and watch it burn. They are emboldened by the idea that the Razorbacks will magically rise like a phoenix from the ashes if only Bielema and athletic director Jeff Long are fired immediately.
Of course, that’s fans who are internet chatting before clearly thinking, but such comments are a decent thermometer for just how hot Bielema’s seat is as head coach.
Fans were frustrated coming in to the season. Now they are furious, and they legitimately have the right to feel that way.
With all due respect to the Gamecocks, South Carolina shouldn’t be able to physically dominate and humiliate a Razorback football team like it did last Saturday. It just shouldn’t.
Enough time has passed since the the Petrino-Smith debacle for the Razorbacks to be able to compete better than they did last Saturday.
South Carolina didn’t just win the ballgame, they manhandled the Razorbacks. Arkansas’ offensive line was so battered and bullied, they afforded quarterback Austin Allen so little protection that Arkansas’ medical staff ruled him unavailable to play for the the fourth quarter and his participation on Saturday at Alabama is in doubt.
The lack of protection led to Allen throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown and fumbling when he was blind-sided while rearing back to pass. His fumble was also returned for a touchdown.
South Carolina coach Will Muschamp called off his dogs with the game well in hand in the fourth quarter, but the Gamecocks’ defense also nabbed a pick-6 off Arkansas backup quarterback Cole Kelley on a lackadaisical throw that South Carolina goaded him into.
The anti-Allen contingent will gloat that Kelley completed 8 of 14 passes for 140 yards and a touchdown in a quarter compared to Allen going 12 of 24 for 84 yards and touchdown in three quarters.
However, anyone with eyes can see the Gamecocks, thankfully, packed it in against a beaten opponent in the fourth quarter.
Kelley, a redshirt freshman, showed his maturity and good sense by giving his unqualified support tor Allen as the Hogs’ top quarterback following the game in an attempt to forestall anything like a quarterback controversy.
However his quotes won’t mean much to the fans that feel a change at quarterback is the answer to all of society’s ills much less this football team’s.
While weaknesses abound with this Razorback squad, the team’s base philosophy centers on running the football. Right now, the offensive line doesn’t appear to be able to line up and make that happen against a Power 5 opponent.
The lack of a running game means defenses do not have to respect Arkansas’ play-action fakes, making them a waste of time, and time is something Allen desperately needs.
Since Arkansas’ offensive line can’t give Allen time, his offensive coordinator Dan Enos has to buy him some by calling plays that allow him to get the ball off more quickly.
Play-action takes time to execute by the quarterback. The routes are slower to develop. Arkansas’ line has proven unable to execute those plays without Allen getting nailed time an again, and defenses aren’t being fooled by the play-action to begin with.
While it’s difficult to change an offensive philosophy in midseason, Enos needs to try something different. It is more likely that Arkansas’ quarterbacks and receivers can adapt than for the Razorbacks offensive line to suddenly begin to get a push in the run game or to become competent at protecting Allen. Enos needs to either to give Allen some different options in the passing game.
Allen also has to learn to be content to dumping the ball off to shorter, quicker routes, if only to get the ball moving.
Some success in the passing game might loosen up the running game, too. If that happens, then play-action might once again be effective.
Not to say that the Razorbacks’ defense doesn’t have its own issues because it does, but Arkansas’ offense gave away 21 points in a 48-22 loss. Do the math. The game would have been different without the easy scores Arkansas’ offense allowed. And while Allen is statistically responsible for two of those turnovers, the majority of the blame falls on poor pass protection.