One of the abilities all great players possess is the intangible of putting a bad play away and moving on to the next opportunity. If a player is focused on the past, he can’t focus on the moment.
With his second season as the Arkansas Razorback’ head football coach fast approaching, Chad Morris is attempting to get his 105-man roster to embrace that intangible and forget last year’s 2-10 record. The idea is to move forward and improve, rather than dwell on the past.
No doubt, Morris has been coaching that attitude into his players since the Razorbacks returned from Christmas break and began winter workouts. The players heard it during spring practice, and certainly Arkansas’ strength, training and nutrition staffs have drilled them on it this summer. Heck, the academic advisors and tutors might have talked up moving forward, too.
It’s a great message for a group that hopefully has a better future ahead of them than what they experienced last season.
Another group Morris wants on board is Arkansas fans. He wants us to turn the page, too.
Really, I’d like, too. Nothing happened last season worth remembering. Even the Hogs’ two wins were somewhat disappointing.
One of Morris’ messages when he spoke Wednesday at SEC Media Days is that the Razorbacks are a new team for 2019, and though the Hogs are young with 52 freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores on the roster, the team should be viewed based on what it will do this season rather than last.
That’s great, but the problem is that practice doesn’t begin until Aug. 2 and the first game against cupcake Portland State isn’t until Aug. 31. The first meaningful game isn’t until Sept. 7 against Ole Miss at Oxford, Miss.
Hog fans, the media, or the coaches and players won’t have a firm grip on the type of team the Razorbacks will or can be until Sept. 8. Even then, no one has a crystal ball that can offer insight on how the Hogs will progress or regress from the middle of September all the way to Black Friday when Arkansas will play host to what very well could be a Top-25 rated Missouri squad in War Memorial Stadium at Little Rock.
It would be nice to put last year’s 2-10 record to bed as well as the Hogs’ 0-8 mark in SEC games, the ghosts of 2019 are probably going to live with the Razorback program until the season begins and maybe until the Razorbacks win their first SEC game under Morris.
The SEC Network is certainly complicit in keeping it alive. From a Razorback fan’s point of view, it appears the network’s only highlights of Alabama came in their 65-31 shellacking of the Razorbacks last Oct 6. The producers ran incessantly during the SEC network’s four days of coverage of SEC Media Days, or at least it seemed that way.
During his time on the podium, Morris spoke more about getting his team’s attitude right for Season 2 of his program than he spent on the actual players. Morris said his Hogs would be improved in all aspects from last season, but he did take the time to point out that successes seen in Dabo Swinney’s Clemson program, Mark Stoops’ Kentucky program, and Dan Mullen’s program when he was at Mississippi State took time to build.
It is going to take more than just two seasons for Morris to get the Razorbacks to where we want them to be, but Morris’ very valid point is that the programs at Clemson, Kentucky, and Mississippi State aren’t inherently or historically better than the Razorbacks’ program.
It might be difficult for the Razorbacks to reach the ceiling that Clemson has the past four years, but every Hog fan ought to feel whatever the Wildcats or the Bulldogs can do, the Razorbacks can do better because Arkansas has done it better over the history of the program and in the not too distant past.
I like that Morris acknowledged that a bowl game this season is one of the Hogs’ goals. I personally hope the goals within the program are greater than that, but with that stated, Hog fans should expect a six-win season and a bowl game this year.
That’s not putting heat on Morris or the players. It’s a more than reasonable expectation. If the Razorbacks’ reach exceeds their grasp, though, support for Morris shouldn’t fall off the table. A very competitive 5-7 wouldn’t be a total disaster.
Though the Razorbacks will likely be picked to finish last in the SEC West when Media Day predictions are released Friday, Arkansas fans shouldn’t accept that.
Hog fans should expect the Razorbacks to beat Ole Miss at Oxford on Sept. 7, returning the favor for Ole Miss’ win last year at War Memorial Stadium.
I won’t go as far as to say that Hog fans should expect victories over the likes of Texas A&M, Auburn, Mississippi State, and Missouri, but they should expect their Razorbacks to be competitive in those games and not to be embarrassed by the final outcome.
To me that would be improvement not only over last season but also Bret Bielema’s final season as well.
I like that Morris said he wants to name a starting quarterback within a reasonable time during preseason. While fans would like to know the minuted Morris and his offensive braintrust has made the decision, it’s not all that important when he announces whether it will be senior Ben Hicks, the graduate transfer from SMU, or junior Nick Starkel, the graduate transfer from Texas A&M, but it’s important he get it right.
That said, the quicker one takes the reins to the offense, the better.
It hurt the team’s progression going back and forth between Ty Storey and Cole Kelley early in the season, but neither was a good option for Morris’ offense, and that truly was a season killer last year.
When quarterbacks struggle, the entire offense struggles and can’t improve. When an offense struggles, it puts greater and greater pressure on its defense. Unless the defense is inordinately talented and deep, it will wear down under that pressure.
Hopefully, better quarterback play this season will lift all boats. That’s my expectation, anyway.
I’m ready to turn the page on last season’s 2-10 record. I’m ready to once again to be able have a little pride in my alma matter’s football team. I hope Morris and his staff are the men to guide the Razorbacks back to a solid level of respectability.
Once this season begins, hopefully Razorback fans will never have to talk about 2-10 again.