Arkansas quarterback Ben Hicks / Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
No. 1 Alabama will be without their starting quarterback and Heisman candidate Tua Tagovailoa when the Arkansas Razorbacks face the Crimson Tide at 6 p.m. Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium on ESPN, and there is a chance that the Hogs will be without their sometime starter Ben Hicks.
Tagoviloa suffered a high ankle sprain last Saturday in Alabama’s 31-13 defeat of Tennessee and had surgery on the non-weight bearing bone. Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday, the hope is for Tagovailoa to begin working on a return in about 10 days.
Not only did Auburn beat the Razorbacks, 51-10, last Saturday, but the Tigers also left the Hogs beat up. Hicks had an ice wrap on his left shoulder when he appeared at a press conference after the loss, and Arkansas coach Chad Morris and offensive coordinator Joe Craddock characterized Hicks’ injury as day-to-day on Monday but said he is expected to try and practice Tuesday.
While quarterback is generally the most important position on the field, it doesn’t really matter which quarterbacks start for either team Saturday. The Razorbacks are at one end of the SEC spectrum, and Alabama is at the other.
Alabama (7-0, 4-0 SEC) is a 32-point favorite, and you’d be a fool to take the points. Arkansas has lost 12 consecutive games to Alabama, and the Hogs (2-4, 0-4) haven’t played the Crimson Tide close since Alabama escaped Fayetteville as a 14-13 winner in 2014 during Bret Bielema’s second season as head coach.
Each successive year the gap between the two programs has only grown wider, and the scores have gotten worse and worse for the Razorbacks. That trend may or may not continue Saturday, but no matter what the final margin is, the Razorbacks still aren’t equipped to compete with the Crimson Tide in the second year of Morris’ tenure as head coach.
All the Razorbacks can do this week is play hard, attempt to execute, and hopefully improve against a superior opponent. The Hogs have to get what they can take from another whipping at the hands of the Crimson Tide, and then prepare to make a push in their final four games of the season.
There is still opportunity for the Razorbacks this season, but it’s not this week.
However vulnerable Alabama is with sophomore Mac Jones under center, the Razorbacks just don’t have the wherewithal to take advantage. We’ve seen that in lost opportunities against San Jose State, Texas A&M, and Kentucky.
With a beat-up offensive line that has starting left tackle Colton Jackson (back) and left guard Austin Capps (concussion) questionable for Saturday, it doesn’t really matter whether Hicks takes the bumps or junior Nick Starkel.
Those wanting to see freshman K.J. Jefferson (6-3, 228) need to understand this isn’t the week. However, they also should know that his red-shirt season essentially ends this Saturday. The NCAA allows freshmen to play in four games and retain that year of eligibility. So, the clock is ticking down on the red-shirt season for Jefferson and other freshmen Razorbacks who have not played this season. Their sophomore season begin on Sunday.
While winning games should be the top priority every week, getting Jefferson and other freshmen who have the capability of playing in the SEC playing time should be goal 1B whether they are totally ready to play or not. It’s time to get them some playing time to access what they can do.
Portions of Arkansas’ final four games should be used to prepare and develop their skills to make up for the bowl practices that the Razorbacks are going to miss out on this December for the third consecutive year — two on Morris’ watch and the other on Bielema’s.
Of course, with the situation the Razorback program is in, it might be better served for Morris and his staff to be fully committed to recruiting in December rather than prepping for a lower-tier bowl, anyway.
Though there is gossip of staff changes for the Razorbacks following the season, making drastic changes at the end of the season might not be prudent now that December has supplanted February as the primary national signing period. You can’t axe assistant coaches and expect the players they recruited to sign on the dotted line before Christmas.
Cosmetic staff changes are dubious, anyway. It always seems to blow up in a program’s face. If a head coach thinks changes should be made, more power to him, but the forced scapegoating of assistants to appease fans usually doesn’t work out. It’s a sign of instability and a lack of leverage on the part of the head coach.
Coaches talk, and only desperate ones take a job that has the smell of a one-year gig.
If an athletic director comes to the point where he has lost faith in his head coach to handle his staff, then it’s probably time for the coach and program to part ways.
That’s a simplified version of what happened with former Arkansas basketball coach Mike Anderson and Arkansas Athletics Director Hunter Yurachek last spring.
With less than two years on the job, Morris still has the support of Yurachek. Yurachek wrote a letter to donors and fans last week saying as much, while also urging ticket holders to use their tickets and support the team. The letter was posted on Arkansas’ website for all to see.
Reading that e-mail was a bit unnerving as a fan because of perceived implications, and it couldn’t have been comfortable one for Yurachek to write either.
We all long for better days for the Hogs, when it does matter who starts at quarterback and when an opponents’ loss of a key starter does create a meaningful advantage.