A pitiful finish.
So much for a strong finish to this football season. After rattling off 10 straight wins, the Arkansas Razorbacks dropped their last three to finish 10-4. While Houston Nutt will celebrate his first 10 win season and a likely finish in the Top 25, this season will be about another let down – an inability to focus and solve the two biggest problems entering the season: kicking game and passing game. Sadly, those two problems rest with the head coach. It’s Houston Nutt’s responsibility to get his team ready to play. But just as he did in 1998 after winning his first 8 games, Nutt failed to finish strong, a characteristic quite common to this mediocre coach.
We really don’t know where to begin. Special teams, and notably the kicking game, cost the Hogs in three straight games. Can you recall the last time a team had so many similar mental mistakes in back-to-back-to-back games? We can’t. But we know that it’s inexcusable. After a month of practice (ok, more like three weeks. Remember, everyone spent a full week talking about mommy/daddy-gate), the Razorbacks should have been prepared for everything. We’ll go ahead and say it, Wisconsin is not that good. Six days should have been enough to get ready for the Badgers; a month should have guaranteed a blow out. After all, if you look at the stats, the first question you’d ask is how many points did the Hogs win by?
But that didn’t happen and not because Wisconsin did anything surprising. Sure, the Razorbacks missed a field goal and had a punt blocked. Those two stats are critical errors that impacted the final outcome of the game. And while they were critical errors, the biggest error was Arkansas’ inability to script a passing scheme that would result in success. The coaches blew it, yet again.
In the second half, Arkansas had possessions which began from beyond the Arkansas 35 yard line six times. They scored only one touchdown. Casey Dick and Mitch Mustain shared time under center, but Dick had more time on the field. While neither looked impressive, Dick, with more reps, was far more ineffective. But for long runs by Felix Jones, Arkansas wouldn’t have scored all day. That’s pitiful considering the weapons the Razorbacks have on offense, including Mustain.
The Dick-Mustain situation is beyond absurd. Houston Nutt, who claims to have a “quick trigger”, kept Casey Dick in the ballgame when it was clear that he couldn’t get the job done. Sure, Mustain got some time on the field, but it wasn’t his fault that the coaches called a pass to Mitch Petrus on 4th and 1 (that play didn’t work. Petrus hadn’t caught a pass all season).
In spite of the playing time afforded to Mustain, we don’t think Houston Nutt has any intention of naming Mustain the quarterback of the future. And as for the “quick trigger,” shut up about it already. It’s not real.
Nutt’s handling of the quarterback position is nearly as pitiful as his handling of the kicking game. If Nutt had any sense, he would have followed what Georgia coach Mark Richt was doing just a few states over. Matthew Stafford, a true freshman and the second best high school quarterback in the country behind Mustain, started several games for the Bulldogs. He began to play poorly and Richt sat him on the bench. But when the other quarterbacks on the team proved to be ineffective, he brought Stafford back in and named him the starter for the remainder of the season. Richt, it seemed, knew that quality playing time was more important to the future of the team than winning. Oh wait, the Bulldogs won their last three games against Auburn, Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech – all with Stafford under center. Great coaches get the best out of their talent, regardless of their age.
More importantly, Stafford will be primed and ready to play next season. There’s nothing better than game experience and in the brutal SEC, whether you are a freshman or a senior, practice only helps so much. There will be no quarterback controversy in Georgia this Spring. Meanwhile, Arkansas will have to deal with that for the third consecutive year.
But Nutt didn’t do any of that. Instead, he screwed around and made little use of the extra practice time and a 14th game to get ready for 2007. There’s a reason Richt has had far more success at Georgia than Nutt has had at Arkansas in a shorter period of time.
Sadly, Arkansas is no better prepared for 2007 now than they were after the loss to Florida. The passing game, remarkably, got worse! While the talent of the player matters (see Matt Jones), the coaches have to script plays that at least some chance of being effective. 4th and 1 passes to Mitch Petrus are not those type of plays.
We thought we’d write this, but we’re actually glad that football season is over. We’re sick of the drama, the excuses, the pitiful play calling (whoever is calling the plays) and the mental breakdowns. Arkansas should have finished better than 10-4. While we’re glad for the 10 wins, losing the last three to ranked teams clearly demonstrated that a Houston Nutt-coached Arkansas team isn’t ready for the big time.
Maybe that will change next year. But with a difficult schedule that includes road games at Alabama, Tennessee, Ole Miss and LSU, don’t look for the Hogs to have an easy path to the SEC West title. And as we’ve seen before, Nutt’s teams choke in the home stretch.
In August, we opined that Arkansas should be judged by how it performs in six key games: USC, Alabama, Auburn, Tennessee, South Carolina and LSU. Adding in the SEC Championship game against Florida and the Capital One Bowl game against Wisconsin and let’s see: 4 wins, 4 losses. Lost the final 3. Blew an SEC Championship, a BCS bowl berth, potential BCS national title berth, Capital One Bowl victory, and a 2007 preseason Top 10 ranking.
That doesn’t look like success to us.
JR and Henry blog their column here weekly.