Let’s get this out of the way: Arkansas hasn’t had two consecutive weeks of football this torturous ever. Period. It was agony watching a confident team spiral into confusion and disarray in the final 20 minutes against Colorado State, but having North Texas come into your house and basically clear out the joint with a 34-10 first-half spanking en route to a 44-17 final? This is the sort of thing that causes teetotalers to become sots in a matter of hours.
There is also precedent that gives some hope where it appears a paucity of it exists. When the team lost to The Citadel to open the 1992 season and Jack Crowe was canned the following day, the team responded relatively well by thrashing fellow SEC newcomer South Carolina with interim coach Joe Kines in charge, and then those Hogs did the unthinkable three weeks later, upsetting No. 4Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.
Danny Ford’s 1995 team gagged its opener against SMU, but recovered quickly to upset Alabama (let’s be clear — we are NOT adopting that level of optimism here) and then win the SEC West for the first time. In 2001, Houston Nutt had a helpless looking team that started 1-3 and, thanks to a Carlos Hall blocked field
goal against South Carolina and the emergence of Matt Jones, that team turned its fortunes around and went to a Cotton Bowl on the strength of a six-game winning streak. Bret Bielema’s 2015 team entered the year with high hopes and a national ranking, only to bottom out badly in losses to Toledo in Little Rock and Texas Tech in Fayetteville, but those missteps were rectified by the team shortly thereafter and the squad ended up winning eight games, including the Liberty Bowl.
The trouble with this team, though, is that head coach Chad Morris clearly has lost any semblance of vision
for it only a quarter of the way into a long, arduous season. In the opener, Arkansas found it hard to establish a running game so it redoubled its efforts in that respect against the Rams, only to mysteriously abandon the ground attack when the team needed to rely on it the most in the waning stages of the third quarter. Against the Mean Green, a team capable of winning double-digit games on the strength of its deft quarterback Mason Fine, the Hogs again scuffled and Devwah Whaley was totally neutralized early. Whaley amassed a career-best 165 yards against Colorado State; he’s bookended that, however, with a whopping 40 aggregate yards on 19 rushes in the other two games.
The trickery that UNT employed on a punt return was, of course, the talk of the first half as the visitors built their unthinkable lead. But the postgame remarks about that play were troubling: Mean Green return man Keegan Brewer deked the Hogs’ gunners into thinking he had fair caught the ball, then
even chatted with them casually when they murmured about the lack of a whistle blowing the play dead. Brewer never signaled
accordingly, and never stopped moving, even if his initial steps mimicked a lope to the sideline. By the time he took off, Arkansas’s special teams unit looked foolishly, hopelessly and inexcusably unfit.
Combine those lapses with Cole Kelley throwing four picks before finally getting a permanent seat, and the remaining fans raining down the boos, and this was unquestionably a bottom-five moment for Arkansas. Losing is one thing. Losing to North Texas at home is another. Losing in such a garish fashion, looking ill-prepared and uncommitted? Lord help us if we thought the John L. Smith experiment was a farce — the 2018 season is shaping up in a way that almost defies logic.
Morris is wearing a pretty weathered countenance already, too. Yes, his first SMU team went 2-10, and by the time 24 months had passed from that, he had molded
the downtrodden Mustangs into a winning team. But even in the leanest of lean years, Arkansas could be counted on to win nonconference games against opponents who resided on the fringes of the FBS, the old Division I-A. Morris may not survive the year if this team flops to a program-worst 1-11 or 2-10 (only Tulsa, which just lost to Arkansas State, remains on the out-of-SEC slate), and frankly, should he?
This cupboard is most assuredly not bare. Whaley is a proven talent who has had success in this league; receivers Jared Cornelius, Jonathan Nance and Jordan Jones have all made impact plays in high-stakes games. McTelvin Agim was a purported generational talent coming out of Hope, and Randy Ramsey, Bumper Pool, Briston Guidry and the like came into the program with enough fanfare to bring Arkansas fans a sense of calm amid all the storms of recent years. The urgency with which Morris and his staff must operate just pinged off the meter, though, and an unsettling gauntlet against Auburn, Texas A&M and Alabama looms at the worst possible time.