Ask Mike: Another Winnable Loss, An Improving Defense & is KJ Fit for Enos’ Offense?

By Mike Irwin
on 2023-10-09 18:43 PM

Q. Our first question is from HL McCamish who wants to know: What’s your assessment of why KJ Jefferson is struggling to much to run this offense? I keep hearing that it doesn’t fit him but why not?

A. I think a lot of it is the offensive line. When you don’t have a running game KJ is in passing mode a lot more. When you can’t pass block he’s got to complete short passes. Arkansas receivers aren’t getting quick separation. So KJ, who has never been a good short passer, starts throwing into crowds and ends up getting intercepted.

I still think that play calling is causing some of the issues. Arkansas had a couple of scoring drives where they made use of tight end Ty Washington who caught 7 passes for 90 yards and two touchdowns. It’s clear that the tight end is an important part of this offense. So where was Washington last week when Luke Hasz got hurt early in the first quarter of the A&M game and where was he for most of the Ole Miss game?

Q. Hawgredneck says: Pittman hired a new defensive coordinator and it seems like those guys are adapting to the new defense and getting better every week. So why is the offense going backward under a new offensive coordinator? To me it’s clear that Sam made a mistake when he hired Dan Enos. So what’s he going to do about it?

A. You’d have to be Sam Pittman to know the answer to that question and he probably doesn’t know right now. There is speculation by a lot of fans that Enos will be gone at the end of the year. Maybe, but it’s still too early for me to get a read on that. Frank Broyles would usually step in, in a season like this one and force the head coach to make some staff changes. Like in 1997 when he made Danny Ford change his offense from the veer to a pro style passing game. I have no idea if Hunter Yurachek would take that approach or not.

Q. Eddy Lynn says: You indicated on Twitter last week that a name booster told you that Sam Pittman will not be fired after this season. Did he give a reason? Is this guy one of Pittman’s buddies?

A. Actually he was fairly critical of Pittman’s decision to hire Enos and he thinks Pittman doesn’t have a good grasp of how to correct the problems with Enos’ offense. But he also pointed out that for all practical purposes Pittman has never had a losing season at Arkansas. In 2020 Arkansas went 3-7 but that was with an all SEC schedule because of COVID. A 3-5 SEC record in a normal season with four nonconference wins makes you 7-5. He won nine games in 2021 and seven in 2022. Arkansas was bowl eligible in all three seasons and is 2-0 in bowl games under Pittman. He says Internet fans might want to fire a coach under those conditions but most ADs would not and he doesn’t think Yurchek will.

Q. Gideon Henry says: Never really got the Briles haters but…he built an offense around the players he had. Enos wants the players he has to fit his offense. NO WAY KJ and Rocket have regressed like this.

A. I think what Sam Pittman said after the game is the key to understand what’s happening to KJ and the offense. It’s the lack of a running game. It makes it easier for defenses to come after KJ. He needs to make quick decisions, throw short passes because of a lack of pass blocking. His receivers aren’t getting separation off the snap and that’s a recipe for throwing picks. Even with last year’s offense, with these issues, I think KJ would still be struggling.

Q. Louis Freeland says: I know everybody is all ticked off. Yes, I’m a Cool Aid drinker but I was excited to see what Ty Washington did against the Black Bears. Also am I the only one who noticed that the offensive line blocked better after Pittman put them back in their original positions?

A. I noticed and so did a friend of mine in Texas. I grew up with him. He’s a Baylor fan because his dad graduated from there. He’s also a Cowboys fan and he called me because he was boiling mad about how badly they played Sunday night against the ‘niners. So we discussed that for a while, then I turned the conversation to Arkansas and he said to me, “Do you realize with a few breaks at the right time Arkansas could be undefeated. It’s not like they are getting blown out. They’ve played three of the five best teams in the SEC west and they were all close games.”

He’s able to look at Arkansas’ situation without all the frustration and anger and he sees something totally different from a lot of Razorback fans.

I ended up telling him that Sam Pittman inherited the burden of a bad John L. Smith team, the Bielema years where things got briefly better and then crashed and of course the Chad Morris disaster. A lot of Arkansas fan don’t have the patience for a slow rebuild that goes up and down.

Q. Sed76 wants to know: Why do you think our offense looks so slow? Every play is slow developing and looks like our guys are stuck in mud. Absolutely no explosiveness at all. Don’t recall it looking like that during the first stint of Enos.

A. Some of it is the offense. There’s all that time between plays. Some of the plays are slower developing by design. But mostly it’s something I’ve already mentioned it. It’s indecision on the part of the quarterback. KJ’s head is spinning and his decision making has slowed down.

Q. mousetown says: Pittman’s big flaw is that he hires too many of his buddies. Barry Odom, Scott Fountain, Cody Kennedy and Dan Enos. None of them have been very good and he hasn’t fired any of them. It’s not good business to hire your pals.

A. Generally I would agree with that. I do understand the Odom hire. He had extensive head coaching experience. Pittman had none. He hired Odom not only to be the defensive coordinator but an assistant head coach. Pitman tapped into that experience in the beginning. When the time came Odom left on his own. Not a bad hire at all.

Fountain got off to a rough start and I know some of the fans still want him gone but honestly the special teams have been okay the last couple of years. The complains about Kennedy didn’t start until this season. The Enos hire is the one that stands out. The question is, if the offense and the offensive line don’t turn around Pittman will be faced with a tough decision. Will he replace a couple of his friends. That’s the real issue with hiring a friend. What if you have to fire them, you don’t and it gets you fired?

Q. BloodRedHog asks: Does it seem to you the season is spiraling out of control?

A. If I look at it objectively we have a team that has played LSU, Texas A&M and Ole Miss, probably three of the four best teams in the SEC west. Two were true road games, one was a neutral site game. They didn’t get blown out in any of them. Lost by an average of one touchdown and beat the spread in all three.

If you asked a impartial college football fan, not tied to Arkansas they’re probably gonna say this team is better people realize. Certainly not a team that is spiraling out of control like the two seasons under Chad Morris. The BYU loss is the only that should not have happened. LSU and Ole Miss were winnable games. Mistakes and penalties killed Arkansas. In other words they beat themselves.

The moment of truth for this team and Sam Pittman is going to come after next week. There will be five games left. Mississippi State at home, Florida on the road, Auburn at home, Florida International at home and Missouri at home. All of those games could be winnable. If turns out like that, it’s a 7-5 season. Not great but a lot better than what’s happening now.

With the defense getting better every week they just have to figure out how to get the run game going a bit and KJ back on track.

Q. Razoralex88 says: I believe my optimism just died tonight. I’m being realistic. It looks like bowl eligibility is out of our reach this season. I just hate seeing our guys struggle like this this season. It just hurts my heart for them.

A. It looks like bowl eligibility will come down to beating Mississippi State and getting two wins out of the Auburn, Florida and Missouri games. Two of the three are at home.

Q. Marty Byrde’s proxy wants to know: Is there an overall lack of big play ability on the offense or is the scheme holding some of the would be playmakers back? Big, “chunk” plays are hard to come by.

A. As I’ve said I don’t think this offense is a good fit for KJ but mostly it’s an offensive line issue. If that line could run and pass block consistently the offense would work. There have been a few chunk plays on the ground. AJ Green’s had a 55 yard touchdown run against BYU. In the passing game KJ hit Luke Hasz with a 59 yard TD pass against LSU. There was KJ to Andrew Armstrong for a 48 yard TD at the end of the A&M game. But generally the blocking is not there for chunk plays.

Q. PigDaddyKane asks: As a SWC guy, what are your thoughts on the Utah NIL deal where every player gets a $65,000 Ram truck? When I saw the story I thought of Eric Dickerson’s gold Trans AM.

A. I’m not against NIL but I do think this is not a good idea. What do these players have when the lease runs out? It’s designed to make them happy now. Again my idea of NIL it to have a collective that pays the same to all players. If a more marketable player like a starting quarterback has an NIL agent and he gets him extra money, I’m okay with that but I’m totally against those deals being made during the recruiting process.

(Last updated: 2023-10-09 18:43 PM)