Ask Mike: Offensive Meltdown in Jerry World, Life Without Hasz & How Does Sam Fix It?

By Mike Irwin
on 2023-10-02 20:08 PM

Q. Our first question is from Smalltownhog95 who says: I just don’t get it. A&M stacked the box and we insisted on running into a brick wall, throwing a screen, or running routes that took too long to develop. I was begging for us to run a simple slant or cross to the middle of the field behind their blitzing linebackers.

A. That’s what I saw too. There are ways to counter a heavy pass rush from a stacked defense. Short, quick passes come to mind. Throwing the ball on first down instead of third down also helps. Defenses don’t ten to blitz on first down. Arkansas threw the ball just 18 times in that game. Quarterbacks and receivers need to be in sync. You don’t do that throwing the ball as an afterthought.

That was one of the most ineffectively called games I’ve seen. It seemed like Dan Enos was sending his offense into the strength of A&M’s defense over and over. He made their defensive coordinator’s job easy.

Q. Hogdogger says: On one of the sacks before the ball was snapped the left tackle had his eyes focused on the snap his head was turned to the side and he missed the defender standing right in front of him. The guy just ran right past and clocked K.J. Isn’t that a fundamental that they practice?

A. Well to be fair, how many false start penalties did Arkansas have? After way too many of them against LSU the O-line cut that to zero in the A&M game. One way to do that is to watch the snap. Obviously as soon as you see the snap you have to refocus on the player over you.
Part what was happening to the offensive line was on the play calling but most of it was on the players. I mentioned last week how much the run and pass blocking had improved against LSU. After watching Ole Miss shred the Tigers’ defense for over 700 yards of total offense, a lot of it on the ground, I realized that much of the improvement I saw had to do with the LSU defense Arkansas was going up against. A&M’s defense was at another level.

One of the biggest head scratchers for me is how Sam Pittman let his offensive line get into this poor condition in year four. It’s like he did not see it coming. There have been no answers for the three solid starters he lost last season. An offensive line has to be continuously developed, two, even three years in advance. You don’t often see quick fixes out of the portal along the O-line.

So how did this happen and what is Pittman going to do to fix it? If he can’t get some improvement this season I think he’s got a major problem moving forward.

Q. Patboat says: This team has a ton of holes but in your opinion. What’s the top 3 and how do we fix it this year?

A. We just talked about it. The offense is wrong for KJ Jefferson and the running backs as well. They’re RPO guys, not pro style. The second big issue is play calling. It largely hasn’t worked. The third and biggest issue is an offensive line that struggled against BYU and was manhandled by Texas A&M.

Q. Mousetown wants to know: Did you just ask Hunter Yurachek to fire Sam Pittman? A friend told me you wrote an article after the game pretty much implying that Pittman needs to be gone.

A. Your friend didn’t read the opinion piece very well. I challenged Yurachek to fix the problem but I offered no advice on how to do it. I do not get paid to solve problems within the athletic department. He does. Based on the job Yurachek done so far as Arkansas’ AD I have every reason to believe that he will fix it. If he ends up making a change a the top of the football program so be it. My guess is firing Pittman is not his first option.

We will see.

Q. Calen Keiser asks: Since you challenged Hunter Yurachek to “fix” the problem could you explain why he hired a guy with no head coaching experience to fix the problem after he fired Chad Morris. Doesn’t sound like a fix to me.

A. You have to go back four years ago to understand how that came about. Yurachek reached out to a number of successful, proven head coaches. He got no takers. The issue at that time was a team full of players who had given up on Chad Morris. They did not trust him to run the program. We didn’t interviews with them. That’s what they said.

Yurachek had been impressed with the job Barry Lunney Jr. did as the Interim head coach after Morris was fired with two games left in the season. They played a lot harder and a lot smarter. So he was granted a courtesy interview for the job. Yuracheck said he was blown away with Lunney Jr’s. presentation. He had a recruiting plan and a plan to improve the walk on program in state. He offered a list of assistant coaches he would hire.

However, the board of trustees balked at hiring Lunney Jr.

Pittman had a long list of former Arkansas football players lobbying for him so Yurachek decided to give him a call. Much in the way that Eric Musselman convinced Yurachek over the phone that he was the right man to direct the Hogs’ basketball program, Pittman won Arkansas AD over almost immediately.

It certainly that looked like a good hire the first two seasons. But the program appears to be regressing.

Q. Loy Ledbetter asks: Is it possible that Enos doesn’t have the wrong offense but the wrong QB to run it? Criswell looked good to me his one time in a game. He directed a touchdown drive and threw a TD pass. Why not give him a shot?

A. Do I think the answer is to bench K.J. ? Absolutely not. The answer is to change the offense to fit him better. At some point, if this team continues to lose games, we will probably see Criswell but I don’t think we’re at that point.

Q. Razoralex88 says: Something SURELY has to break eventually like it did in 2014 vs LSU (17-0) and again in 2020 vs Miss. St after 2 years of HORRID football. We desperately need a breakthrough this season

We cleaned up on penalties and defense played very well. So glad we ended the game with the defensive stand. But we need more execution on offense! This offense makes me want to pull the rest of my hair out. This season has turned into a real test of fortitude as a Razorback fan.

A. I like responses like this. It shows me that there are fans out there who continue to believe a turnaround is possible.

Q. AlabamaHog says: During CSP first tenure as OL coach, the Razorbacks OL was a beast and were known their physicality. Is the OL just young and inexperienced and that contributes to their lack of physicality?

A. There’s only one second year player starting on the O-line, Patrick Kutas, a 4-star lineman out of Memphis. He played in all 13 games last season, not on the O-line but on special teams where he still had to block for punts, field goals and extra points. With the other starters you have a third-year player, a fourth-year player and two fifth-year guys. Arkansas averages 316 pounds along the line, ranging in height from 6-5 all the way up to 6-10. These aren’t small guys. They have experience. They are not rookies.

From my experience talking to coaches over the years, a lack of physicality from offensive linemen often is the result of poor technique. Confusion, not knowing the offense, or being played out of position can also cause this.

Q. WVHogfan says: I am not superstitious, but I believe we have only won 1 game while wearing the white helmets. At least we haven’t worn the anthracite colors. What do you think?

A. I don’t like anthracite. I wish they would burn those things. I do like the white helmet because it makes the red hog logo pop but I am superstitious. Put the white helmets in the equipment room and leave them until this football program gets a lot better.

Q. Swine American says: When Sam Pittman was hired I was skeptical but after his first and second year on the job he proved to me why he deserved the job. After yesterday’s debacle (and others during his 3rd and 4th year) he needs to prove to me (and lots of Arkansas alumni and hard working Hog fans) why he deserves to keep it.

A. The question is how does he do that? The quickest way is to turn this season around. Get the O-line working better. Get Enos to make some adjustments to the offense that work. Get KJ Jefferson back on track. Get another tight end into the mix. Get more receivers involved.

Q. Bobby Bones says: I do believe we will beat Ole Miss. And I believe we turn this season around. I believe we still win 8 games. I believe in coach Sam Pittman. I believe in aliens.

A. Bobby Bones is a really funny guy. He’s also huge Hog fan but does he really believe this or is it sarcasm? The UFO reference sort of throws me. Somebody should ask him.

Q. sgiles wants to know: Is it possible you guys underestimated the Aggies? There seemed to be a feeling from our media that Arkansas was gonna beat those guys and yet we pretty much got blown out.

A. Oh, absolutely we underestimated the Aggies. After watching that game they are better than I thought they were. They have better players than Arkansas overall mostly due to their NIL spending. A&M has been trying to buy a championship in football since I was a kid. Maybe they finally did it. We will see. The Alabama game this week will be a big test for them.

Q. tophawg19 asks: Can you update on Shamar Easter? Does he have the speed to fill the role Hasz was playing ? What has happened to Gumms and TY Washington. Both looked the part but haven’t seen much from either.

A. Pittman said none of the current tight ends behind Hasz have a complete game. Some are better blockers. Some are better receivers. They will get on the field based on the play that is called. Also running back Dominique Johnson will be moved to tight end as an experiment to see how he looks.

Q. parallaxpig asks: Is Sam Pittman Bielema 2.0 in sense he is replacing coaching staff with inferior coaches? May be too early to tell on defensive side but offensive side seems to fit the bill.

A. Overall he’s done a good job of replacing coaches. This Enos hire is the only one that stands out as questionable, at least at this time. Let’s hope it’s not his downfall.

Q. BloodRedHog says: An objective look at the remaining schedule probably means the Hogs finish 4-8. It’s year 4 – could Pittman survive a 4-8 finish?

A. Only Hunter Yurachek knows the answer to that question but it appears at this point that he would. I would think that Pittman would have to make some changes on the offensive staff. The one thing I hear over and over is what a shame it would be if Pittman was replaced and Arkansas lost the current defensive staff. I agree with that. Travis Williams and his staff are keepers.

Q. Marty Byrde’s proxy wants to know: Any word out of the basketball facility about Jalen Graham’s progress? Is he improving enough defensively to stay on the court? Who will be the newcomers with biggest impact?

A. Muss is pleased with the progress he’s making as a defensive player. The one thing our Kevin McPherson noticed in that workout session we saw was his court awareness on the offensive end. Muss is big on assists. After games he’s always pointing out the number of assists the team had. With so many scorers and play makers on this team, forcing the ball as Graham did at times last year, is not necessary. If you don’t have a clear path to the rim or an open shot, look for your teammates.

(Last updated: 2023-10-02 20:08 PM)