Ask Mike: Play Calling Woes, Broken Tackles & Was Bobby Trying to Embarrass Us?

By Mike Irwin
on 2022-09-19 17:54 PM

Q. Our first question is from MetropolisHog who says: I think our starters came into the game not expecting to play very long. At the same time Bobby Petrino came in wanting to show Arkansas what could have been 10 years ago. What are your thoughts?

A. I have been told by people who know him well that Petrino holds no grudges against Arkansas. He blames himself for getting fired. All he was trying to do was win the game. It’s what all coaches do. He apparently got really emotional when he left the field because after being around Arkansas fans again for almost four hours he was reminded once again of what he had when he was here.

Q. Jeff Matthews says: Nothing Kendal Briles does makes sense. Been saying it for 3 years now.

A. Way too many fans think that every play Arkansas runs is called by Kendal Briles. He is the offensive coordinator but Sam Pittman is his boss and Pittman drops clues all the time that he has a lot to do with play calling.

I think Pittman’s game plan for Missouri State was to run right at them. Play ball control with long drives, keeping Petrino’s offense off the field as much as possible. The problem was, that strategy didn’t work. Look at the first possession. Rocket Sanders up the middle for three yards. Rocket Sanders up the middle for two yards. Incomplete pass on third down. Punt.

That kind of stuff, plus two fumbles, had the opposite effect of what Pittman wanted. Petrino’s offense was on the field a lot, eventually resulting in a 17-0 lead. It was only then that the play calling changed. Arkansas started throwing the ball and scored two quick touchdowns before halftime.

But what happened next? Pittman came out of the locker-room and told Tera Talmadge that Arkansas needed to run the ball more in the second half. Guess what? The Hogs scored three points in the 3rd quarter and ended up down by 10 points in the 4th quarter. They opened up the offense again and that, plus a great punt return by Bryce Stephens, put Arkansas in front for the first time in the game and they never trailed again.

Q. AlabamaHog says: Coach Sam Pittman stated that he was outcoached, do you agree with his assessment or was that just coach speak to shift the heat from the players?

A. I think he got outcoached from a play calling standpoint and I believe that’s what he was referring to. For too much of that game Arkansas played into Missouri State’s hands by running into the strength of the Bears’ defense. So yes, I agree with that assessment and I think Sam was sincere when he said it. Sam Pittman doesn’t do coach speak. That’s one reason why the fans like him so much.

Q. Peter N. Hirass says: Running it on 4th and 9 and then not letting KJ go on 4th and 3 ruined his confidence.

A. First of all I don’t think he lacked confidence. At several points in the game K.J. was hamstrung by questionable play calling. Still he ended up passing for almost 400 yards, a personal best for him. He also ran for another 40 and accounted for three more touchdowns. He threw his first pick of the season but his TD to interception ratio is still 6 to 1.

Q. Adam Dodson says: It’s crazy what doing anything other than running up the middle will do for you.

A. This was tweeted to me right after Arkansas had gone 85 yards on back to back passes to pull to within 3 points of Missouri State at halftime and I totally agree with the tweet.

Here’s an interesting stat: 50% percent of Arkansas’ total offense came on just eight plays. Those eight plays were all passes. 77% of Jefferson’s passing numbers came on those 8 plays. Arkansas had 66 offensive snaps and they did all of that on just eight of them. That’s efficiency vs. spinning your wheels.

Q. Josh Brown says: Passed for 362 so far. Don’t think it’s an issue…

A. This is a great example of the kind of stuff that gets posted during a game with no context. Yes by the time this game was over Jefferson’s passing numbers were a single game record for him. But two different times in the game Arkansas looked to be in serious trouble and a lack of diversity in its offense was the issue.

If the run-between-the-tackles strategy that we saw for a good part of that game had continued not only would Jefferson’s passing numbers have been way down but Missouri State would have likely won the game.

Q. Reacting to Jalen Catalon’s season ending injury Slobberslob says: I was concerned that the secondary might not hold up. I’m so happy that they put my fears to rest. With Slush back what are you thinking for post season potential?

A. Slush is supposed to play this week. LaDarrius Bishop also missed the Missouri St. game and I’m not sure about his status. The secondary is clearly the only real weak spot on this team. They’ve been lucky so far. In every game the opposing quarterback has overthrown receivers who had gotten completely behind Arkansas’ secondary. In SEC play they’re not going to continue to get away with that.

The other big issue is missed tackles. For the second straight game that was a problem. The Razorbacks are last in the BCS in passing yards given up but get this: About half of those yards are YAC’s. So if they stop over running the ball carriers and go back to fundamental tackling, I think the situation in the secondary is manageable. Hopefully they’ll get it corrected by Saturday.

Q. RazorAlex88 says: 3 straight home games and I must say all 3 were ELECTRIC ATMOSPHERES! We got ourselves a 12th Man in Razorback Nation in DWRRS! I cannot wait to experience Bama game in 2 weeks!!

A. Three straight games of over 70 thousand in the stands. I don’t think that’s happened before. The 2010 Alabama game remains to this day the loudest I’ve ever heard Reynolds Razorback Stadium. I think there’s a chance the crowd in two weeks will eclipse that. It depends of how the Hogs play in that game.

Being in the top 10 helps a lot. There is a part of the fan base that will come to a game if the Hogs are ranked that high but won’t if they’re unranked or maybe just in the top 25.

Q. Tim Te NO says: With the NIL ruling coming down, a new college football video game was announced. They give every team a rating on how good they are, from 0 to 99. What rating, from 0 to 99, do you think the Razorbacks should get?

A. I’d give them a 90. Correct some of the problems on defense and use the passing game more and I might go to 95.

Q. Marty Byrde’s proxy wants to know: Being a native Texan, did your perception of the Aggies change after you started covering the Hogs and the SWC? It seems the Aggies have always underachieved.

A. Historically Texas has underachieved more than the Aggies. My first memories of A&M comes from sitting in the visitors section of Jones Stadium in Lubbock. I was using my lawn mowing money to buy tickets and those seats were cheap. Texas fans were arrogant and making fun of the Lubbock area. The Aggies didn’t do that but they were just strange to be around. They seemed to be more interested in their traditions than what was going on in the game and if they lost they didn’t get upset. It was like they were just one game away from turning things around and that would happen in the next game.

Covering A&M on a press pass allowed me to go to games in College Station for the first time and that was totally bizarre. A whole city, an entire university campus and a packed stadium full of Aggies.

A&M’s recruiting went up when they joined the SEC. They have better players these days and yes, they still underachieve, maybe because their players and coaches get weirded out living in a whacky environment every day.

Q. teamOTIS says: Almost every Tusk has had a positive win/loss ratio except for Tusk V. Tusk V’s record is 16-21 since taking over for his father Tusk IV, who finished 44-44. Do you think that Arkansas will win enough games for Tusk V to have more wins than losses by the end of the season?

A. An odd question but I’ll take a stab at it. It was his misfortune to be the mascot during Chad Morris second 2-10 season and Pittman’s 3-7 COVID year. If those numbers are correct, and I’m not going to look it up, then Tusk V is 5 games under .500 in his time as the official Hogs mascot. But five games? He can make that up by next season if Arkansas’ success under Pittman continues.

Q. PorkSoda wants to know: Do you think some of the hate for Petrino in Arkansas will settle down after this game? I think he conducted himself well, and showed that despite dropping to the FCS level, he is an elite coach. Is it time to finally make peace and move on?

A. Based on friends I have and others I follow on Twitter and Facebook I’d say this fan base is divided over Petrino. Some forgave him a long time ago. Others show no sign of changing their opinion of him. As long as the two teams don’t play it usually stays in the background. If Petrino leaves Missouri St. for a BCS job I hope it’s not Auburn. Let him go to Nebraska or Arizona State.

Is it time to make piece and move on? I’m cool with that but some Hogs fans are not going to do it.

Q. Mousetown asks: Did you get along with Petrino? Ho does he compare with Lou Holtz in terms of being hard to deal with?

A. I got along with him fine. Petrino was tough on his players and he wasn’t friendly at all to the workers in the Broyles center. Like Lou, he even managed to tick off a few boosters but the media never had a problem with him. If you talk to the Razorback media, going back several years, the issue we have is with coaches being late to press conferences. Sometimes we’ll sit in that room for 45 minutes to an hour waiting on coaches and players.

Petrino was never late. He walked into the room at exactly the announced time.

I played golf with him before his first season at Arkansas. I told him a story about my first coach in Jr. High. A guy very much like him. Mean as hell. Tough on us. Ran a lot of guys off. But he’s always told us, you have a chance to be a good player if you don’t quit. But if you quit you’ll spend the rest of your life bailing out in difficult situations.

Petrino liked that story and he was always extra nice to me after that day.

Q. Finally there is this question from a customer at the Stadium Shoppe on Razorback Road. A guy’s guy says: Why is that new girl Courtney such a bad texter? Asking for a friend.

A. I’ll give you my take. She’s not a bad texter. She’s a reluctant or tardy texter. There are some people who, when you text them, startle you because, BOOM! There’s an answer fired back at you in a matter of seconds. Courtney’s the opposite of that. You text her and you might get a response a week later. By that time you’ve forgotten the original text and you’re like, What’s this about?

Courtney says she’s very busy and it takes time for her to answer her texts messages. She promises to do better but she wants to know who “A guy’s guy” really is.

(Last updated: 2022-09-19 17:54 PM)