So, when do we see the billboard depicting former Arkansas offensive coordinator Kendal Briles saying, “Miss me yet?”
After watching a fourth one-possession loss this past weekend, many Arkansas football fans were left wondering what if Briles had stayed on the Hill instead of taking off to TCU. It’s understandable, because “close” only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, as they say.
Briles still doesn’t get a pass from most of Razorback nation for not having a second-team quarterback ready to go last season, especially given KJ Jefferson’s style of play. But what really got under the skin of Hog fans were not the trick plays per se, but rather the timing of when they were called. And then, of course, there was the inability to move the pile in short yardage.
Last January, when Briles started talking to Arkansas’ next opponent, Mississippi State, about half the fanbase essentially said “don’t let the doorknob hit you in the @$$…..” This is despite his offense averaging 32.5 points and masterminding the 14th-best total offense in the country. Somehow, Briles got the blame for a subpar season when it was abundantly clear that Barry Odom’s defense, or lack thereof, was the problem.
Dan Enos’ Return to Arkansas Football
So, when Sam Pittman knew he needed to make a hire, he went in the opposite direction. He hired Razorback retread Dan Enos, a friend from one overlapping season in the Bret Bielema era.
Enos’ calling card has long been the load of current NFL QBs he’s coached. Indeed, the fact that a bunch of former students are in the NFL can’t be denied. Just as undeniable is that almost half of them were at Alabama during Enos’ one year there and included Tua Tagovailoa, Jalen Hurts and Mac Jones who would all be in the NFL even if my ex-wife coached them.
On the flip side, if it turns out KJ Jefferson doesn’t play in the NFL, Enos should take more blame for ruining him than credit for getting the other ones a Sunday paycheck.
As at least one story goes, Pittman needed to show the world his program wasn’t falling apart as a mass exodus to the portal occurred after 2022. Apparently, without closely looking at the typical Enos offensive output (about 28 ppg), he gave Enos a contract.
For my money, the Enos hire may rank right up there with the decision to bring John L. Smith back to babysit a team that should have been a lot better than it was even without Bobby Petrino at the helm.
Dan Enos vs. Kendal Briles
But back to quirk-play Kendal. There’s a difference between trick plays and a creative offense. Briles had both, but was more creative than tricky. Keeping the defense guessing is what led to that impressive total offense ranking.
Dan Enos, on the other hand, has neither. He doesn’t call trick plays, nor will he ever be accused of being creative. If opposing defenses are guessing, all of them seem to have an uncanny knack for guessing correctly.
Under Enos, the Hogs average 29.8 points per game. Not enough to convince you that the Hogs could sure use Kendal Briles back on the sideline? It shouldn’t be. But let’s peel away another layer of the onion.
The 2023 defense has three touchdowns to its credit and special teams have one. Take those away (because Enos had no role in them) and the Hogs average 25.8 per game. Just for fun, and because we should, let’s remove that rent-a-win against Western Carolina Sisters of Mercy Magnet Charter School from the mix and the Hogs average 22 offensive points per game. Thankfully, Arkansas is tied for No. 1 in defensive TDs scored.
The only help Briles got last year came in the form of a Bryce Stephens punt return against Missouri State and a pair of safeties. Even if you take those – and the FCS game – out, the Razorbacks still put up 31.8 offensive points per game against FBS competition
For the mathematically challenged, last year’s Hogs scored nearly 10 more offensive points per game than this year. And, to rub salt in the wound, TCU is ranked 12th in total offense vs. Enos’ No. 116 ranking. The Horned Frogs are also averaging almost one more offensive touchdown per game than the Razorbacks (27 vs. 21 in seven games).
If you’re not clinically depressed yet, here’s another tidbit: Cam Little is arguably the brightest spot on the entire Arkansas football roster. He’s hit 11 of 12 field goals, including four of 50-plus yards over the last three weeks. Think of the scoring average without the 33 points in field goals he’s produced.
What really brings all of this into focus, however, is what TCU and Briles did to BYU in the game immediately following Arkansas’ 24-21 loss to Alabama on ESPN. The Horned Frogs crushed the Cougars 44-11 in Fort Worth.
Briles’ Hypothetical Impact at Arkansas in 2023
Deion Sanders can say what he wants about Kendal Briles, but TCU scored as many offensive points in the first 22 minutes against BYU at home as Arkansas scored in 60 at home under Dan Enos’ guidance.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that as close as the Hogs played Alabama, they amassed an anemic 250 yards of offense. The only team to do worse against the Tide was Middle freakin’ Tennessee. The Hogs can thank their 51st-ranked defense for even being competitive in these games.
It should be no surprise that some on the Twittersphere have suggested this team would be 6-1 if Briles was still calling plays for Arkansas football:
Only one loss? Maybe. That’s pretty aggressive, but 5-2 isn’t a reach and I consider 4-3 practically a guarantee. One of those extra wins would have come in the home game vs BYU, when the offensive line imploded in crunch time.
Also, with Briles running the show, Arkansas would have likely beaten Ole Miss considering the Hogs held the Rebels’ high-powered offense to just 27 points. That gets the Hogs to 4-3. After that, Texas A&M had and has had the Arkansas football program’s number forever. But LSU and Alabama were both winnable with a little more offense and touchdowns instead of field goals.
Looking Ahead to Arkansas vs Mississippi State
Now, it’s time to turn the page to Mississippi State, which is reportedly going to be standing room only. That’s hard to believe, but keep in mind, Kent State had an announced crowd of 73,000-plus. If you were there, like I was, you may not believe that number. Don’t bet on an actual full stadium on Saturday, however.
One reason is that while fans go to games to see their team win, they really get fired up to see points scored. Hence the rule changes favorable to the offense.
Here’s the deal: I’d estimate there are at least 100 offensive coordinators in the FBS who are doing a better job managing their offense than Enos. Unless they’re already in the SEC, chances are they would give their left…ummmm…arm for a chance to coach in the league. Is it too much to believe that one of them would take, say, $800,000 per year for the opportunity? They would, but it would mean Pittman will have to fire a friend. Can he do it?
Consider that Pittman might not have had to actually say “you’re fired” to his close friend Barry Odom before Odom took the UNLV job, but the writing was on the wall. The writing is on the wall again this time around, and Pittman and Enos are not as close.
Sam Pittman on Travis Williams and other New Assistants
Below is an excerpt from Pittman’s Wednesday press conference:
“Your nightmare is losing coordinators, and not because you can’t replace them but it’s because they’re different people. So the way that they communicate with the kids, obviously verbiage is different, all these type things.”
“But if you have a good man, and one that is very concerned about having success and very concerned about the kids, these guys have just continued to work hard. And what I’m seeing is kids not making as many mistakes. I’m seeing them play extremely hard, which means they like the coaches. They believe in the coaches.”
“And then I’m seeing our physicality grow as each week comes, which also brings confidence. So, that’s all a lot about T-Will, that part of the staff… that defensive side of the staff. And they are high energy. And the thing I like about them is they’ll call a player in there. They’re just going to put it blunt. This is the truth. And I think our kids respect that, as well.”
Matt Besser is no gentleman, but he calls out Arkansas’ worst sports bar and hates on cowbells:
More coverage of Arkansas football and Kendal Briles from BoAS…