What’s the difference between an excuse and a reason?
Arkansas’ defense is running short on the latter and starting to get too far into the former. After giving up 555 yards on Saturday, the Razorbacks are going to fall even further from their position as the 90th-best defense in the country. There’s bad and there’s miserable. Saturday was miserable.
Not that it needs to be said, but for argument’s sake, let’s: Alabama is one of the best teams on the planet. Nick Saban is, according to Arkansas football coach Sam Pittman, the best coach in college football history. The Crimson Tide were always expected to dispatch the Razorbacks on Saturday and ultimately did so by about the expected amount, 49-26.
Alabama never should have picked up 555 yards of offense against a team with Drew Sanders, Bumper Pool and Myles Slusher on defense. Saban’s bunch didn’t have the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Bryce Young, but for a quarter, plus a series. His replacement was a redshirt freshman who threw nine passes and completed just four of them. Even with an almost non-existent passing game after Young left with a shoulder injury in the second quarter, the Crimson Tide still put together runs of 77, 76 and 72 yards.
Yet Another Alabama Defeat
Slusher gave up two big passing plays early. He was bothered by a calf issue, Pittman said after the game.
Pool or Sanders, it’s not totally clear which, appeared to miss an assignment as a spy on Jalen Milroe’s 77-yard gash in the fourth quarter. They combined for 22 tackles.
Arkansas secondary gave up 273 yards passing on 11 completions. They were without Slusher (for parts), All-American safety Jalen Catalon and last year’s starting cornerback LaDarrius Bishop.
That’s the difference between excuses and reasons.
At some point, the disaster will truly strike. Maybe it did on Saturday. Fans were plenty angry during and after the game. Some (of the more insane types) were calling for major coaching changes across the board. While that’s a bridge too far five games into the season and just two weeks after being ranked No. 9 in the country, it is worth considering just how bad things have gotten on defensive coordinator Barry Odom’s side of the ball.
Odom earned tons of grace and good will after the Razorbacks went 9-4 last year. The Razorbacks’ faithful were ecstatic in March when he and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles signed extensions through 2024. Arkansas’ DC likely embraced the love considering he was practically ran out of Columbia, Missouri, after going 25-25 in four seasons. Now, a week after Briles was torched by the fandom and Pittman was asked about his play-calling, the pitchforks are coming for Odom while former team entered Saturday ranked 20th in total defense.
The reality is Arkansas gives up 400-plus yards a game and has the 126th-ranked passing defense in FBS. Those totals and that ranking aren’t sustainable if the Razorbacks want to repeat last year’s nine-win season. Texas A&M and Alabama are hardly slouches – both were picked to be better than the Hogs this season and both have rosters filled with superior recruits. But Cincinnati dropped 438 yards in Week 1. South Carolina threw for 376 in Week 2. Bobby Petrino’s FCS team hung 357 through the air alone in Week 3.
Who Shoulders Blame for Arkansas Football
Both Odom, who runs the safeties, and Dominique Bowman, who coaches the cornerbacks, shoulder some of the blame. Injuries have taken their toll, certainly, but Arkansas’ secondary was supposed to be the deepest unit on the roster entering the season. Jayden Johnson, Simeon Blair, Hudson Clark, Latavious Brini and Dwight McGlothern were established players in the SEC. McGlothern had another interception Saturday, his third of the year, but was otherwise absent.
Linebackers coach Michael Scherer, who came to Arkansas with Odom from Missouri, doesn’t have many bodies, either. The position has lacked depth in the program for going on 10 years now. But Sanders, despite his SEC-leading 6 1/5 sacks, has gone quiet at times. In his fifth and final year the seasoned Pool has missed more tackles, by the eyeball test, in five games than he did all of last season.
Something is up. I mean, besides the opposition’s yardage totals. Tackles are being missed, which is on the players. But are they even being put in the best position to make such tackles? Frankly, I’m not smart enough to know. Last year Arkansas’ defense bent, certainly, to the tune of No. 50 ranking in total defense. That’s hardly breaking, though.
This season, it has been broken. Texas A&M is the only Arkansas opponent that has had fewer than 400 yards against the Razorbacks this fall. And the Hogs lost that game.
It isn’t too late for a fix, certainly. Seven games remain in the regular season. But with Mississippi State on the ledger in Week 6, Arkansas football fans – and Arkansas players and coaches, too, in fairness – would like to see healing begin sooner rather than later. With Will Rogers at the helm, the Bulldogs throw for 351 yards a game. Another performance like most of the ones this year and Mike Leach will have beaten Pittman for the first time.
At that point, the crazies calling for jobs might be able to start talking their way out of the institution.
Although Bumper Pool had far from his best performance vs Alabama, he still has plenty of fans who keep looking up to him. The below shows the same kind of generosity which made Kevin Kopps so beloved:
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