Bruce James doesn’t blame the coaches.
The former Razorback All-American defensive lineman, whose teams won 85% of their games under Frank Broyles, has for decades held back nothing in criticizing the likes of Houston Nutt and Bret Bielema.
But when it comes to the defining game of the Razorbacks’ 2019 season so far, the upset loss to San Jose State, he says the onus is by and large on the players.
On a segment on KATV, James points to two reasons behind the Hogs’ stunning 31-24 home defeat — a lack of effort and a lack of IQ, which he defines as “do your assignment, don’t make mental breaks, play with enthusiasm.”
“I didn’t see anybody coach this guy to throw five interceptions said James, referring to Nick Starkel, or the defensive coordinator cause someone to have a mental bust on the first or second play which cost us six points.”
Later, James goes on: “If you’re a real football player, you don’t need any motivation. If you’re not motivated in the SEC to go out there and perform for your home state and school, then you really need to not play football.”
OK, so the damage was done against San Jose State. Perhaps the Razorback players used up all their excess energy and motivation dancing away in “Club Dub” the previous week. Perhaps they would have underestimated the Spartans no matter what their coaches told them.
Yet, in theory, there’s a sliver lining if you squint hard enough. These players have had two important lessons seared onto their souls forever: Never underestimate any opponent, and always know that, in Division I football, a lesser talented foe has a shot against a much more talented foe, no matter the talent/athleticism gap.
So, as co-commentater David Bazzel asks, do the Hogs have any hope heading into the thick of the SEC schedule, starting with Texas A&M this week?
“Yes,” James said.
Then he qualified: “I’m not talking about where we win the ballgame. I’m talking about where you’re competitive and proud of your effort and all that.”
The Hogs must play with disciplined ferocity. On offense, protect the quarterback, don’t overthrow passes, don’t drop passes. On defense, don’t allow a boatload of Aggie receivers to get loose in the secondary, force turnovers, rush the quarterback.
“If you do all those things, you’ll be respectable. But if you go out there like a bunch of clowns and you start making mental mistakes, then’s it’s going to blow open real fast and you’re going to get embarrassed.”
“This is the time for Razorback football players to ask themselves — ‘Do I have any pride?'”
This isn’t the first time James has laid into the Razorback players’ lack of effort in a non-club setting. In my below post, from Nov. 22, 2018, he explains how “we’ve lost our pride” and how the Razorback football program can get that back.
by Evin Demirel
When it comes to Arkansas football as of late, fans have little to be thankful for.
The 2-9 record is bad enough, of course. Then there’s the way everything fell apart the last loss, a 52-6 shellacking at Mississippi State. “When adversity hits this football team, they just tend to crumble,” former Arkansas quarterback Clint Stoerner said.
It’s been this way for about a quarter of a decade now. Extending back to the Bret Bielema era, Arkansas has lost 16 games in which it entered the fourth quarter with a lead.
Not all hope is lost, however.
Former Razorback football players still have plenty of passion for the program. They are calling the current players out, holding their feet to the fire.
Bruce James, an All-American Razorback whose teams won 85% of their games under Frank Broyles, doesn’t hold back in his assessment. “We’ve lost our identity,” he recently said on KATV. For decades, coaches like Broyles and his successor Lou Holtz ingrained into their players an attitude of playing extremely tough and hard. He continued:
“I think that the mentality of this football team is one of a loser. And that’s tough to say, because we are Razorbacks. Both of us are former players, and we know how you’re supposed to feel when you put that hog on the side of your head. And you go out to play, you give it everything you got, whether you’re the best man or not. You’ve got to play hard every day.”
WATCH BRUCE JAMES AND DAVID BAZZEL DISCUSS ARKANSAS FOOTBALL
— Steve Sullivan (@sully7777) November 22, 2018
It’s a “shame” that the “fighting Razorback” spirit is gone, James said. It must be brought back, he added.
First, this isn’t a talent issue. Sure, the Hogs need a major influx. And coach Chad Morris has a stellar Razorback recruiting class coming in. But the bigger question is if he can get the right types of players. As Stoerner said, “If one of your priorities in recruiting is not to find guys who just have an insane amount of competitiveness in their DNA, then I just think you’re missing the boat.”
At the same time, Morris needs to lay down the law with his current players.
He’s already done that in the aftermath of the “Flirtgate,” in which defensive backs Kamren Curl and Ryan Pulley were spied by former Razorback/TV reporter DJ Williams getting their mac on with Mississippi State dance members.
The pre-game incident made national waves. As Yahoo! sports columnist Dan Wetzel pointed out, compared to the other serious problems coaches and players get themselves into, public pre-game flirting is small beans. It’s true. In some situations, Pulley and Curl would deserve in-house shaming/joshing from mature teammates and coaches and that would be that. They would learn their lesson, and that would be that.
However, this is not one of those situations.
Arkansas, apparently, doesn’t have enough mature upperclassmen to handle these scenarios in house. “It appears right now there’s a struggle for leadership from within,” Stoerner told sports radio host Bo Mattingly. “Who’s policing the locker room? Who’s grabbing Pulley and Curl and saying ‘C’mon, man, y’all don’t do that.’”
Listen to Clint Stoerner’s take on Sports Talk with Bo Mattingly
So Chad Morris stepped in and suspended Kamren Curl and Ryan Pulley for the Razorback football finale — an act some say is too heavy-handed. Dan Wetzel, for one, made fun of Morris’ decision. “Coach, buddy, you’ve had one winning season in your college coaching career and you’re being paid $3.5 million a year,” he wrote. “Things are good. R-E-L-A-X.”
Thing is, Razorback football has seen plenty of the R-E-L-A-X approach these last few years. Bret Bielema — with his reggae music, flip flops and those cookie-baking “let it all hang out” documentaries — delivered it in spades.
“Did you eat that cookie I made for you. Can you believe I made that big thing?”
Arkansas doesn’t need any more of this. It also doesn’t need the opposite extreme, either. Don’t bring back a borderline antisocial-type, a Bobby Petrino who treats players like they are no more than X’s and O’s. Arkansas simply needs a coach who’s knows how to strike the right balance between the two.
In time, Morris will find that balance. For most of his first year, he played the role of the nice guy. That time appears to be over. By suspending Curl and Pulley, he set a precedent and a tone for the entire off-season.
How far should he go before he (and his upperclassmen) can re-establish the Razorback pride Bruce James and other former players want to see? For Clint Stoerner, the path is clear cut: ‘You start with 27 seniors, and by Senior Day you have 15. You discipline a couple of those guys, and if they act like they don’t want to buy in, well, their option is to get out.”