by Nate Olson
Halfway through his second year, it’s hard to find a Chad Morris supporter. The Arkansas coach alarmed Hog fans with a 2-10 debut last year, but after securing a solid recruiting class, he calmed some nerves. He spent the offseason on the banquet circuit convincing fans his team would be better in Year 2.
Hogs fans are still waiting, and they aren’t very patient. It seems like losing to a struggling Kentucky, who featured a wide receiver at quarterback, was the last straw. Below are five red flags that should cause concern. These are all factors that shouldn’t be evident Year 2 by a coach who has things moving in the right direction. What the end result of back-to-back hapless seasons is, I am not sure, but the following has to draw the attention of UA brass and boosters.
1. San Jose State Loss
Arkansas was riding high, too high, following a home win against Colorado State in September. The Hogs were confident with Mountain West bottom feeder San Jose State, one of the worst football programs in NCAA Division I, heading to Fayetteville.
Games like this are the prescription an ailing Power 5 program needs and inches a rebuilding team closer to a bowl bid. Wrong. It became Morris’ worst nightmare when his team celebrated the CSU win all week. San Jose State had a week to prepare for Arkansas and dominated them. Arkansas got back in the game, but the Spartans embarked on a long drive to seal the win in the final minutes. Adding more insult to injury, tt’s one of Arkansas’ worst losses in school history and will haunt Morris as long as he is the Arkansas coach. His deer-in-the-headlights look at the post-game presser added to the anguish.
2. Quarterback Indecision
Last year it was Ty Storey and Cole Kelley. This year it’s senior graduate transfer Ben Hicks and junior Nick Starkel. Hicks struggled early. Starkel became the starter and threw five picks against SJSU. Hicks relieved an injured Starkel against Texas A&M and an ineffective Starkel at Kentucky. Now, both QBs are in play. There has been no discussion of another QB being used which has frustrated fans who would like to see highly touted freshman K.J. Jefferson.
How the competition was managed and the lack of improvement by Starkel, who Morris seemed determined to stick with, is a problem. It’s alarming that the staff can’t manage it better and that there may not be a quarterback on the roster talented enough to run the high-octane offense.
3. The Defense
John Chavis is one of the great defensive coordinators in college football history, but it appears his run is coming to an end. The Hogs defense has been a train wreck. It seems to be a combination of no talent or execution. Bad combo. It was on full display last Saturday in Lexington when UK receiver Lynn Bowden lined up at QB and ran for nearly 200 yards and passed for close to 100. How does that happen? Individual defensive players have not improved nor has the unit. Chavis seems like a likely candidate to be dismissed as collateral damage if Morris survives Year 2.
In the wake of the poor start, two verbal commits reopened their recruitment and current Hogs cornerback Devin Bush and linebacker D’Vone McClure have both entered the transfer portal. While rumors of star players transferring may not be true, it’s a safe bet that more players will follow. Recruiting has been one of Morris’ highlights. If he can’t overcome that, it will be a major blow.
5. Lack of Improvement
No one expected Arkansas to go 9-3 this year, or they shouldn’t, but even the biggest skeptics wouldn’t have predicted 3-9 or 2-10 which looks to be where the Hogs are headed. It’s clear that Morris inherited a dumpster fire and that rebuilding in the SEC West is a momentous challenge. We get it. However, a coach has to show signs that the rebuild is moving the right direction. There has been no evidence of that in 2019. The team is just as bad as last year. Unless something changes dramatically, it would be hard to argue that that next year will be better. That’s what must happen for an administration to continue to back a coach. There should be some strides made Year 2.