Jim Donnan thinks Arkansas will win some games this year. The former Georgia head coach believes there will be a bounce back this week against Texas Tech, too.
"I think they will come back this week," he said at the Northwest Arkansas Touchdown Club on Wednesday.
But Donnan isn't sure that Arkansas measures up to the hype that surrounded the program in the last few months based on last year and what he saw against Toledo. The Hogs lost a 16-12 decision to Toledo on Saturday. They meet Tech at 6 p.m. Saturday in Fayetteville. Donnan said losing Jonathan Williams to injury was a severe blow.
"They still have a shot at winning a lot of games this year," Donnan said. "But when you look at last week, they had 514 yards of offense with one touchdown. Therein lies the problem. They've shown an inability to score in the fourth quarter. They have to be able to score touchdowns in close games.
"What you worry about is that doubt comes into play. Fear of failure is a tough thing. I will say that when you get in the red zone, the attitude should be that we are going to run the ball."
Donnan served as offensive coordinator for five years at Oklahoma and has a great knowledge of the Arkansas situation through his connections with Houston Nutt.
"We got to know each other when he was an assistant at Oklahoma State and later we had the same agent, Jimmy Sexton," Donnan said. "So I talked to Houston."
Donnan said he told Nutt that he should stay at Arkansas when Nebraska courted him about 10 years ago.
"What have they had, three coaches at Nebraska since then?" Donnan said. "Houston asked me what I thought and I told him that's a great job at Arkansas. You got things humming. Stay there. You can get more players here than at Nebraska. You gotta go 800 miles before you see a tree (in Nebraska). Gosh, don't put that on the Internet.
"Traditionally, this is a job where you can win at. I think Arkansas has a chance anytime you play. But I don't know if you are ready yet.
"I know that what (Bret Bielema) inherited was a program in disarray. I know there were two wins last year and then another game, Missouri, that you could have won in between the Texas game. I don't count that game with Texas. But there were also seven times you were close that you couldn't win in the fourth quarter.
"It looked like you worked on things in the offense that you needed, a passing game. But you still don't have everything in a passing game that some teams have."
What he had a tough time understanding was that Arkansas threw 53 times against Toledo.
"That's the most inexplainable thing," he said. "We didn't throw the ball 53 times in one practice at Oklahoma."
That's a negative, Donnan said. And it speaks to where he thinks the problem might be for Arkansas, the loss of key players from last year. Running back Jonathan Williams is out with foot surgery. Plus, he said it may be hard to replace playmakers like Martrell Spaight and Trey Fowers.
"You lose a bell cow in Williams," he said. "I know the second back is good, but he was used to coming in fresh after Williams had played. They lost some really good defensive players.
"I do think the quarterback is coming on, but they have to add some play-action passing to what they are doing and they have to run the ball.
"There is good news and bad news. The good news is the future with a really good coach. But I am going to tell you how it is, it can take a little while. You look at who you are playing and Alabama is relentless. They are not going to drop the football."
Donnan said Ohio State is the top team in the country, but Alabama is next.
"The best is Ohio State," he said. "They have good players stacked up like a club sandwich. Their only nemesis is themselves.
"I'm sure Alabama is second. Alabama has a tough schedule with Tennessee and Georgia (as cross over games). But for the first time in three years, Nick Saban has a good defense again. The only thing everyone can hope for is that Lane Kiffin gets too cute and stops handing the ball to Derrick Henry.
"Next best after Alabama is Alabama's second team. Alabama plays Ole Miss this week and Ole Miss is good, but I look for Alabama to handle them."
So what happened against Toledo? First, Donnan said the Rockets are good. He is familiar with MAC teams after coaching at Marshall.
"It looked to me like Arkansas had worked so hard on the pass and saw some things they knew they could hit against Toledo," he said. "It's not fair for me as an ousider to say much about that decision. I think they just thought they'd use that stuff against Toledo.
"I also think maybe the loss of Williams helped their decision to throw it, too. They still have a shot at winning some games.
"What happens against a team (like Toledo) is that you just don't want them to think they can win. The longer they stay in a game, the tougher it becomes and then you start to pressing. They still looked like they would win."
Donnan did provide some hope. He said there are some teams in the SEC rebuilding with quarterbacks and that's never easy. And, he said Arkansas was in most of their games last year. But to think they are going to cruise is wrong.
"I don't see the talent on the hoof just yet," he said. "They do have some good offensive linemen and I think they will get back to doing some things they did last year. It does look like they can throw better. I know they can play with some of those teams. I think without question they can play with Auburn. Auburn was just lucky to beat Jacksonville State and they lost what five games last year? Auburn lost twice to teams that got beat by 59-0 the week before last year. Everyone else in the SEC West lost games last year, too."
Donnan had some funny lines early in his talk. He told stories of his days at Oklahoma when Barry Switzer did interesting things as a head coach. There was a time he asked Donnan to run a play with a walk-on to score a touchdown.
"Barry never got on the phone with me in the box," Donnan said. "Never, in five seasons. Except one time when we were way ahead. He asked me to run a play with a walk-on because his secretary just passed him a note that the player's parents had come to town.
"I said, 'Barry, he's a defensive back and is he even eligible?' So Barry spent the next few minutes teaching the kid the play. We got to the goal line and ran a play and he went over the top and scored."
Then there were two games that were runaways that Switzer allowed the team to watch the halftime show -- against Texas and later in the Orange Bowl.
"I couldn't believe it," he said. "We are up 31-0 on Texas and Barry said that he'd always wanted to see the halftime show and that we'd take off our shoulder pads and go watch. So we didn't make any halftime adjustments. Then, it was before the Orange Bowl and Jamelle Holieway asked him if they played well in the first half, could they watch the halftime because it was Kool and the Gang. We did."
Donnan said the best players he'd ever coached were Keith Jackson at Okahoma and Champ Bailey at Georgia.
There was also the story about his first game as a head coach at Marshall.
"We were busing to VMI, through the mountains," he said. "We went down the morning of the game and the two buses were terrible. One of them went out. I got the starters on one bus and left our defensive coordinator to get the rest there by hitch hiking."
All but four of the players left behind made it on time to warmups.
"We counted heads and we had four not out there," Donnan said. "The defensive coordinator promised no one got left behind. Fortunately, these four were not real good players. Turns out they did make it in time, but they were outside tailgating with the people who picked them up. True story."
Donnan: Hogs Can Bounce Back
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