Commentary: State of the Hogs

What should be the realistic expectations of this football team? Hawgs Illustrated's Clay Henry takes a look at his expectations and whether or not the program is headed in a direction to meet them. This is a commentary.

After watching the first two games in person and on tape, it's time to assess where we are with this football program and where it is headed the rest of this season and thereafter.

First, I've asked myself two key questions. What are my expectations for the Arkansas football program? Are they realistic?

My expectations might not match those held by other Razorback fans. I don't spend every minute of my day wondering when we will win our next national championship in football. I figure that's John McDonnell's department, winning national titles. That's a joke ... and I'm not talking about the offensive line!

Should we expect a national championship in football? I don't. At least, right now I don't.

Maybe that is a long-range goal, but I muttered a bit when I heard comments from the former recruiting coordinator that had something to do with "national title under construction."

What I do expect is for Arkansas to compete in every ball game, and win more than its share. We've been doing that. I think we will continue to compete the rest of this season and win a fair share of them. I predicted 7-4 before the season. They might not make it, but I still think the Hogs will be close to that.

So those are my expectations. Those who expect for Arkansas to win the SEC and compete for the national title this year are not being realistic. Not right now.

Where are we headed? That's the next question. It appears that there are positive things in store. There are now on campus the right kind of quarterbacks. Ryan Sorahan, Tarvaris Jackson and Matt Jones have the right kind of ability. Zak Clark does, too, but he has not been able to get it done. So, we'll see if the other three can get it done.

It appears we have some solid talent at tailback. With players like Cedric Cobbs, Fred Talley, Brandon Holmes, De'Arrius Howard, Mark Pierce and DeCori Birmingham, the Hogs have SEC-caliber running backs.

I do believe there is talent in the offensive line, too. No, they have not lived up to my expectations so far this year, and I think I know why.

There is little doubt in my mind that the Hogs should scrimmage more in the spring and during two-a-days. There was only one scrimmage this fall. That is not enough to get an offensive line ready. In my mind, that is why our offensive line played better at the end of last year than in the early part of the season. They will get better as they play games and work out the kinks that might be otherwise worked out with two or three more scrimmages in preseason. That may or may not be accurate, but that's my thought on the offensive line problems through two games.

The Hogs must find adequate tight ends. The best on campus right now is Nathan Ball, a converted offensive tackle. We signed two tight ends in the last recruiting class and immediately converted both into offensive linemen. A top-notch signee of two years ago, Jason Peters, was a noted tight end, but he was converted to the defensive line. We must find a great tight end and leave him there.

There are other problems with the offense. The passing game must be shored up. It's not clear whether or not we have the talent at wide receiver to make that happen. Our wide receivers were ranked 12th out of the 12 SEC teams by the Sporting News. I'm guessing that is one writer's opinion, but at this point I'd tend to go along with at least some of his thought process. These wideouts are not making plays. George Wilson broke a tackle for a 25-yard pass play to start Arkansas' drive for the only points against Tennessee. Otherwise, the wideouts had no real contribution in the Tennessee game.

Defensively, we need help in the defensive line. We gave up too many rushing yards against both UNLV and Tennessee. We must play better in the interior of the defensive line. Is that the result of light scrimmage work, too. I'm guessing that is the case.

Otherwise, it appears the rest of the defense and the kicking game is acceptable. I think that is a realistic evaluation.

In summary, I'd say that our talent base is decent. We are not void throughout the team. This team does lack for a big-play wide receiver, one more defensive tackle, a tight end and a fullback. And, they need more seasoning in preseason.

So, in the personal view, I'd finish by saying that we are headed in the right direction. I'd think the program could meet my expectations with only some fine tuning. Will this happen? I can't say that it will happen.

But, I felt like this football team is about where I expected it to be after its second week. Never did I believe that the Hogs would be 2-0 after the Tennessee game. But, looking back, I can see where it could have happened easily. That is what frustrates everyone, including this writer.

And, that's what makes sports so hard to predict and makes life so hard on the coaches. Thankfully, I'm not a coach and I only have to write about it.

Clay Henry,
Publisher, HI.com


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