State of the Hogs: No Apologies

It was time for the summary of the 2006 season and many are focused more on a three-game losing streak than a 10-game winning streak. Some even want an apology. Here's a take by HI.com publisher Clay Henry.

I ran into a friend just a few minutes after leaving Houston Nutt's season review media briefing on Thursday morning. I was putting some fuel into my truck when I was asked if the Arkansas football coach had apologized for losing the last three games.

I am glad that the cap to my gas tank is now hooked to the truck via a small plastic attachment. Because I dropped my gas cap and that attachment kept it from rolling away from me.

Apologized?

Yes, the man said.

And, did he take responsibility for the fact the Hogs are not playing in the national title game Monday night instead of Florida?

Well, no, he didn't do either one.

I told him I do remember Nutt mentioning that he was disappointed after the loss to Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl, a game Nutt said he felt sure the Hogs were going to win. He did mention that the Hogs were only a few plays away from 13-1 and a trip to the BCS title game.

So at least the coach and the fan were on the same page. Both ached over a great opportunity missed.

I should have known it would come to this. In today's society, taking a team that was projected for near the bottom of the SEC West all the way to a 7-1 record for an outright SEC West title -- the first time the Hogs have ever gone 7-1 in SEC play -- isn't good enough anymore. Most are going to focus on a three-game losing streak at the end, instead of a 10-game winning streak in the middle.

I know in today's society, it is going to be about what you didn't do instead of what you did accomplish.

It won't be about Darren McFadden rushing for 1,647 yards and Felix Jones rushing for 1,225. It's going to be about the way the quarterbacks (Casey Dick, Mitch Mustain, Robert Johnson, Cedric Washington and McFadden) passed for just 2,093. It's about a passing game that wasn't good enough against Southern Cal, LSU, Florida and Wisconsin. Never mind that Dick is a true sophomore and Mustain is a true freshman.

The majority of the questions in the media briefing concerned the passing game and what Nutt will do to retool it before next season. He didn't have any specific answers, only that experience will help and adding more talent at wideout would help, too. And, he promised that the Hogs would work towards that goal.

There were no promises about the development of the hurry-up, no-huddle offense, the style of play that Gus Malzahn, the Hogs' first-year offensive coordinator, utilized at Springdale High School. Interestingly, the media failed to ask a single question about the hurry-up, no-huddle. They will catch grief over that, I predict.

Not that the media hasn't asked those type questions and asked them lately. Just four weeks ago after the loss to Florida in the SEC title game, Nutt was asked if he planned to let Malzahn "open things up" and the head coach said it was something that was in the plans, perhaps in 2007.

So I took that thought to Malzahn during the bowl practices to get his take. Surprisingly, Malzahn responded with a question.

"Why would we do that next year with Darren and Felix back?" Malzahn said. "No, I don't think we want to stray too far from what we are doing now. What we do want is to pass more effectively and be able to throw when we everyone knows we are going to throw. If it's a late-game situation and we need to pass, I want us to be able to do that."

For sure, the Hogs are not to that point yet. But I think anyone who thinks that the commitment to the run will be forgotten anytime soon with this Arkansas football staff is badly mistaken No, what Malzahn was saying is absolutely correct.

The Hogs don't need to be going too far from their current offense with McFadden and Jones, perhaps the best one-two punch ever assembled in one Arkansas backfield, or in the SEC.

If you look at what is wrong with Alabama and why Mike Shula is no longer coaching there, you can start with talent at tailback. Much was written over the last two seasons about Ken Darby, the Tide's starting tailback. If he's the best they've got at ‘Bama at tailback, then someone is not getting the job done on the recruiting trail.

That's where I saw the problem with the Arkansas passing game, too. Talent at wideout has been the problem with the Arkansas passing game the last several seasons. I think that changed a bit in the last year with the addition of the likes of London Crawford, Carlton Salters, Marques Wade and Damian Williams. Of course, Williams isn't around anymore, deciding he didn't want to wait on McFadden and Jones to graduate before getting the ball enough.

I remember talking to Williams late in the season for a question and answer segment in Hawgs Illustrated. He volunteered that the Hogs were on the right track as far as the offensive playcalling. Williams wondered aloud why the Hogs wouldn't give the ball to their two All-Ameircan backs.

Some have told me that the problem is that the Hogs did not pass enough earlier in the year. To pass well against the good teams, you have to practice the pass against the entire schedule.

There's the rub. Houston Nutt had to win at least eight games or he was going to be fired. It's easy to sit in the stands and say it's time to pass more. It's tougher to do it when your job is on the line and an interception thrown by a freshman quarterback may be returned for a touchdown.

I've also been told about the third down conversion ratio in the four losses, particularly the last three. It was woeful.

I don't look much at third down ratio. It's the wrong side of the possession. First down is far more important. If you struggle on first or second down, you are going to face third-and-long situations. I remember all of those third-and-7 situations against Wisconsin.

The fact of the matter is that when you can't block the other team on first and second down, you are going to struggle on third down. That's what happens when you play the better teams.

I noticed how Notre Dame failed to move the chains on third down in the second half of the Sugar Bowl against LSU. Some pointed to Brady Quinn's poor passing on third down. Nope. The problem was that Darius Walker didn't run for over 100 yards in the second half like he did in the first.

The Hogs must get better in the passing game. But they must continue to run the ball effectively.

The commitment must remain with the run.

Ultimately, that will help the Hogs pass the ball better, when their quarterbacks and wideouts catch up with their running backs in experience and talent.

I don't think the Hogs are there as far as experience and talent at wideout, and they don't appear to be there (mainly as far as experience) at quarterback.

The quarterbacks will improve. The fact they were given the ability to make quite a few more checks at the line of scrimmage in the bowl game will give them a big start on spring practice.

"That's what bowl practices are all about, just getting another spring practice under your belt," Nutt said. "That will help us a lot as we move forward."

And, why didn't he apologize or take responsibility? Isn't that already understood that he's responsible? Doesn't everyone know that if he doesn't win enough he loses his job?

I hate apologies from coaches. I grew sick of Danny Ford apologizing after losing to SMU. And, I suspect everyone knows the head coach is always responsible.

I know Houston Nutt knows it. That's why he'll probably stick with Darren McFadden and Felix Jones again next year.

If he doesn't, that's when it will be time for an apology.

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