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State of the Hogs:
What went wrong in the Music City Bowl in Arkansas' 29-14 loss to Minnesota? I believe we tried to be a passing team yesterday, and we aren't a passing team. To me, that caused more of the problems than anything else.
The bottom line is that we are just not good enough yet and caught a hot team playing a near perfect game. In talking about the key to the game in the pre-game interviews on the radio with Chuck Barrett Monday morning, the one thing that I thought was important was for the Hogs to gain an edge in the turnover battle.
Of course, this turned out to be a big problem. The Hogs forced zero turnovers while giving the ball away four times themselves. They aren't good enough to win with that kind of a turnover deficit.
Minnesota's quarterback threw seven interceptions in his last four games. We didn't force one interception in the game, although Ken Hamlin dropped one. Otherwise, we didn't put him in one situtation where he threw the ball up for grabs. Our defense wasn't aggressive enough. We didn't push Minnesota out of its basic game plan and that was to run the ball and throw simple play-action passes. Even the one trick play , a halfback pass, was a simple matter of showing the Hogs the run and taking advantage of a mistake in coverage.
As far as the Arkansas offense, I haven't broken it down, but there seemed to be more first down passes in this game than in the past. Few of them were completed. Actually, the passing game was there if we could have executed it. We couldn't.
The best passes to throw yesterday were the short, easy passes and we don't seem to have them as far as the TE and the fullback. We were throwing wide passes, and couldn't complete them. The wind was a real factor. But, it was a factor for UM, too. They solved it by going shorter and over the middle more ... the shortest passes were the best yesterday.
There is no way you could be accurate on passes that were wide to breaking WRs, and that's what we threw. At least, that's what I saw.
I understand not throwing to the TE. We don't have one. We don't have one that can catch the ball, or run the right routes, or pick up audibles. We must, must find a TE. But, unless you throw to the TE, how do you recruit one?
I thought we abandoned our best stuff in the game yesterday, and that's our running game. Yes, it wasn't working, but I don't think we can execute the passing game and so it wasn't going to work to abandon the running game.
Yes, we must get to the point where we can throw the ball. But, we absolutely had to win that game to set up the offseason. I don't think it was the time to try to BECOME a passing team.
Interestingly, I thought we tried to become a passing team in the spring and during two-a-days. It didn't really work, so they went back to the running game. Actually, it might have almost been an accident that they did go back to the running game, when that part of the offense exploded against a beat-up Auburn team.
A simple game plan got us a winning streak against the easiest part of the schedule in November. The Hogs relied on a running game with no turnovers, a bend-but-don't break defense and solid performances in the kicking game.
In Minnesota, the Hogs found their match against a quarterback who could execute the running and throwing game in a solid offense with plenty of weapons. The UM offense was perfect for our defense, with a free safety playing out of position to help against the run. They hurt the Hogs with superb execution and short passing over the middle to the tight end. The touchdown pass that ended the game came through the heart of the defense, in an area that should have been covered by the safety.
One of the things that helped the Hogs through that winning streak was the quarterback play on the other side of the ball. If you look at Troy State, South Carolina, UL-Lafayette, Mississippi State and LSU, all were playing without a solid quarterback. Ole Miss had a dandy in the game that started the winning streak, but not much else, especially on defense.
I've heard the comments about the team falling apart after the decision by Tarvaris Jackson to leave, and I don't buy into that. Jackson was a popular figure on the team, but mainly among the youngest members of the team. In no way did that change the focus of the team. They practiced hard and well for all of December and I don't think it affected the way the team played against Minnesota one way or another. There were some players that prefferred Ryan Sorahan and were lifted when he was elevated to second team with Jackson's transfer. So, I don't think it mattered much in the grand scheme.
Those that think all is lost because the Hogs were beaten twice to end the season are mistaken. This will not automatically kill recruiting. One of Houston Nutt's best recruiting classes came after a similar loss in the Las Vegas Bowl.
When a staff has put in the proper foundation in recruiting, a bowl loss ... even one like happened in the Music City Bowl ... won't kill recruiting. Recruits look at all things before they sign, but the relationship with the coach on the staff that has recruited him for five months and the head coach are the two most important factors.
Through the years, I've seen some of the most impressive recruiting hauls accomplished after bowl losses. It often makes the staff buckle down to some really solid work on the recruiting trails. I think that will happen with this staff.
It's going to be an interesting offseason. First, it's going to be interesting to see if there are any moves in the coaching staff, either by the assistants or the head coach. It's too early to tell if either one will happen.
Second, it will be interesting to see what happens with Matt Jones as far as decisions on basketball or the potential for any surgeries. It's been rumored for some time that Jones needs minor knee and shoulder surgeries. Either one might keep him from playing basketball.
Third, it will be interesting to see what happens with the NCAA investigation. Will there finally be a resolution? That needs to happen so that the Hogs know where they stand as far as the future of the program, and for recruiting to settle out. No doubt, this coaching staff is going to face the sanction rumors on the road over the next five weeks.
Finally, it's going to be interesting to watch Cedric Washington and Matt Jones battle it out at quarterback. That most certainly is something that is going to fuel much debate over the next six months. Washington's play in the scrimmages before the bowl were solid, and it's obvious that he has the talent to make a push for playing time, if not win the job outright.