FAYETTEVILLE -- Lou Holtz reminded once it's never as good as it seems, or as bad. He also said the light at the end of the tunnel may be an oncoming train.
Which one is correct is open for debate after North Texas throttled Arkansas, 44-17, Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
There is little doubt it was an ugly scene and a bad loss for the Razorbacks, now 1-2 as they head to Auburn. The Tigers will be in a bad mood after blowing a fourth-quarter lead at home in losing to LSU, 22-21, on the last play of the game.
After failing to finish the previous week in a 34-27 loss at Colorado State, the Razorbacks failed to launch against the Mean Green. They were down 17-0 just 10 minutes into the game and 34-10 at halftime.
Many in the crowd of 44,306 (with 62,355 tickets sold) didn't wait around for the second half, and those who did were not happy with first-year coach Chad Morris. They booed when Cole Kelley returned to open the third quarter after throwing three interceptions in the first half. He threw a fourth interception on the first possession of the second half.
That prompted questions in the post-game interviews about what Jared Cornelius, Santos Ramirez and Hjalte Froholdt thought of their quarterback being booed.
Of course, that's how you interpret boos, that they don't like the players. But I've always thought they were just as much directed in the decision not to go to the next quarterback. Yes, they had probably seen enough of Kelley. They wanted to see freshman Connor Noland.
Morris danced around the question about the boos. He said everyone should "look in the mirror," starting with himself and coaches. Cornelius, Ramirez and Froholdt did not.
"The guy competed, and he wanted to do right and do good," Morris said. "I encouraged him and those guys in the locker room."
Froholdt took a mild response with his first try at the boo question.
"A quarterback can't throw the ball if he's scrambling," said the senior center. "We all have to rally."
Cornelius was glad Froholdt gave him some time to ponder his response.
"That gives me time to say what I really want to say," said the senior receiver. "It's really easy to pick one guy to point the finger at.
"Hjalte said it, that the receivers have to run better routes and the offensive line has to protect better."
Then, Cornelius poured out with an emotional thought.
"When you come out of the locker room and the starting quarterback is booed, when is that right?" Cornelius said. "What you have to remember is that is someone's son, someone's brother, and we are still in the game. They are booing. That's not the standard here."
Ramirez pointed to mistakes by other areas of the team, especially the secondary.
"It starts there, the deep balls," said Ramirez, who added, "We are a band of brothers."
Without a doubt, turnovers were the difference in the game. The Hogs committed six before the Mean Green lost one in mop-up time.
North Texas quarterback Mason Fine protected the ball even when chased outside the pocket. He wasn't awesome but never put his team in harm's way. He gave receivers chances most of the game or threw the ball away when that was needed.
The Razorbacks did compete on defense, limiting the visitors to 3 of 16 on third down conversions. That's a winning number, but that was the only one that fell on their side.
North Texas wasn't going to allow the Hogs to run inside, the way they did last week at Colorado State. The Hogs pounded soft spots at Colorado State when there were only six in the box. North Texas opened with nine in the box, playing two tight safeties inside the hash marks, creeping at the snap.
There was press coverage on the outside with a dare of Kelley to throw short to receivers, or take deep shots. It appeared Kelley and the receivers were mostly looking at different routes to solve that coverage.
"There were a lot of miscommunications," Morris said.
Later, Morris said, "We did miss some receivers. Maybe there wasn't enough time. We'll go back and look at those things. We just turned the football over entirely too much."
The defensive look from the Mean Green was "to see if we could throw."
Of course, the Hogs just couldn't. And, when true freshmen Connor Noland and John Stephen Jones did enter in the second half, there wasn't hardly any time. Freshman tackles Noah Gatlin and Dalton Wagner gave up the outside rush too much.
It was clear that Noland was running for his life when he went in with 6:47 left in the third quarter with the Hogs pinned on their own 9-yard line. Fans cheered his entrance.
Still, the calls from the sidelines were passes. He kept on a sprint out to his right on the first play, a 4-yard gain. He reversed his field in the end zone when the pocket collapsed to erase third-and-6 with a 13-yard scramble to the 26.
But that's when the sacks hit. Noland took back-to-back hits to lose six and seven. He hit Devway Whaley on a check down on third-and-23.
The next time Noland hit two short passes but was sacked on third-and-2. The next possession, Noland completed an 11-yard pass to Grayson Gunter, but then was sacked on back-to-back plays.
Morris turned to Jones for a couple of series, and there was a nifty scramble that went for 25, but reduced to 15 because of a holding call. Jones threw an interception returned for a touchdown, bringing back Noland for the rest of the game. He threw an interception, too, and finished with five sacks.
Ty Storey, the starter against Colorado State, did not see action. He warmed up once in the first half, but Morris said the decision was to "give Cole" a complete game because he was the best in practice.
When things got out of hand, Morris said he elected to save Storey. He said, "We didn't want to put Ty in that kind of situation."
The Hogs got a few of their injured back, including starting defensive end Randy Ramsey. But he only was used for a few possessions. Left offensive tackle Colton Jackson played a few possessions, too.
Linebacker Dre Greenlaw did not return. He was injured in the first quarter of the opener after making 10 tackles. He's been listed as "day to day" with a high ankle sprain. Morris expected him to play this week, as deep as Wednesday.
"But after Wednesday we just didn't think he'd be fully productive," Morris said. "We anticipate that he'll play next week."
It's only three games deep into the Morris era, but it's clear that there are not enough answers on the field. That's what Morris has called his offense, equipped with answers. But it doesn't look like the run-pass option will be effective with this offensive line or with the current complement of receivers.
True freshman Mike Woods and junior La'Michael Pettway caught four passes each, but there wasn't anyone else that seemed reliable. Maybe there's been too much rotation at both quarterback and receiver, but it's unclear how that will become stable.
That's what happens in a rebuilding mode and that was the word that both Morris and the three seniors who came to the interview room tried to dodge.
"It starts right here with me," Morris said. "We will self reflect."
Earlier, he said, "You look at how you can improve each day. You don't want to hear the word rebuild."
Cornelius said, "Coach Morris said what every player is going to say, we want to win right now. Rebuild, we could care less. We want to go out with a bang. We want to be part of change."
What has to change is recruiting. Yes, it goes back to what Steve Spurrier said in the middle of a 102-7 two-week hammering by South Carolina and Alabama in Bret Bielema's first season.
"I told Bret he's going to have to recruit his way out of it," Spurrier told the media.
That's the challenge for Morris. In the meantime, the train is coming straight at him and until further notice consider that it may be as bad as it looks.
Sports on 09/16/2018
Print Headline: Until further notice, it may be as bad as it looks for Hogs