LITTLE ROCK - Sept. 8: Todd Berry entered Saturday with an FBS career coaching record of 14-50. Now he's 15-50, after Louisiana-Monroe defeated the Arkansas Razorbacks 34-31. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
I don’t believe anyone made these decisions, thought these things out. It’s just what happened.
Nobody explicitly decided, "Yeah, it would be a good idea, against a defense that blitzes nonstop, to fail to keep any blockers in to protect the quarterback. It would be a good idea for Tyler Wilson to take hit after hit, the week before Alabama."
Nobody put his foot down and declared, "It’s really smart, when Louisiana-Monroe spreads the field, to keep most of the defense bunched in the middle, cover the receivers in soft man, and put half our team out of range of any play."
Nobody ran through his logic and concluded, "You know, Brandon Allen shouldn’t be free to scramble when nobody’s open. He should heave the ball to the lowest-percentage option on the field. And hey, since Brandon hasn’t completed a pass in the last hour, I think he should throw on every down."
It was nobody’s idea to say, "You know, Brandon Mitchell is the second-best quarterback on this team. It would be a good idea for him to play wide receiver even after Wilson goes down with an injury. And it’s even better if Mitchell winds up with zeroes in his stat line."
"Offensive linemen should move too soon, putting our backup quarterback in a hole every chance we get."
"We should lose containment on the quarterback on fourth and long, because that’s the last time the quarterback is ever going to run with the football."
The whole plan fell apart, piece by piece, and Arkansas’s coaches were overwhelmed by problems.
"We should let Louisiana-Monroe intimidate us into not using our running game in the second half. We should go three and out several times without our star-caliber tailbacks ever touching the football."
This kind of insanity only happens when the chain of command has completely broken down. The head coach, John L. Smith, isn’t really in charge of anything. He has the title, he stands there and watches, but his assistants are calling the signals. Apparently, he questions nothing.
On this strange night in Little Rock, Smith’s assistants needed somebody to knock some sense into them. Paul Haynes and Paul Petrino were like the clichéd hysterical Hollywood women whom Jimmy Stewart is supposed to slap out of their senselessness. They went from making wrong moves to being paralyzed by fear of failure. No one was in command.
That’s how all these non-decisions were made. That’s how some nobody, who’ll retire a nobody, named Todd Berry coached circles around this top ten, Ess Eee See program. Jack Crowe would have done as much the week before, if he’d had enough players. Don't kid yourself. Arkansas got outcoached two weeks in a row, by the guy who lost to The Citadel, and a no-name who came in with a career FBS record of 14-50. Fourteen and fifty!
This program lacks a leader with a vision for the whole organization. Smith’s placeholding adds no value. He delegated too much authority to unproven assistants. Haynes was never a full-fledged defensive coordinator before arriving at Arkansas, and he certainly had no experience coaching against any kind of wide-open offense. Paul Petrino left Arkansas two years ago to get out from under his brother’s shadow, then slunk back under that specter after his 2011 Illinois offense failed to save Ron Zook’s job.
Arkansas is effectively rudderless, and that fact really mattered when Wilson went out of the game.
I don’t like what Haynes has done to the defense. He compromised everything for run defense. And he failed to acknowledge the desperate situation in the secondary. Last week, I warned that the Arkansas coaching staff needed to get serious and admit that relying on veterans in the secondary was not enough. They needed to panic and rush some young players into action. That didn’t happen Saturday night until Mitchel was on a stretcher.
Putting Tank Wright at middle linebacker was unrealistic, especially in these games against spread offenses that could take advantage of his complete inability to cover receivers. And Haynes geared the nickel and dime sets toward run defense, by using safeties as nickel and dime backs instead of corners. It officially proved disastrous against Louisiana-Monroe after merely failing spectacularly against Jacksonville State.
Overseeing Haynes, inheritor of a program he isn't really leading, John L. Smith watches and wields no power.
- ULM 30 first downs, Arkansas 21.
- Arkansas called 41 passes, 25 runs.
- Arkansas had 14 meaningful possessions, scored five times, punted seven times, and threw two interceptions.
- ULM had 15 possessions, scored five times, punted seven times, failed once on downs, and threw one interception.
- The Warhawks ran 103 offensive plays, 37 more than the Hogs, and 30 of them were on third or fourth down. They converted six of the seven fourth downs, and Kevin Kelley somewhere was smiling.