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Playing Nice: Arkansas Fight

Tucker Partridge of Arkansas Fight stops by to get us ready for LSU-Arkansas.

Arkansas Fight

After winning the Game of the Century of the Year Part II against Alabama and scoring a million points and giving up nearly as many rushing yards to Ole Miss, the LSU Tigers finally return home to Baton Rouge. LSU hasn’t been in front of Tiger Stadium since beating Auburn on a soggy Saturday afternoon. Then, LSU was a top-five team. Now, LSU is the consensus No. 1 team in the AP Poll, Coaches’ Poll and CFP rankings. With a win on Saturday, LSU can clinch the SEC West and punch its ticket to the SEC Championship game for the first time since 2011.

In LSU’s way of a division title, much like the last time LSU was in this position, are the Arkansas Razorbacks. If LSU is one of the best teams in college football, Arkansas is the complete opposite. Arkansas is 2-8, got blown out at home by Western Kentucky and that ultimately led to the program firing head coach Chad Morris.

There’s a lot going on in Fayetteville, most of it not good. Here to key us in on just how bad it’s gotten is Arkansas Fight editor Tucker Partridge. You can find him on Twitter at @TuckerPartridge.

1. We have to start with the obvious. Chad Morris is out and the Razorbacks went into the bye week under the direction of interim coach Barry Lunney Jr. Where does the program go from here? Who does Razorback nation want to take over the program?

We’re definitely embroiled in the darkest time in program history. I’ve never been this low on the program. Barry Lunney Jr. is definitely a good person to take charge of this trainwreck, as he’s a longtime Arkansas guy who played during another bad stretch where we fired a bad coach mid-season (that would be Jack Crowe, who was fired after losing to The Citadel). If anyone knows what the players are feeling, it’s him. Seeing guys like Coach O and Mario Cristobal and Dabo Swinney succeed as interim guys turned permanent gives some inkling of hope that Lunney can pull off the unthinkable and become the full time head coach.

As for who should take over, your guess is as good as mine. I was higher on Morris’ resume than most, but that didn’t pan out, as we can see. Hunter Yurachek (our athletic director) seems to be one who won’t tip his hand until the announcement press conference, so any rumored coaches are almost pure speculation. Pie in the sky, I’d love to see if we could pry a guy like PJ Fleck away from Minnesota, but I think realistically we’re looking at guys like Mike Norvell at Memphis or Matt Campbell at Iowa State. You’ll hear a lot of Mike Leach and Lane Kiffin rumors, but those seem to be either good ole boys or agents looking for a raise. I wouldn’t be shocked at this point if it’s someone different entirely. Yurachek hired the CEO of TD Ameritrade to be a head coach when he was at Coastal Carolina, so nothing is off the table.

2. I keep seeing the words “historically bad” used to describe this Razorback team. Is that hyperbole or a fair assessment?

It’s accurate. It’s certainly the worst stretch in Arkansas football history, so we’re historically bad in that regard, but we’re in the conversation with the worst SEC teams to ever play and worst power 5 teams to ever play — not exactly great company to have, but here we are. My hope is that the bleeding will be stopped and that Lunney will be able to salvage some semblance of respectability, but it’s not a stretch to say this is a terrible time to be a Razorback football fan. Chad Morris is statistically the worst coach in program history. That’s historically bad to me.

3. Arkansas was 2-2 heading into the Texas A&M game. Arkansas lost a close game in Dallas by four, lost by four again at Kentucky and since then the wheels have flown off. Arkansas has lost its last four games by 41, 41, 30 and 26 points to Western Kentucky. How did things get so out of hand so suddenly?

I think a multitude of factors played into this, but I’ll do my best to summarize:

  • One factor of Morris being done in is the fact that he’s sworn by bad coordinators who have been found out. John Chavis is obviously a legend, but it’s abundantly clear that he’s past it. Something different breaks every week on defense, and he’s constantly blaming players, when it’s very clear that any DC who wasn’t phoning it in could have a better product on the field. He’s getting paid 1.5 million dollars a year to be the worst defense in the SEC, and one of the worst in the country. On the other side of the ball, Joe Craddock has no resume to speak of, and was clearly just one of Chad’s buddies from Clemson. The offense has no identity, and the playcalling has constantly left fans scratching heads.
  • Mismanagement has been another factor. Morris and co. CONSTANTLY picked the wrong starting QB, defying all logic and reason, as even the least attentive fan could realize that the wrong QB was starting. Although we haven’t named a starter for the game, I’d be shocked if it’s not freshman K.J. Jefferson simply because he’s the most talented with the highest potential. I doubt Lunney screws up the starter like Chad seemingly insisted on doing
  • Lack of inspiration is the last big factor. There have been some relatively substantiated rumors that Morris lost the locker room at halftime of the Kentucky game, and quite frankly, I can’t blame the players. The coaches constantly put them in bad positions, and would respond to struggles by throwing players under the bus. I think the hemorrhaging of points was a direct response to Morris. My hope is that the wheels will be back on for the last two games.

Simply put, it’s amazing the wheels didn’t fall off sooner.

4. People in Baton Rouge are a little antsy about the LSU defense and it sure doesn’t help that Ole Miss ran for 400 yards Saturday night. Is there someone on the Razorback offense that should make Tiger fans sweat?

The most frustrating part of the Chad Morris era is that this team has talent. There are plenty of weapons on offense that should give people pause, it’s just that the coaching staff has seemingly been hellbent on making sure those weapons were as blunt and dull as possible. Rakeem Boyd is one of the best running backs in the SEC. For perspective on how he could be misused, he had 8 carries against Western Kentucky for 185 yards and two touchdowns of 76 and 86 yard lengths. A good coach might see that and think, “huh, this guy is hot, let’s feed him.” He never touched the ball again. Elsewhere, the freshman receivers Treylon Burks and Trey Knox are going to be absolute studs. Knox is a freak of nature, standing at 6-5 and running a 4.4 40, while Burks is one of the single most talented young receivers I’ve ever seen. Presumably a good coach like Lunney will put them in a position to actually touch the ball.

As I said earlier, K.J. Jefferson is likely to be the quarterback, and he’s a young, dynamic athlete who could make some noise. He’s likely too raw, but at this point, Arkansas fans will take what we can get, which hasn’t been much.

5. I’m glad you mentioned Rakeem Boyd, I have a soft spot for the Last Chance U Alum. How has he been received in Fayetteville?

Rakeem has been one of the few bright spots in an otherwise dismal couple of seasons. It takes a lot of guts to be a running back at Arkansas and wear number 5 (I don’t think that number should be in rotation anymore, but that’s just me), but Rakeem has taken on that honor, and has looked the part. Is he as transcendent as McFadden? Of course not. But he’s been the heart of the team, and a big play waiting to happen, which seems to fulfill the spirit of DMAC. I love Rakeem Boyd.

6. How’s Arkansas bracing itself for the storm that is the high powered offense quarterbacked by the soon to be Heisman winning Joe Burrow?

If I were a Heisman voter, Burrow would have my vote. I don’t know how you brace yourself for that offense. I’m used to LSU not having a quarterback. Death, taxes, LSU having a bad quarterback was usually the way it goes, but not anymore. Burrow is outstanding, and I’m scared to death of him.

7. I feel like we both agree Saturday won’t go well for Arkansas. But come on, LSU being favored by 46 gosh darn points is insane right? There’s no chance LSU covers right? ...right???

Optimistically, I’d love to agree with you, but I’m just not sure. LSU is certainly capable of beating us by 46 (I think 50 would be a better line), but stranger things in this series have happened. I don’t expect the magic of 2007 to be rekindled, but rivalry games are weird, and maybe a new coach bump will have the players ready to play. I think the best case scenario is that Arkansas covers, but I wouldn’t be shocked if LSU covered either. I hope I’m wrong, but goodness, you guys are rolling.

8. Lastly, much was made about the Magnolia Bowl, the trophy LSU and Ole Miss started playing for about a decade ago, being left on the field after the game in Oxford last week. The Golden Boot seems more meaningful. What does the LSU-Arkansas game mean to you and to Arkansas as a whole?

I love this rivalry. I really wish that we were playing the Friday after Thanksgiving like we used to do, but TV markets are better in College-Station I guess. There have been so many special games, and almost all of my favorite memories as an Arkansas fan involve LSU, as I’m a part of the SEC generation. I never got to experience the SWC and Texas, so LSU is my true rivalry. I wish the trophy wasn’t so big and gaudy, but that’s probably personal taste. While I hate the fanbase of A&M more, I’m not sure there’s a game I love as much as Arkansas-LSU. It also is usually a close game regardless of ranking, which is fun. Hopefully we do end up seeing a repeat of 2007.