At the University of Tennessee, head football coach Butch Jones has won the enmity of many fans and boosters because of his obstinance with the media. Jones never addresses problems clearly and often cuts off reporters’ legitimate questions. After stultifying losses, Jones’s every phrase is loaded with spin.
I’d say Bret Bielema’s manner with the media is far superior and something Jones should emulate. Still, this season leaves me feeling like we have no visibility into some serious problems.
On offense, issues were very easy to peg. The main problem was lost-yardage plays. Arkansas gave up an unusually large amount of lost-yardage plays, run and pass.
The offense was very good at pushing drives into the red zone - Arkansas ranked very high in its number of red-zone chances. Not efficient, though, at scoring touchdowns in the red zone. The lost-yardage plays were a big part of that. The offensive line gave up far too many. Maybe the offensive scheme was part of the problem.
Scheme certainly makes a difference. Missouri, for example, was the best offense in college football at avoiding lost-yardage plays. They didn’t do that with superior personnel.
It’s on defense where we come away groping for understanding. I’m not inclined to blame talent level for all ills. If you did, you might conclude that Arkansas has its worst talent ever.
One stat that I calculated:
When Arkansas opponents had a play that didn’t result in lost yardage, a turnover, or an incomplete pass, they averaged a 9.7-yard gain.
Three teams were worse - Arizona State, Rice and Wyoming. They all play in leagues that throw the ball far more often than they do in the SEC.
Pass defense wasn’t the biggest problem at Arkansas, though, oh no.
Arkansas opponents ran the ball 387 times, excluding sacks, and scored 36 rushing touchdowns. That’s one TD for every 10.8 rushes.
This is extraordinarily awful. The second-worst was 13.1:1. Average was 25.3:1.
The only teams that gave up at least three rushing touchdowns per game were Arkansas, Florida Atlantic (whose coach just got fired) and Oregon (whose coach just got fired).
The Hogs’ defense gave up scores at the worst rate by far in the SEC (plays per score), and the only thing that saved the team from a losing season was an offense that 1) scored liberally and 2) shortened games.
I’m not sure there is any comforting explanation for what happened on defense, but a lot of fans appear to be unsettled by a lack of understanding. Any sign that the coaches know what went wrong and what to do about it would put a lot of hearts at ease.