1. Now that there’s been a few days to decompress, what’s the takeaway from an obviously disappointing year?
Adam F: That this program is backsliding. Back in 2008, Arkansas was a better football program than Ole Miss and Mississippi State. I don’t think you can say that anymore. I think Arkansas football is now in the danger zone for a long-term regression into the SEC cellar. Wins have to come soon.
Cody: I think it is hard to hone in on a specific takeaway from this season. Or perhaps it is just painful to try. I’ll go with a few thoughts: Either Bielema’s recruiting classes were nowhere near the rankings they received, or Morris’ program really can’t work with just any athletes; The lack of signs of improvement toward the end of the season was disheartening; And more optimistically, there is way more room for improvement than decline.
Derek: Just how woefully bad the offensive line is. I would strongly wager that there are some Division II units even within the state of Arkansas that are better up front than the Hogs. It’s going to take Chad Morris & Co. at least 2-3 classes to even field a competitive unit there I feel like.
Adam P: Coaching is suspect. I mentioned this over the entire season on the podcast about how we all knew the type of players Coach Chad Morris would normally use for his style of football were not on campus. However, I still expected fight and grit from our players on every down, even if they had no chance of winning. Bielema was able to get “not his players” to fight tooth and nail his first two years. We saw all year a lack of effort on the field and that goes straight to coaching to me. This worries me more than anything.
Eric: The lack of improvement over the course of the year was a big concern for me. Everyone thought things were getting better in the middle of the season with the Ole Miss and Alabama games, but finishing the last two games the way they did has me very skeptical moving forward.
2. There weren’t a lot of positives this season, but there had to have been something you liked. What was the best thing/player from the year?
Adam F: I enjoyed watching Cheyenne O’Grady and Rakeem Boyd step up. They carried the offense at times. La’Michael Pettway had his best season as well.
Cody: I predicted he would be our MVP, and Rakeem Boyd turned out to be the only VP on a team that didn’t have a 2,000 yard passer, 1,000 yard rusher, or 500 yard receiver. While 775 yards and 2 touchdowns do not look glamorous, watching him play made it obvious he is the bright spot moving forward.
Derek: Rakeem the Dream. To put up the numbers he did behind that joke of an OL, was simply remarkable.
Adam P: I’ve got to agree with Derek on Rakeem. But to add one more, Conner Limpert. Do we finally have a “decent” kicker since Zach Hocker?
Eric: Limpert is a good call I haven’t thought of. I also liked the continued use of tight ends in the offense. O’Grady had a very good year and it’s something that can continue with Hudson Henry coming in.
3. Coaching staff changes happen every year. What moves do you think need to happen, and will they happen at all?
Adam F: I think coaching turnover was the biggest factor in Bret Bielema’s failure, so I’m not in favor of rolling heads unless there’s a good reason for it. I think there’s no way you can touch the defensive staff through 2020 at least. Yes, the defense was bad, but it’s been bad for years, and there was actually some progress in key metrics this year, namely third-down defense and sack rate. You have to give John Chavis time to build this thing. On offense, I think it’s up to Morris. The coaches that look like they could be on the chopping block are OC Joe Craddock and OL coach Dustin Fry. Craddock looked like a weak link from his hiring, given that he was a GA just three years before, and now he’s being asked to out-scheme SEC defensive coordinators. Fry inherited a bad unit but it didn’t get any better and now OL recruiting is not going well. If Morris isn’t confident those guys can fix the problems, then he should replace them now. It will reflect very poorly on Morris if he keeps both and then has to fire them after going 4-8 next year.
Cody: I’m gonna go with the special teams coach(es), who ever he was/they were. Though most everything was bad, that element of their game was obviously the worst.
Derek: I don’t see any staff changes happening, unless someone like Jeff Traylor takes a head coaching position at a FCS school. Otherwise, they will just operate under the assumption that they inherited a tire fire and you can’t hold 2018 against them.
Adam P: It seems like this staff can recruit, and without us knowing that, I think a lot of people might be calling for more heads, even if we knew it would be a rough year. We might lose a coach or two, but I’m not really expecting any.
Eric: Have to have a guy on staff dedicated to special teams, cause what the system was this year clearly didn’t work. I think there was some naivety from Morris that you can walk into the SEC with this inexperienced of an offensive staff. Either the current staff needs to learn quick and make adjustments or more experienced guys need to come in.
4. Obviously if Kelly Bryant comes in, he’s the starter at QB. But if he chooses to go elsewhere, what does the QB situation look like to you?
Adam F: I don’t think you can start Storey after this season. Starting a fifth-year senior at the most important position during a total rebuild is likely to set you back in the future. Otherwise, I’m not sure who to pick between Noland, Jones, or Jefferson. A grad transfer other than Bryant isn’t out of the question, either.
Cody: In that case, I think it would be Storey’s to lose with Noland providing the most competition. I can see Cole Kelley transferring somewhere he can utilize his skillset.
Derek: I don’t think Ty Storey should ever start a game for Arkansas ever again unless Connor Noland elects not to play football or K.J. Jefferson just isn’t ready. I think Bryant was a pipe dream the entire time and was just something fans latched on to during the dreadful season to talk themselves off the ledge.
Adam P: This is a scary thought if Kelly Bryant doesn’t come on. Ty Storey just doesn’t seem to have what it takes and I don’t think he’ll get there in the offseason, either. Connor Noland didn’t show me anything to make me believe he’ll be ready by next year, either. Besides the offensive line, the quarterback situation has got me really worried about 2019 already.
Eric: Morris couldn’t figure out until game four on who to go with between Storey and Kelley. That’s a pretty clear indication neither can really cut it. It’s got to be Noland or Jefferson if Bryant doesn’t come in.
5. What is the most important thing you need to see this offseason to feel confident in having a better 2019?
Adam F: The biggest thing is that I don’t want any coaches to leave voluntarily. Maybe you fire an assistant or two, but I don’t want to see any lateral moves. This recruiting class needs another offensive lineman. There are definitely some folks that need to transfer out, but a mass exodus of key contributors is not what we want to see.
Cody: Obviously having Bryant decide on Arkansas would be huge. But even with him and the currently highly ranked recruiting class, I am still very concerned about the offensive line. I need to see either some improvement, some transfers, some big recruit commitments, or all of the above for our offensive line.
Derek: Probably just avoiding any super negative headlines, like player arrests and avoiding injuries. Next year is going to be just as big a challenge as this year was. You don’t get better in the SEC by getting younger unless you are Alabama or Georgia.
Adam P: I want to see all the commits in this recruiting class actually sign the dotted line. A lot of people are banking their hopes on this coaching staff’s recruiting efforts and if it falls short, what do we have to hang our hat on? I want to see a quarterback step up in the offseason that is the easy starter, just for the simple fact I don’t want to go into the season NOT KNOWING who the damn quarterback is 4 games into the season.
Eric: Not buying into any of the coaching cliches this year. I’m with Adam that a quarterback has to emerge and be the guy. And there needs to be big progress with the offensive line or not even Kelly Bryant would be able to save the offense.