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Razorback Fans Delight in Auburn’s Early-Season Struggles

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Another gift from the referees may not be enough to save Gus Malzahn’s bacon.

Syndication: Montgomery Jake Crandall, Montgomery Advertiser via Imagn Content Services, LLC

Schadenfreude

Definition: enjoyment obtained from the troubles of others

(From German — Schaden damage + Freude joy)

They say success is cyclical, but it sure didn’t feel that way for Arkansas Razorback football after Bobby Petrino’s motorcycle crash in spring of 2012.

For nearly eight years, outside of a brief Bielemic surge good enough to get Bret a way-too-early, way-too-much extension, it seemed like it was one misstep after another for the program.

The worst of it, of course, came in the form of those two exceedingly Excedrin-worthy seasons under Chad Morris. What many fans despised the most about that botched experiment was that Morris spectacularly under-delivered on the blustering promises he made right after his hiring.

“This will be one of the most explosive offenses in all of college football,” Morris said on December 6, 2017 as a plane whisked him towards his fate in Fayetteville as the least successful Razorback head coach of all time.

Soon after that, he blew into the Razorback athletic complex with the confidence of a cowboy swaggering into a Wild West saloon. He told his new players: “When we come back here in January, man it’s full-tilt boogie now. We fixin’ to put it in the left lane and put the hammer down,” he said, pacing back and forth while jabbing his finger into the air.

“I’ve got the blueprint of what it takes to win a national championship.”

Turns out that was overshooting it a bit.

In retrospect, it sure would have been nice to have the blueprint to produce even an average SEC offense. Or develop a few future NFL players. For all of Morris’ reputation as an offensive guru, none of his Razorback offensive skill position players got drafted into the NFL after his two seasons on the Hill (though, to his credit, he did sign likely future pros such as Treylon Burks.)

In fact, it was the Razorbacks’ defense — which was equally as bad — which produced NFL draft picks like McTelvin Agim (Denver), Kamren Curl (Washington) and linebacker Dre Greenlaw, who helps lead the defense for a San Francisco team that has the third-best chance of winning this season’s title according to the latest Super Bowl odds.

Instead, aside from recruiting, Morris mostly drove Arkansas’ program into the ground.

But that did give him the opportunity to hook up with his buddy, Gus Malzahn, as Auburn’s offensive coordinator. Heading into the season, his goal was to coach sophomore Auburn quarterback Bo Nix from “good” to “great,” according to AL.com. He added: “We want to be the most explosive offense in the country… We’re going to do everything we can to do that.”

Arkansas fans knew better.

And now Auburn fans do as well.

Before this past Saturday, Nix had struggled mightily in the new Tiger offense, the SEC’s worst starting quarterback in terms of completion rate through the first four weeks. He’s often visibly frustrated, as can be seen in a heated exchange with Chad Morris and receiver Seth Williams on the sideline during Auburn’s loss to South Carolina in Week 4.

Auburn now sits at 3-2, but could easily be 1-4 if not for getting gifts from the referees against Arkansas and Ole Miss. Razorback fans don’t need a reminder about that travesty of a fumble call on The Plains, but on Saturday they were joined in commiseration by Ole Miss fans.

After Ole Miss went up 28-27, it looked like for all the world that the ensuing kickoff brushed the Auburn returner’s finger before the Rebels recovered the ball in the endzone. But — no surprise — the SEC officials decided it wasn’t a fumble and wasn’t even forth a review (despite video evidence to the contrary).

While Nix at last had a good game, it was one the Tigers were still on the verge of losing.

“When you watch Auburn on offense, nobody looks comfortable. Nobody looks confident,” Jake Crain, an Auburn-focused analyst of the SEC West, said last week. “Everybody’s herky jerky, and you literally never know what you’re going to get. You literally never know. And that’s what you get when teams don’t have identities.”

Meanwhile, after years of wandering in the desert, Arkansas football most certainly has an identity. Its defense-first, played with no nonsense, good fundamentals and great intensity.

The Hogs’ hard hitting means “you can hear it when you play Arkansas,” Crain adds in his “The Jboy Show” podcast. ”Just like you could hear Auburn and Georgia last night, you can hear it when Arkansas plays. There’s no regard for human life on that field when Arkansas is on defense.”

For the first time in a very long time, Arkansas is playing the right way. It’s deservedly the toast of the SEC town for doing so.

For many Hog fans, this success is all the more sweet because Chad Morris and Gus Malzahn are struggling to thrive under the intense pressure of their fanbase’s high expectations. Malzahn, it seemed, played Arkansas a time or two during head Hog job openings in order to get multi-million dollar raises and extensions at Auburn.

Oh, and he also got an enormous buyout which means Auburn would need to pay $21.5 million to fire him this season, with half of that total due within 30 days. Since the Tigers don’t have that kind of cash on hand, they would need to turn to super boosters like Jimmy Rane and Raymond Harbert to pony up that kind of cash, Brandon Marcello recently wrote for 247Sports.com.

But, according to Crain’s sources within the Auburn program, the ax is still likely to fall this season. Crain said last week he’s been told there’s about an 80% chance Malzahn will be fired in 2020.

Perhaps Auburn’s Ole Miss win reduces this percentage some, but it doesn’t wipe away the fact that Auburn’s started this season on a dysfunctional note while Arkansas has thrived.

The 2010s were the worst-ever decade for Hogs football, but thanks to Sam Pittman’s replacement of Chad Morris, this new decade could become one of the best ever.