Pittman’s Halftime Adjustments; KJ’s MVP Trophy & Mike’s 2021 Breakout Razorbacks

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This and More in This Week's Ask Mike

Q. Our first question is from Eddy Lynn who wants to know: Have we ever had a better football staff at making halftime adjustments than this one? I am so thankful to have a real head coach with smart assistants running our football program.

A. It’s the best in a while for sure. Night and day compared to the previous two head coaches. Arkansas outscored it’s opponents 222-159 in the second half of games. The Rice game, Georgia Southern, LSU, Missouri and Penn State stand out to me. There were some really good adjustments on both sides of the ball in those games but particularly with the offense.

Look at the Outback Bowl. The defense pitches a shut out in the second half. They harassed quarterback Sean Clifford into quick throws and knocked him out of the game late. And then the offense, which struggled and seemed confused in the first half, just dominated with it’s running game.

Here’s how Penn St. head coach James Franklin put it: “In the second half they made an adjustment and made a commitment to run the quarterback. That was obviously a major factor in the game.”

So you are dead on. This head coach is a huge upgrade over what Hog fans suffered through from 2012 to 2020.

Q. Referring to the Outback Bowl MVP trophy, Richard Grant says: Need to strap that thing on to KJ’s back. He carried the rest of the offense during the game.

A. Did he ever. Penn State correctly assumed that Arkansas would try to run it more with Treylon Burks out and that KJ would struggle in the passing game without his go to receiver. They did a lot of stuff in the first half to disrupt the offense but KJ got together with Kendal Briles at halftime. They made some adjustments and we all could could see the difference on the opening drive in the third quarter. KJ ended up with 110 yards on the ground. Tops for either team. The Hogs with a whopping 353 yards rushing. K.J. just keeps stepping up for this team. He’s off to a great start in 2022.

Q. Roger Ballard says: 4 an 0 in trophy games…. WPS !!!!

A. Sam Pittman admitted that he had a team photo done before the team left for Tampa with the three trophies Arkansas brought home in the regular season. He had the photographer leave a space where he could photoshop the Outback trophy into that photo after the bowl.

This is going to be hard to top. Four trophies in one season. Wow. That’s still hard to believe.

Q. Referring to the fancy stuff that wasn’t working against Penn State’s defense, Razor says: Down their throat on 2 drives. And then Briles wants to get cute and run two plays laterally again. Does he just want credit for being a cutesy offensive genius or somethin’??

A. We all know that Kendal Briles loves complicated and fancy looking plays. He likes double reverses with halfbacks or running back throwing passes and yes, he likes to probe the edges.

This drives some fans nuts because the success rate on these plays is in the tank and it looks especially bad when normal bread and butter plays are getting the job done. But I would suggest an alternative to giving this stuff up as a lot of fans suggest. How about making those plays work?

If they’re gonna keep running double reverses, get the players who are involved to work on it over and over in the offseason. Do it until it’s second nature. Also if receivers or running backs are going to throw passes identify the ones who actually appear to have some ability to throw the ball and have them work on that in the offseason. Do it in the spring. Keep working on it in practice during the season.

Other teams make this stuff work and it’s fun to watch when it succeeds. Right now Scott Fountain, Arkansas special teams coach, is making trick plays work and the fans love it.

Q. Penn State also had a problem with getting cute. Remember that embarrassing trick play late in the first half that backfired?

HogWild in Tennessee calls it: The worst fake punt in college football history.

A. That’s an exaggeration. I’ve seen worse.

It happened with 53 seconds left in the half, 4th and 13 at the Arkansas 36. I think they were trying to fool Arkansas’ defense into thinking that the punter was going to throw it to a tight end crossing in front of him to the right. The tight end had his hands out like, throw it to me. Throw it to me. Way too obvious. The punter almost got sacked and he had to throw the ball up like a mortar shot. To make matters worse there wasn’t a Penn State receiver anywhere near it and it ended up being a perfect pass to Joe Fouche in the end zone who had it in his hands but wisely dropped it so the ball came out to the 36. Arkansas almost ended up with a field goal out of it but that’s when Warren Thompson got picked off on one of Arkansas’ fancy plays that didn’t work.

Q. Alex4Hogs88 asks: I am curious to know your opinion of James Franklin as a coach and a person. He does seem like a real stand up guy in his press conferences and obviously a great coach doing well at Vandy and Penn State. So… what do you think of him?

A. He’s my kind of head coach. Instead of cancelling out out like A&M and some other teams did, and believe me Franklin could have come up with a COVID excuse, he not only brought his team to Tampa minus six starters, but they were ready to play. That team had a lot of tough luck this season. Under different circumstances they might have been in the playoffs this year but Franklin never made any excuses. Like Sam Pittman, he’s the kind of head coach that most guys would run through a brick wall for.

Q. Hud Windom on Facebook asks: What’s going on with all these SEC teams losing bowl games? Texas Tech was 6-6 and jumped all over a pretty good Mississippi State team. Those guys looked like they were asleep.

A. Mississippi State had six starting linemen out for the game. Three on the Offensive line. Three on the defensive line. I give Mike Leach a lot of credit for what I just mentioned. He didn’t use a depleted roster as an excuse for not playing. It reminds me of what Sam Pittman did last year before the LSU game. When you’re reduced to playing backups on the offensive or defensive lines you’ve got problems. But some coaches suck it up and play anyway.

Q. Hobhog wants to know: With all the players opting out of bowl games they consider unimportant, do you think a 16 team playoff scenario will be accelerated to keep more players engaged?

A. We’ve got to get to eight or 12 first and they’re still arguing about that. Hopefully a 12 team playoff is on the way and maybe more after that. And yes, in answer to your question, I have to believe that fewer athletes would opt out of post season play if more teams were involved in a chance to win a national championship. That’s not the main reason for expansion but it’s a good side issue.

It’s amazing to me how many people out there who are opposed to a real playoff system. When I say real, I mean more than the four teams we have now. The argument seems to be, in most years there are no more than four teams capable of winning a playoff so don’t waste time with blowout first or even second round games. Really? So let’s apply that logic to the NFL or high school football which have real playoffs. Or the NCAA basketball tournament. We’re gonna predetermine that only four teams are capable of winning the whole thing? What arrogance. Put more teams in and see. I guarantee there will be upsets.

Q. Pigsfeat says: Adding to what hobhog asked, are bowl games, as we know them, going to end? Some of these games have been unbearable to watch due to teams losing players/coaches to opt outs. Seems like 8 or 16 teams would create a greater distance between the have’s and have-not’s.

A. Maybe. But I don’t understand the point. If some fans don’t want to watch these lower tier bowl game, then don’t watch. Those games are for the fans of those teams and for players who want to play in a bowl. I was a high school player on a team that did not make the playoffs my senior year but if I had a chance to play one more game with another team that also didn’t make the playoffs, I’d have taken it. Practices were work but every game I ever played in was fun. It’s why you play the game.

Q. Lanny wants to know: Is there any hope for our basketball team. These guys don’t know how to play defense.

A. I’m still trying to figure it out. It is a lack of effort? Does Muss have a bunch of guys who only care about the offensive end of the floor. They looked better with the ball against Mississippi State than they did against Oklahoma or Hofstra. Shot three’s better for sure. But guys like Devo Davis were getting beat off the dribble up top on defense and there was no help from the other guys. Way too many drives through the defense for layups and dunks.

Did Muss look too much at the scoring numbers for these grad transfers and not enough at their defense? I can’t believe that. To me this team needs another big. Vanover might be okay but the only way to know would be to play him a lot more and I don’t see that happening. That leaves Jaylin Williams as the Lone Ranger inside. The one good thing, at least for now, is that this team is unbeaten at BWA. Can they continue that in SEC play? If not, even though that place is sold out, we’re going to see a lot of empty seats for the next two months.

Muss has turned things around in his first two seasons but to me this is a bigger challenge.

Q. Back to football. lakecityhog says: The season is over and maybe now is the time to ask, “is Kendal Briles leaving?” I have been hearing rumors of Miami as OC for nearly 2 weeks. Wouldn’t this be a lateral move at best?

A. No news is good news. I’m not sure that he’s their top candidate. Briles is most likely going to get a hefty raise. If he leaves it would most likely be for a head coaching job.

Q. ChitownHawg asks: What are the coaches saying about Hornsby as far as development? Not to far back there were legit doubts about KJ and now look where he is. Is Hornsby’s passing and decision making improving?

A. The only coach we hear from during the season is Sam Pittman. Now that it’s its over I’m hoping that we get a chance to talk with Briles and ask him that question. As long as KJ Jefferson stays healthy and Hornsby doesn’t have to take over next season I do think he might be ready to start in 2023. Don’t forget about Lucas Coley. I’m anxious to watch both of those guys this spring.
Hornsby did do a good job late in the Outback Bowl when he had to take over for Jefferson.

Q. PorkSoda wants to know: Who was your break out player of the year on offense/defense/special teams?

A. Offense: KJ Jefferson. Was picked as the 14 the best quarterback in the SEC by the idiotic SEC media at Media Days and ended up as one of the top three. Answered the biggest question this team had going into the season.

Defense: Hayden Henry: Went from mostly a backup linebacker with 25 tackles in 2020 to a hundred in 2021. This young man was the most aggressive tackler on the team and that’s saying something because both Grant Morgan and Bumper Pool could flat punish ball carriers. From the season opener on he gave Barry Odom a three man rotation at linebacker which helped keep all three of them fresh and fast.

Special teams: Who else? Cam Little. He was 20 of 24 on field goals. A perfect 46 for 46 on extra points. He led the team in scoring with 106 points, 34 more than Treylon Burks. Did a great job on kickoff in the Outback Bowl after Vito Calvaruso hit the transfer portal. And he’s just a freshman.

Q. Razorback Redneck wants to know: What was it like manning the studio all week while Alyssa and the rest of the PTN crew had fun in Tampa?

A. Nice and quiet except when I was watching games and because I didn’t have to worry about disturbing anybody else in the room, I yelled at the refs a lot. Yelled that the game announcers and mostly yelled at teams I do not like, like Missouri and Ole Miss, which both lost.

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