ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
AP photo by Michael Woods / Mississippi State running back Kylin Hill avoids Arkansas defender Andrew Parker on Nov. 2, 2019, in Fayetteville, Ark.

It's never a good sign when bewilderment becomes a constant in Southeastern Conference football, especially when the calendar flips to November.

That was exactly the case last Saturday at Arkansas, when the reeling Razorbacks were dismantled 54-24 by previously reeling Mississippi State.

"I don't think we showed up today," Arkansas senior linebacker De'Jon Harris told reporters afterward. "I don't know what's going on."

Such comments are hardly words of support for second-year Razorbacks coach Chad Morris, who is 4-17 overall and 0-14 in league games. Those numbers are decidedly worse than the 9-12 record Willie Taggart compiled in 21 games at Florida State before being fired this past Sunday.

Arkansas hosts Western Kentucky this Saturday before having its second open date of the season, but then the Razorbacks must close with games against LSU in Baton Rouge and Missouri in Little Rock. Lose the last two, and Morris will become the first coach in SEC history to go 0-8 in conference play in consecutive seasons.

"We've got three games left and two games in front of our home crowd," Morris said. "It's about having some pride, playing and responding."

The Razorbacks were 32-point underdogs before their 48-7 loss at Alabama on Oct. 26, a game the Crimson Tide led 48-0 three minutes into the third quarter. They could be even bigger underdogs at LSU.

Mississippi State arrived last weekend after a winless October but feasted on the Razorbacks, compiling 640 total yards and an eye-popping 460 rushing yards. Junior running back Kylin Hill paced the onslaught by rushing for 234 yards and 11.1 yards per carry.

The Bulldogs scored the first 17 points of last week's slaughter, marking the third straight contest in which Arkansas has trailed 17-0 late in the first quarter or early in the second.

"When you get behind that quick, it's difficult," Morris said. "They owned the time of possession in the first half, and, for the most part, the entire game. You have the ball for two series, and you're already down — it's tough after you've fallen behind and are trying to create some kind of momentum.

"Nothing about this performance was a part of our practice last week. We had great energy."

Being a good practice team will not be enough for Morris, who had a 2-10 first season at SMU in 2015 before improving the Mustangs to 5-7 and 7-5 the next two years. He has followed up last season's 2-10 debut in Fayetteville with a 2-7 mark.

There are currently a slew of recognizable second-year college football coaches with losing records, but Tennessee's Jeremy Pruitt and UCLA's Chip Kelly have teams playing noticeably better now compared to the start of September. Scott Frost has been a disappointment so far at Nebraska, but Morris and Taggart have been the worst of the bunch, and Taggart is now unemployed (though quite wealthy as the result of his buyout).

The Razorbacks began this season with hopes of improved play at quarterback with graduate transfers Nick Starkel, who came over from Texas A&M, and Ben Hicks, who had played for Morris at SMU. Those two have combined for nine touchdowns and 12 interceptions, which resulted in Morris announcing Monday that redshirt freshman John Stephen Jones would be the new starter.

Western Kentucky will counter with Ty Storey, a nine-game starter for the Razorbacks last season.

"The inconsistencies at the quarterback position have not benefited us," Morris said.

Jones is the grandson of Dallas Cowboys owner and former Arkansas offensive lineman Jerry Jones, who would be nice for Morris to have on his side. Even that may not be enough, however, as last week's generously announced attendance of 52,256 was roughly 20,000 below capacity at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

There have been four instances of SEC teams enduring consecutive 0-8 league runs, but each of those occurred with coaching transitions — Vanderbilt in 1996-97 with Rod Dowhower and Woody Widenhofer, South Carolina in 1998-99 with Brad Scott and Lou Holtz, Vanderbilt again in 2001-02 with Widenhofer and Bobby Johnson and Kentucky in 2012-13 with Joker Phillips and Mark Stoops.

Morris could be a dubious first if his Razorbacks can't fix things fast.

"A bowl game is out of contention," senior defensive tackle McTelvin Agim said, "but we can't just go out there and lay down. We have to play and build for next year."

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT