Back Chad Morris and Arkansas Are Out of Excuses

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Chad Morris and Arkansas Are Out of Excuses

By Dave Holcomb
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Things didn’t exactly go as planned for the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2018. In Fayetteville, that’s the understatement of the year.

Things didn’t exactly go as planned for the Arkansas Razorbacks in 2018. In Fayetteville, that’s the understatement of the year.

During the first season under head coach Chad Morris, the Razorbacks went 2-10, which set a new mark for the worst record in program history. Not only did Arkansas go winless (0-8) in SEC play, but the program also lost to Colorado State and North Texas.

Such a disastrous season can’t be pinned on one item; multiple things went wrong for Arkansas last year. But Morris and the Razorbacks won’t be able to fall back on excuses if they experience similar struggles this season.

One of the biggest obstacles Arkansas faced in 2018 was a below average recruiting class. Morris arrived in Fayetteville during the first year of the Early Signing Period, which led to Arkansas’ 2018 recruiting class finishing just 48th overall in the country according to 247Sports. That was last in the SEC.

Of course, the problem with the excuse that Morris was a new coach in the first year of a new recruiting system is there were four other SEC programs that changed coaches that winter too, and all of those schools managed to finish with a recruiting class ranked in the Top nine in the SEC.

Still, even with the worst recruiting class in the conference, Arkansas had the talent to beat Colorado State, North Texas or steal an SEC game from an opponent such as Ole Miss at home. The Razorbacks can blame their two-win season on lack of proper coaching and/or player execution as well.

Arkansas utilized a pro-style offense under former coach Bret Bielema from 2013-17. Last season, the team switched to Morris’ spread offense, and it didn’t automatically click. Arkansas finished last season averaging 21.7 points per game, which was last in the SEC and 113th out of 129 FBS teams in the country.

The excuse was Morris didn’t have the players he needed to run his scheme. Well, to explain why, we could return to the No. 1 excuse -- Morris didn’t land a highly impactful 2018 recruiting class, and thus, he needed to count on the roster already intact, which didn’t fit his offense.

Still, in Bielema’s last season, Arkansas averaged a touchdown and extra point more on offense per game. Yes, senior quarterback Austin Allen graduated after 2017, but Cole Kelley split snaps with Allen as a freshman that year and returned last season. Morris also tried moving junior Ty Storey behind center, and that didn’t work either.

Morris will have to get his quarterback situation right this season, or he could be in for some heavy criticism. And he won’t have either Storey or Kelley to choose from, as both transferred away from the program.

The only quarterback left on the roster who received worthwhile playing time during a conference game last season is sophomore Connor Noland. He will likely be in a competition with graduate transfer Ben Hicks.

Both Noland and Hicks are intriguing options. Noland went 21-of-43 with 255 passing yards, a touchdown and two interceptions while playing in four games last year. His best performance came in one of Arkansas’ wins -- Noland competed 10-of-16 throws for 124 yards and a touchdown with an interception against Tulsa.

Hicks is even more intriguing, as he arrives in Fayetteville with experience playing for Morris. In his offense at SMU during 2017, Hicks posted 3,569 passing yards and 33 touchdowns.

That production would be a sight for sore eyes for the Razorbacks, but Hicks also turned it over with 12 interceptions and sustained 21 sacks that season. Considering Arkansas is replacing three starting offensive linemen this year as well, deploying a quarterback that can avoid pressure in Morris’ spread offense could be a major key.

But with those two quarterback options, and a much better class in Morris’ first full recruiting cycle -- Arkansas landed 11 4-star prospects in the 2019 class -- the new coach is out of his list of excuses.

Despite just six wins in the last two years combined, the expectation is Arkansas will be back competing for a bowl bid this season. In order to do that, the offense has to be much, much better.