Tom Murphy is a reporter for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. A graduate of Louisiana Tech University, he is a member of the Football Writers Association of America, and voter for the Heisman Trophy and AP Top 25 football poll.
Turnovers lost cause for Hogs
NWA Media/JASON IVESTER -- Arkansas senior quarterback Tyler Wilson gets up from the field after being sacked by the Mississippi State defense during the fourth quarter on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2012, at Davis Wade Stadium in Starkville, Miss.
FAYETTEVILLE No team in the contiguous United States is worse than Arkansas when it comes to turnover margin.
The Razorbacks, who had five turnovers in Saturday’s loss to Mississippi State, rank No. 119 nationally with a turnover margin of minus-1.55 per game, better only than Hawaii (minus 1.6) among Football Bowl Subdivision teams.
Arkansas has suffered 17 more turnovers (29) than it picked up (12).
“I wish I had the answer for it,” Arkansas center Travis Swanson said. “But you can’t really explain it.
Things happen. Situations happen and you just have to deal with it on the fly.”
The Razorbacks have suffered 29 turnovers (14 lost fumbles and 15 interceptions thrown). Only seven FBS teams have had more passes intercepted than Arkansas: Western Michigan (21), Washington State (19), Idaho (19), Michigan (17), Houston (17), Akron (17) and Tulane (16).
Mississippi State intercepted quarterback Tyler Wilson twice on Saturday to bring his total to 12, double his total from last season.
CBS Sports’ NFL Insider Jason La Canfora cited anonymous NFL sources on Sunday who claim ESPN analyst Jon Gruden has made calls to identify possible staff members if he were to make a return to coaching, and that both Arkansas and Tennessee “want Gruden.”
La Canfora also wrote that based on the nature of the questions, the NFL sources believe Gruden, who led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a Super Bowl title after the 2002 season, is more likely considering a return to the college game.
Wrote La Canfora, “Numerous sources who have talked to him [Gruden] in recent weeks came away with the impression that Gruden was more serious about [a] return to coaching now than at any time since he was fired by the Bucs after the 2008 season, although it still would have to be a perfect situation to lure him from his current job at ESPN.”
Tennessee officially joined the list of schools with vacancies on Sunday when Athletic Director Dave Hart fired third year coach Derek Dooley.
Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long has been involved in a seven-month search to replace interim Coach John L. Smith.
Gruden’s name popped up in April after Long terminated the contract of Bobby Petrino, but league sources said he was not a viable candidate at Arkansas.
Gruden’s wife Cindy attended school at Tennessee, and many college insiders believe the Volunteers would extend a substantial contract to lure Gruden to campus. Arkansas also has the financial resources to make its next coach one of the best-paid in the business.
Long has declined recent interview requests from the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.
Slow 2nd half
Arkansas quarterback Tyler Wilson was plugged in with favorite target Cobi Hamilton in the first half on Saturday, connecting with Hamilton six times for 68 yards, including a 30-yard touchdown pass on the Hogs’ first possession.
But Hamilton accounted for one reception for 20 yards in the second half.
“We ended up playing a little more man coverage as the game went on,” Mississippi State Coach Dan Mullen said, when asked about how the Bulldogs slowed the Wilson-to-Hamilton combination.
“Got up, played some man coverage, tried to bump him and get up and not give him clean releases off the line of scrimmage.
“We were able to get a little more pressure in the second half with our Dline, which was going to be huge. With a quarterback like Tyler Wilson it’s hard to blitz him a lot because if he gets you, he’s going to get you big. Creating the turnovers, that’s a huge, huge deal in what we need to win a game.”
Arkansas’ 45-14 loss to Mississippi State marked the Hogs’ third-lowest point total of the season and their third-highest points allowed.
The Razorbacks have dropped to No. 88 in scoring offense (24.5 points per game) and No. 91 in scoring defense (31.4 ppg).
Arkansas Coach John L. Smith apparently didn’t hear part of the question when a reporter asked if he was “stunned” that the Razorbacks didn’t qualify for a bowl.
“Am I stunned?” Smith replied after the question was repeated. “Heh-heh. No. Are you?”
When the reporter qualified the question by bringing up Arkansas’ highly regarded preseason standing, Smith said: “Another question.”
Mississippi State capitalized on match ups that pitted tailback LaDarius Perkins against the Hogs’ young linebackers. True freshman linebacker A.J.
Turner was right on him, but Perkins managed to snare a 13-yard wheel route touchdown to end the Bulldogs’ first possession, just tapping his cleat inside the sideline on a play that was upheld upon review.
Smith said the Hogs’ young defenders have to learn from experience.
“They’re going to get a lot better,” Smith said. “ It’s kind of a deal where you want to keep things as simple as you can keep it, but yet you still have to have some bullets in your gun or you’re going to get stomped on.
“So, how many bullets do you use and are we asking guys to maybe do some things maybe they can’t do.”
Perkins also caught a 24-yard touchdown on the wheel against Turner in the third quarter.
PLAYERS OF WEEK
OFFENSE: RB Dennis Johnson
The senior from Texarkana led the Razorbacks with 88 yards on 15 carries and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. Johnson’s 7-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter gave Arkansas a short-lived 17-14 lead.
DEFENSE: DE Trey Flowers
The sophomore from Huntsville, Ala. had 6 tackles, with 2 unassisted and 4 assisted tackles, and had a 5-yard sack. Flowers ledthe Razorbacks with 2 1/2 tackles for loss and also with 3 hurries.
LSU at Arkansas, 1:30 p.m.
Georgia Tech at Georgia, 11 a.m.
Kentucky at Tennessee, 11:21 a.m.
Auburn at Alabama, 2:30 p.m.
Florida at Florida State, 2:30 p.m.
Vanderbilt at Wake Forest, 2:30 p.m.
Missouri at Texas A&M, 6 p.m.
Mississippi State at Mississippi, 6 p.m.
South Carolina at Clemson, 6 p.m.
Sports, Pages 20 on 11/19/2012