Clay Henry's Top 10 Keys: Arkansas vs. LSU

By: Clay Henry
Published: Thursday, November 8, 2018
Arkansas football coach Chad Morris, right, listens while Cross Church Fayetteville pastor Nick Floyd speaks during an event Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Fayetteville.
Photo by Andrew Albright via Cross Church
Arkansas football coach Chad Morris, right, listens while Cross Church Fayetteville pastor Nick Floyd speaks during an event Tuesday, May 15, 2018, in Fayetteville.

LSU coach Ed Orgeron had a chance to hire Chad Morris as offensive coordinator at Ole Miss. Apparently, Morris didn’t use his magic line on how he’d get to Oxford.

Morris did use it the first time with the Arkansas search committee at a Dallas hotel. Morris told them, “I’d walk backward to Arkansas.”

It was sort of a blind date. Morris didn’t know exactly who was going to meet him at the hotel, or who would be waiting for him in a back room.

“I was told to go in the front door, take a left and look for someone,” he said. “They were going to go wink, wink, a head nod and then elbow, elbow.

“Sure enough, I took a left and there was someone with a wink and one of these.”

Morris moved his elbow for the crowd at The Summit, a weekly business luncheon at Cross Church Pinnacle Hills in Rogers. That was Friday of the open week as Morris prepared the Hogs for this week’s LSU game. He was answering questions from teaching pastor Nick Floyd.

The meeting was on a Monday just after SMU finished its 2017 regular season. There was a second interview about a week later, including a session with newly hired Arkansas athletics director Hunter Yurachek.

Morris said that interview happened at “the DFW Airport. I was told to go through a double glass door, keep my head down and take a right and look for a man giving the peace sign.”

There is good karma for Morris on blind dates. He met his wife Paula 29 years ago on a blind date set by mutual friends. They went to Chili’s for dinner. That was part of the early hits from a visit at The Summit.

To follow up on the Morris talk, his boss, Yurachek, went through a similar session with Floyd at the Cross Church campus in Fayetteville this week. On Tuesday, the UA athletic director covered the events that led to his hiring two days before Morris was hired.

“It was an interesting and very quick search process,” Yurachek said. “I had gotten contacted by a search firm on a Tuesday that you may hear from the chancellor at the University of Arkansas about a job. Sure enough on Wednesday, Chancellor (Joseph) Steinmetz gave me a call and said, ‘I would like to talk to you about our director of athletics position at the University of Arkansas.’ I said, ‘OK, when do you want to have that conversation?’ He said, ‘Right now.’

“We spent about two hours on the phone that Wednesday afternoon. He called me again on Friday, almost 48 hours later and said that he was going be in Houston the next day - Arkansas was playing Houston the next day and they had a service project - and he asked if we could meet somewhere in Houston that morning. I said, ‘Let’s meet at my office because nobody will be there on a Saturday morning.’ His wife, Sandy, and my wife, Jennifer, went for a walk on campus and got a cup of coffee, and the chancellor and I, and Stacy Lewis, had a meeting in my office at the University of Houston.

“So the chancellor left and went through the community service project and Houston just kicks the snot out of Arkansas that night. The chancellor was not happy, and I was sitting there court-side thinking, ‘This is really good for the University of Houston, but probably not very good for my chances to get the job at the University of Arkansas.’

“On Monday morning I got a call from the chancellor and he said, ‘I’ve got to ask you a question: I want to know if you want to be the director of athletics at the University of Arkansas.’ It didn’t take me long to answer, ‘Yes,’ and I said, ‘Does this mean I have the job?’ He said, ‘No.’ He had to get board approval.”

It didn’t take long for the approval to come, but it seemed forever to Yurachek.

“It was only like four hours but it felt like four days before I heard back from him.” he said. “He offered me the job and sent me an offer letter that I didn’t read very well because it said I started that day. True story. That’s typical for coaches, but not typical for athletic directors, but you may remember the University of Arkansas was in the middle of trying to hire a head football coach and he wanted me to be part of the end of that search. The next day Jennifer and I get on a plane to Dallas and go and meet Chad and Paula Morris. We flew through the night from Dallas to Arkansas and landed in Fayetteville about 2 o’clock on a Wednesday morning.

“I had only been to Arkansas for about one hour in my entire life, and that was for a presentation at Harding University; my wife had never been to the great state of Arkansas. And I looked out the plane and said, ‘I sure hope we like it.’

“On Wednesday we had my press conference and on Thursday we had Coach Morris’ press conference, and he and I have been locked at the hip ever since.”

It’s fun to get the back stories on these kinds of hires. It’s also good to know the information was released in church. You will find the truth in church.

There were other topics Morris discussed in his one-on-one with Floyd. There was the “hot seat” session with a list of questions.

“Believe me, I know what the hot seat is,” Morris said, with the crowd rolling in laughter. “Nick, you want to get me back?”

Floyd didn’t flinch. The questions rolled on and Morris responded.

Favorite singer: George Strait

Movie star who Morris would cast as himself: Chuck Norris

Favorite NFL team: Dallas Cowboys

Favorite last meal: something Mexican

Favorite football player: Roger Staubach

Favorite baseball player: Nolan Ryan

Favorite basketball player: Michael Jordan

There was also some dialogue on what Morris is facing in a 2-7 season, not that it had anything to do with the hot seat.

“You have to embrace setbacks,” Morris said. “It tells you three things: who you are, what you are about and it finds out if you are strong enough in your culture.”

What Morris said you don’t do is “pout, complain or defend.”

It’s during the storm that you “embrace the tough moments and look for the small victories,” he said. “You can see success happening and you know the culture is changing. Then, when you get through the storm, don’t change because more storms are coming.”

No doubt, the Hogs have not gotten through the first wave of storms. LSU looks to be a strong storm rolling in from the south. Here are some of the keys for weathering the storm.


Secondary Play I

If there is a difference between the two teams, it is highlighted by secondary play. LSU’s four starters in the back end of the defense may be the best collection in the nation.

Cornerbacks Greedy Williams and Kristian Fulton are terrific in one-on-one coverage. That allows strong safety Grant Delpit, an All-SEC type, to play the run along with rover linebacker Devin White.

Delpit put on a show against Mississippi State. He had a career-high 10 tackles, added two interceptions and a sack to give MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald misery from start to finish.

Secondary Play II

The Arkansas group of corners Ryan Pulley and Jarques McClellion and safeties Santos Ramirez and Kamren Curl has been up and down.

Ramirez is a native of Shreveport, La., and has this game circled, his last time to play against his home-state team. LSU offered him, then pulled his scholarship later. He hasn’t forgotten.

Turnovers

LSU ranks first in the SEC (fifth nationally) in turnover ratio. The Tigers just don’t make mistakes. They are plus 1.33 on the season. Arkansas is minus 0.67 to rank 13th in the SEC (No. 107 nationally).

The Tigers are also among the least-penalized teams. They lead the SEC, but Arkansas is the second.

LSU’s 36-16 upset of Georgia was partly because the Tigers avoided mistakes. They did not have a turnover and were only penalized twice.

Quarterback Joe Burrow has thrown only four interceptions. The Tigers have lost just four fumbles.

The Run

This might surprise some, but LSU’s run defense hasn’t been great this season, perhaps because the schedule has been so tough. LSU allows 147.2 yards per game, just eighth in the SEC. Arkansas ranks one notch back, allowing 153.2 per game.

LSU’s backs may not be as potent as in some years with Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice, but there is still ability with Nick Brossette and Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Rakeem Boyd has surged over the second half of the season, but was held in check by Vanderbilt. Can the Hogs get him going and keep that LSU secondary from just playing pass? That might be as big a key as there is in the game.

The Kickers

This might be a matchup of the league’s two best kickers. Connor Limpert is 16 of 20 this year. He had made 10 in a row before missing from 60 yards against Vanderbilt, and he later made a 55-yard attempt. That puts him in the All-SEC conversation.

Unfortunately, the conversation starts with LSU’s Cole Tracy. The senior transfer is 21 of 24 on the season.

The Punters

It’s been a revolving door for Arkansas and it may turn a little more this week. Blake Johnson began the year as the punter, but has not been on the depth chart of late.

True freshman Reid Bauer took control of the job with a great game against Texas A&M, but the Hogs have looked at another true freshman of late. Brentwood, Tenn., product Matthew Phillips has three punts for a 42.7 average, including a 47-yarder against Vandy.

LSU has a bomber at punter. Zach Von Rosenberg (6-5, 245 pounds) averages 46.3. The Tigers also use Josh Growden for pooch punting. He averages 36.1 on 12 tries.

The Series

While some have argued on whether or not the Battle for the Boot is a rivalry game, it’s worth noting that LSU leads the all-time series 39-22-2. Arkansas has won five of the last 11, including by 17-0 in 2014 in Fayetteville and 31-14 in 2015 in Baton Rouge.

There have been some great games in the series. While most point to the “miracles” in Little Rock where Arkansas leads 9-7, there have been some crushing losses, too. LSU ended a 22-game UA winning streak, 14-7, in the 1966 Cotton Bowl when the Hogs could have won a version of their second straight national title.

The Storey Touch

This could have been included in the turnover category. Ty Storey has been up and down in his attempt to protect the football, perhaps because he takes too many chances in his scrambles. He threw two interceptions against Vandy, the game’s only turnovers.

Storey missed the Tulsa game, out because of concussion protocol. He’s had another week off because of the bye. How does he respond with a week to polish a game plan?

Storey is 104 of 178 for 58.4 percent. He has nine touchdowns against seven interceptions. He’ll have to figure out a way to beat LSU’s back end for at least a few plays, perhaps in the run-pass option series that is the basis for the Morris offense.

Roster Change

The changing of the guard is noticeable. All you have to do is look at those who were the statistical standouts for Arkansas in last year’s game at LSU. The quarterbacks were Austin Allen and Cole Kelley. The running backs were David Williams and Devwah Whaley. The top receivers were Jeremy Patton, Will Gragg, Jonathan Nance and Whaley.

None of those would seem to be key factors for Arkansas in this game, although Whaley is battling back from ankle surgery. It might not be until next week when he’s full speed.

Of course, LSU has had some roster change, too. The Tigers have started 19 newcomers. Gone from the key spots last year are quarterback Danny Etling and running backs Derrius Guice and Darrel Williams and receiver DJ Chark.

Senior Night

Santos Ramirez probably gave the best summary for what it will be like Saturday night for the seniors on the Arkansas team and the handful of Louisiana players.

“I am pretty passionate right now,” Ramirez said. “This is my last year and it has not gone the best for me as a individual or for the team. Just coming here in my last home game against LSU, I am going to give it everything I’ve got.

“I want to do this for my teammates, for the state of Arkansas, for me being here as long as I have be here. I am going to give everything I have got on that field.

“It’s out there and it is killed or be killed. That’s our mentality am going into it this week right here for real. We cannot lose.”

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