State of the Hogs: Morris promises 'gut check' after 'unacceptable' effort

By: Clay Henry
Published: Saturday, November 17, 2018
Arkansas coach Chad Morris talks to players as they come off the field during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Starkville, Miss.
Photo by Ben Goff
Arkansas coach Chad Morris talks to players as they come off the field during a game against Mississippi State on Saturday, Nov. 17, 2018, in Starkville, Miss.

— Arkansas entered Saturday with wins in seven of the 13 road games at Mississippi State. In almost all of them, the Razorbacks had given great effort.

Included in the series are some true slobber knockers - flat-out slugfests. The physical nature that the two teams delivered blows for 60 minutes in past games is almost legend in the two camps.

So why would you expect anything different on this trip to Starkville? You might have guessed something was amiss when two Arkansas defensive starters came onto the field before warmups looking for the Mississippi State spirit squad.

Cornerback Ryan Pulley and strong safety Kamren Curl were the Razorbacks seen fraternizing with the opposition pom squad. It caused enough of a stir among the media that it was among the questions waiting for Arkansas coach Chad Morris after the Bulldogs administered a 52-6 whipping seldom seen in this series.

Well, it wasn't asked until after Morris had dressed down his players, assistant coaches and support staff for “completely unacceptable” effort in a way that left him visibly shaking by the time he got to the interview room. Morris did that on the Razorbacks' postgame radio show, then again in the media room before the first question was asked.

Morris called it “disappointment.” I'd call his mood angry or just plain mad.

That's probably about the way everyone else saw it after the Bulldogs romped. The Razorbacks made just 219 total yards and scored on a pair of Connor Limpert field goals.

The pregame meeting between the two players and the cheerleaders didn't change the tone from the head coach.

“It's completely unacceptable in all areas of the program,” Morris said, hardly changing expressions from the angry tone that was there at the start of the media briefing.

Senior captain Dre Greenlaw listened carefully as the pregame meeting by his teammates was described. He seemed surprised.

“I want to try to be a positive leader,” he said. “That's not something I would do. I'd sure hope there would be a different focus.

“Me, I want to be sure to be in the right mindset. I hope they consider the seriousness of the situation.

“I don't text someone in the two hours before a game. I'm locked in, ready to focus.”

I had an old-time MSU insider shaking his head about the Arkansas effort in the closing seconds of the game. He said it was probably the “worst” Arkansas team he'd ever seen. Notably absent, he said, were SEC-type linemen. Indeed, MSU seemed more equipped at the point of attack all day.

The Hogs have a chance to be the “worst” in the record book if they can't beat Missouri in six days. No team at Arkansas has ever lost 10 games. The Hogs are 2-9 before the finale in Columbia.

It's clear Morris knows where his team sits. First things first, he'll assess every area on Sunday.

“It will be a gut check,” Morris said. “It will take a special person to come back and put his best foot forward. It's OK if you don't want to. Just don't show up.”

Morris said that goes for every part of his program, including coaches, players and trainers.

“It's just unacceptable in all areas,” he said.

The Hogs did fight back, but it was only briefly. The Bulldogs cruised to a 17-0 lead, but the Hogs got a 36-yard Limpert field goal with 32 seconds left in the half.

Quarterback Ty Storey found some rhythm in the opening drive of the second half, too. Limpert, who missed from 43 yards late in the first quarter, converted again, this time from 32 yards to make it 17-6.

It was the play before that might have sealed the deal for the Bulldogs. Storey's 6-yard touchdown pass to Deon Stewart was wiped off the board on an offensive pass interference call when La'Michael Pettway was judged to be guilty of a pick play on an inside rub.

Storey was clearly frustrated by that call afterward, noting that it's a play that everyone in college football runs. Sometimes officials let it go, sometimes they flag it.

“I don't know why they call it or why they don't,” he said. “They've got to call it all the time or not at all.”

Storey said what he saw from his vantage point, “Our guy got open.”

Morris said his view was obstructed.

“What I saw was just on the jumbotron,” Morris said.

Obviously, it was not the time to make a big beef out of it. The Hogs lost on effort and execution, not on officiating. There were three other defensive pass interference calls on the Hogs, all of them correct. There were a couple of intentional grounding calls that might not have been so legit.

Storey understood the wrath from the head coach.

“A lot of us are upset,” he said. “He was upset. You can't expect anything else after a performance like this and have happy people.”

Greenlaw is the ultimate competitor. He is just happy to get one more chance to play, no matter the record. He understood his coach.

“I just love the game,” Greenlaw said. “Football is just a part of me. And, if you play bad like that, you have to say it was not acceptable. He's got every right to be mad at players and coaches. I hope everyone takes it in.”

De'Vion Warren was a part of the good, the bad and the ugly on the day. The sophomore kick returner/wide receiver returned a kickoff 71 yards, but he also dropped one pass and threw well short of Storey on a double reverse pass when the quarterback was floating open for a possible touchdown.

“It was my fault, not a good delivery,” Warren said.

Later, Warren added, “Me personally, I have to look in the mirror. I have to re-evaluate myself. It was very disappointing.”

Warren repeated the message from his coach on his way out of the interview room. He said, “We have to see who is man enough to step forward.”

Morris was given a chance to talk about some of the physical mismatches that the Bulldogs won on both sides of the ball. They were superior in the trenches.

“You can look at the yardage,” he said. “We got 219, not a whole lot. But we won some battles. There were times we had some people open and we didn't execute.”

MSU quarterback Nick Fitzgerald was the magic man in execution, except for a third-down pass on the goal line to start the game. He finished 9 of 14 for 127 yards with four touchdowns, all of which came in his final seven attempts. He ran 14 times for 85 yards and another touchdown.

Asked about his play, Morris said, “We talked all week about what kind of quality football player Nick is, but this about the Arkansas Razorbacks – an unacceptable effort in all areas.”

As they stare in the mirror and see the likelihood of 2-10, no one will disagree.

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