State of the Hogs: Morris says there is no panic after loss

By: Clay Henry
Published: Monday, September 10, 2018
Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Chad Morris watches his players before a football game, Saturday, September 8, 2018 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.
Photo by Charlie Kaijo
Arkansas Razorbacks head coach Chad Morris watches his players before a football game, Saturday, September 8, 2018 at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo.

With three sacks in two games, it's easy to see where Arkansas needs help with the nation's top passing team coming to town.

The Razorbacks need more pressure on the quarterback. Without a lot of stress, Colorado State quarterback K. J. Carta-Samuel picked the secondary apart in the second half. He completed 22 of 27 passes after intermission for 291 yards to rally the Rams to a 34-27 victory at Fort Collins.

So what can be changed to fix that lack of pressure? The return of injured bell cows Randy Ramsey and Dre Greenlaw would be the best medicine for the Arkansas defense.

And, that might be close to happening as the Razorbacks prepare for North Texas' pass-happy offense. The Mean Green visit Reynolds Razorback Stadium on Saturday.

Arkansas coach Chad Morris thinks Ramsey, the best pass rusher at defensive end, might play this week. The senior missed the first two games with a hamstring issue. He practiced Sunday night in a green no-contact jersey. Trainers will know more after they assess Ramsey after Monday's off day.

Greenlaw, senior linebacker, sustained an ankle sprain late in the first quarter in the opener against Eastern Illinois. He made 10 tackles in that brief appearance.

“Not having Ramsey definitely effects us,” Morris said Monday. “We have tried to create some depth there (at defensive end) to get a true pass rusher. Jamario Bell did some good things in the fourth quarter. We hope to have (Ramsey) back this week.

“Dre will be back.”

Ramsey was expected to be the “off the edge” pass rusher defensive coordinator John Chavis needs to run a high pressure scheme.

Without either, the Hogs were unable to do anything to unsettle Carta-Samuels as the Rams scored the game's last 25 points. The Hogs snapped the ball only eight times in the fourth quarter on offense, meaning the defense was on the field way too much.

“That's not acceptable,” Morris said. “We just were not efficient on third down in the second half.”

The Hogs did not blitz much in the fourth quarter, electing to defend in zone and play very little man-to-man defense. They did play press coverage on the edge at times, deploying their free safety in a deep middle zone, sometimes 25 yards deep.

Chavis tried to explain the look, noting they hoped to get CSU to run man-to-man routes into zone coverage. That's what happened, but the Hogs just didn't hold their technique or their zone coverage and the Rams made big plays on underneath plays.

“We've got to generate pass rush; there's no question about that,” Chavis said. “But we got them into enough third-and-long situations.

“Every third down they had man-beaters called and we didn't call man on third down. That's why we were able to get stops early in the game.

“We've got to learn to handle success and we've got to learn to finish. That's part of the culture Coach Morris has been preaching since he got here.

“We've got to help them as coaches. I've got to do a better job of coaching them.

“They're going to look for us for leadership. We're going to get corrected what needs corrected, and we are going to do it in a very positive way.”

There were some personnel changes that did pay some dividends. McTelvin “Sosa” Agim switched from tackle in the first game to end in the second and did create some pass rush, but Carta-Samuels took hits while delivering the ball on a couple of big plays in the second half.

It's just a matter of being a step quicker with the pressure. That may come in time, but Agim needs help. Ramsey's return will be big, but others have to step up, too.

Gabe Richardson, one of the fastest defensive linemen, has not been able to get off blocks on the other side. Junior college transfer Dorian Gerald is day-to-day with an unspecified injury.

Defensive tackle Armon Watts has also created some pressure from the inside, but others in the rotation have not managed to get off blocks to provide more help from that area. That's a point of emphasis moving forward.

Offensively, the Hogs have not settled on a quarterback. That proved the difference in the game. Neither Ty Storey or Cole Kelley were consistent in splitting time. Storey played the first half and Kelley the second. Both missed open receivers, Morris said. They were not on target when they saw them.

Morris said he doesn't especially want to play a two-quarterback system, but needs one to step up as the leader of the team.

“I'm not so much concerned about (playing two) as it is who is going to lead the team,” Morris said. “We'll play two until one gets it moving.

“Right now we are in a week-to-week process. We hope to settle in and get a guy going.”

Storey's lack of effective passing meant the Hogs had to settle for field goals three times in the first half. Storey was 5 of 13 for 36 yards and threw two interceptions.

Kelley provided a spark initially with touchdown passes on his first two throws, one of them a pop pass on motion to running back T. J. Hammonds that went for 64 yards. But Kelley didn't convert a third down the rest of the game. He didn't see an open receiver on the possession that started at the CSU 28-yard line in the third quarter.

Offensive coordinator Joe Craddock said Storey had the better week of practice and that it wasn't one of Kelley's best weeks.

Craddock said the key is that both quarterbacks have to improve on "third and medium" plays that proved the difference when drives sputtered. Craddock also added he thought the offense "let up" after T. J. Hammonds rolled for his touchdown.

Craddock confirmed that Storey and Kelley have gotten the major part of the work in practice. If there is one of the three younger quarterbacks ahead in a separate battle to catch the top two, Craddock said it would probably be Connor Noland.

Morris said it won't be something big that gets the Hogs back on track, or changes the culture of losing late leads. He emphasized that there is no panic within the team.

“We just lost a football game,” Morris said. “We have an opportunity to improve our football team.

“It's not a panic opportunity. Nobody is in panic.

“I just am going to love to see how we respond to this. The only thing that matters is how they respond.

“The only thing we know for sure is that we are not going to be undefeated. Every goal is still within reach.”

The offensive line did improve run blocking, but it was against one of the worst run defenses in the country. The Hogs rushed for 299 yards, averaging 5.6 yards. They had averaged just 2.2 on the ground in the opener.

Morris had promised to rotate more players in the offensive line. There was a change at left tackle with true freshman Noah Gatlin getting his first start. Shane Clenin, the starter in the opener, was out with an injury. He's expected back this week.

But both of those might be back on the bench with the return of projected left tackle Colton Jackson. Morris said Jackson practiced Sunday night and will be evaluated as the week progresses. Jackson missed the first two games because of July back surgery.

Ty Clary started at left guard, but split time with Austin Capps. Both played about one half of the game.

“We also got some work at right tackle with Dalton Wagner when Brian Wallace went out,” Morris said. “Gatlin did really well. He had some mistakes as any freshman would. But I shared during camp that we were really impressed by Noah.”

It's still not an ideal situation.

“You wish you didn't have to play a true freshman at left tackle,” Morris said. “But the moment was not too big. He did make some mistakes on third down.”

Morris said Capps also had mistakes.

“It's not effort, though,” Morris said. “We didn't have effort mistakes. (Capps) just has to learn when to come off a double team and then pick up a linebacker. It's just learning not to let someone get under you. Both Ty and Austin will play (this week).”

As far as finishing in the fourth quarter, Morris said everything the team does is to train “for moments like this. I don't know what happened in the past. It's just accountability right now. It's on all of us, on me. I'll hold the coaches accountable and the kids, too.

“I assure you we will get it fixed.”

That's the pressure of the moment. But to get it fixed, the Hogs will have to find some pressure on the quarterback to help the defense hold a lead in the fourth quarter. It won't be easy this week. The North Texas offense is quick release in the passing game.

“We've played them and we are familiar with them,” Morris said, noting respect for quarterback Mason Fine. “He plays with a chip on his shoulder. He gets the ball out of his hand really quick.”

So it will be about getting rid of the Colorado State hangover, the shock of losing to a Mountain West Conference opponent.

“It's a big week for us,” Morris said. “We are going to get the best North Texas team I've seen, leading the nation in passing.”

Can the Hogs find some pressure, or will the pressure increase? Take that how you want.

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