- Chris Low, ESPN Senior Staff Writer
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Remember the famous Sports Illustrated cover back in the late 1970s with Arkansas hoops great Sidney Moncrief soaring in for a tomahawk dunk?
The headline blared: High on the Hogs.
Suffice it to say that nobody is real high on the Hogs following the debacle that took place last Saturday in Little Rock.
Louisiana-Monroe rallied from 21 points down and won its first-ever game over a nationally ranked foe, and in doing so, sent an Arkansas team that had so many hopes and dreams this season reeling.
They’re angry in the Ozarks right now and have a right to be. Losing to Alabama, LSU or even Texas A&M is one thing. But Louisiana-Monroe?
The blame game has already started.
Coach John L. Smith is an easy target. How could he come in and screw up such a sure thing?
So is athletic director Jeff Long. Why didn’t he do the “right” thing, show some courage and keep Bobby Petrino?
First-year defensive coordinator Paul Haynes is also on that list. In two games, his defense has given up 872 yards and 58 points … to Louisiana-Monroe and Jacksonville State.
The offensive play-calling hasn’t been spared, either. Where was this alleged high-powered attack once UL-Monroe made its move, and why not turn around and hand the ball off to Dennis Johnson a few more times?
Listen, there’s plenty of blame to go around. There always is when a football team underachieves.
But if you really want to blame somebody, blame the guy who drove his motorcycle into a ditch last April with his then-mistress sitting right behind him.
Bobby Petrino is most to blame for this mess.
He’s the one who set this program up to fail this season with his selfish actions, and he gave Long no choice in the matter.
Long did the “right” thing.
There’s no question this team played with an edge under Petrino, and I’ve said repeatedly that he’s worth an extra touchdown by just having him on your sideline calling plays, seeing things in the defense and coordinating the game plan.
But he forfeited that right when he hired the woman he was having an affair with as a full-time football staffer and then lied about it.
Petrino’s a super coach and will no doubt get another chance somewhere, but it’s not going to be at Arkansas.
And while we’re at it, does he not absorb some of the blame for how bad the defense has been? I’ve never been one to evaluate somebody based on two or three games, but Petrino is the one who hired Haynes.
Also, what about some of the Hogs’ personnel shortcomings, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary? These last few recruiting classes were all headed up by Petrino.
As much as Petrino did in elevating the program, the one area where he was just OK was bringing in premium talent. The recruiting game is never an exact science, and recruiting rankings are often times a farce.
But it is fair to say that Petrino lost more battles than he won on the recruiting trail against people he had to beat on the field, although recruiting in Arkansas is significantly more challenging than recruiting in Georgia, Florida, Texas, Louisiana and Alabama.
As good as Petrino was at developing players and calling plays, the SEC will always be about stockpiling talent.
We’ll see which direction this team goes, and it starts with Alabama’s visit on Saturday. Clearly, Tyler Wilson’s health will be a big key, and the defense has to get a lot better in a hurry.
If it all crumbles, Smith will catch most of the heat. That’s just part of the job when you’re the head coach. It’s not an ideal situation. He doesn’t want to step on too many toes, and everybody else doesn’t want to overstep his bounds.
But before you start pointing too many fingers at those administrators, coaches and players who remain in the Broyles football complex and are working feverishly to turn this thing around, don’t forget about the one person who’s no longer there.
He’s the one who let everybody down.
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