It was clear from the moment Chad Morris finally arrived for the post-mortem after a 45-31 loss to Vanderbilt on Saturday he was definitely not happy.
For a coach that is usually looking on the bright side of everything, he made it clear after this one there wasn’t a lot of bright spots to focus on.
He knew they were a better team than the Commodores but kept messing it up. That’s the simple way to put things.
“It’s very disappointing, but we didn’t play well enough to win,” Morris said later. “You get what you deserve, and we didn’t deserve to win.”
In Morris’ first year at SMU, he went 2-10. He’s mentioned that first year a couple of times since being at Arkansas, but made it clear that’s over.
“We can reference back only so many times,” he said. “At some point we have to make a step. We’ve got to do something to get us out of that rut. There’s a lot of similarities that I’ve shared this year, but that’s no excuse.”
He appeared as frustrated as anyone has seen him since the season started. If you read between the lines of his comments, this is one where the Hogs didn’t play as well as they are capable of playing.
“We didn’t play our best,” Morris said. “Make no bones about it, we didn’t play our best. In front of our home crowd, we didn’t play our best. We have to play our best to have a chance.”
The game Saturday actually started off pretty well.
The Razorbacks took the opening kickoff and on first down Ty Storey, back from a concussion two weeks ago against Ole Miss, found tight end Cheyenne O’Grady for a 16-yard completion.
Rakeem Boyd ripped off runs of 27 and 8 yards to get the Hogs into the red zone. Storey scrambled up the middle on a designed draw to get the ball to the 7 and two plays later Boyd got it int the end zone from 5 yards out and the Hogs were up, 7-0.
That lasted for 3:53.
Linebacker Dre Greenlaw missed the first play for the defense because, as Morris said, “some team rules,” then was injured chasing a play out of bounds.
Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn ran right past Greenlaw’s replacement, freshman Bumper Pool, for a 63-yard jaunt down the left sideline and the game was tied with 8:02 left in the first period.
Using runs from Vaughn and some nifty screen passes that took advantage of Arkansas’ aggressive defense, the Commodores took the lead with 13:46 left in the second quarter on a 1-yard pass from quarterback Kyle Shurmur to Jared Pinkney.
Arkansas answered two possessions later as Chase Hayden broke through a hole roughly the size of an 18-wheeler for a 38-yard sprint to tie the game with 6:45 left in the second period.
And Vandy needed just three plays to take the lead again, on a 40-yard pass to Pinkney. That gave them a lead they weren’t giving up.
“They wanted to run the football, and they executed very well,” Morris said “They had an experienced quarterback. Obviously getting Ke’Shawn Vaughn back, he’s as dynamic a back as we’ve seen.”
In the first half, Arkansas had zero turnovers. Two interceptions of Storey in the second half led to 14 points for Vanderbilt and put the Hogs in a hole they couldn’t climb out of.
“We have to protect the football,” Morris said. “That’s been the message all year long. When we needed to have drives and put drives together, we couldn’t get it done.”
Statistically, it wasn’t that bad of a game.
Storey was 23-of-36 for 240 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Boyd had 113 yards rushing and Hayden added 70 with Storey adding 24.
But it was not making THE play when it was needed that hurt the most. A pair of illegal formation penalties where wide receivers didn’t line up properly also were killers.
“We’re right there and it’s on our sidelines,” Morris said. “It’s a formation we had. He called it, we’ll go back and look at it. Our guys went out there and stated that they were on and that’s the way we communicate with the officials. We’ll look at it and move forward from there.”
That’s the message for Morris. If there was a positive, it was this team didn’t quit.
After Vandy put together a seven-play, 29-yard drive after Storey’s second interception when the Hogs couldn’t stop the run, they went 75 yards in seven plays with Storey passing to O’Grady for a 12-yard score with 14 seconds left for the final margin.
“We thought we could run the football,” Morris said about the offense. “That’s one thing, that when we went in we thought we could get to the edge. Team’s that have played them have done a good job running the ball against them. That was our game plan coming in.”
The Hogs did have some success on the ground, but not enough. It forced them into passing and this team simply doesn’t have enough playmakers catching passes to be a serious threat.
“We knew we were going to have to pass the football, but we’re not a very good football team when we have to throw the ball 36 times,” Morris said. “It’s hard to get into that and a lot of the circumstances at the end dictated us throwing the ball more than we wanted to; but we’ve got to be more balanced than that.”
Now it’s an off week. Morris is going to give the players Sunday and Monday off, then get back to work. LSU comes to town Nov. 11.
“We know that our goals of getting to a bowl game are not attainable,” Morris said of the record now 2-7 on the season. “As I shared with our players, our culture is not going to change. I’m not changing. Our coaching staff’s not going to change.”
Read between the lines on that isn’t that difficult.
“We’re going to find out who’s on board,” Morris said.
This may be an interesting two weeks before the game with the Tigers.