Arkansas football: Chad Morris failed in first chance to rid the Hogs of late-game collapses
Arkansas running back T.J. Hammonds raced down the sideline for a 64-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter Saturday night. The score gave the Hogs an 18-point advantage over Colorado State. It should have allowed Razorback fans to exhale and enjoy the final quarter and a half of the first road victory in the Chad Morris era.
But these fans have become well trained to remain hesitant with any premature celebrating. And, like a reoccurring bad dream, the Arkansas faithful watched as Colorado State finished with 25 unanswered points — 17 in the fourth quarter — to beat the Hogs 34-27.
Arkansas was outscored 25-14 in the second half, adding another layer to a disconcerting trend. The Razorbacks have outscored an FBS opponent in the second half just once in their past 16 such games. Arkansas has lost 12 of those games, five by just one possession.
This string of late-game failures first became apparent in 2016 when Arkansas finished its season with losses to Missouri and Virginia Tech despite holding a three-score lead at halftime in both games. That was when the Razorbacks seemingly lost any ability to overcome adverse late-game situations. Saturday was evidence this program hasn’t rid itself of that problem, even with a new coaching staff.
Breaking this trend is among Morris’ most difficult task as he aims to turn around the program. He must, somehow, find a way to inject confidence into his team when it’s time to go win a game. First, though, Morris must acknowledge this is a real issue that needs fixing. He didn’t do that following his first loss at Arkansas.
“What’s happened in the past has happened in the past,” Morris told reporters after the loss. “This is a totally new season and a new group of guys and we’ve got to come together.”
It’s very possible Morris is fully aware of this ongoing issue but doesn’t want to admit as much publicly. His play calling suggested otherwise, though.
Arkansas began the fourth quarter facing a 4th-and-1 from the 50-yard line and holding a 10-point lead. This was an opportunity for the Razorbacks to begin anew in late-game situations by picking up a critical first down and potentially continuing a game-clinching drive.
This was a Colorado State defense that had allowed 6 yards per carry over its first two games, both losses, and wasn’t fairing any better stopping the Hogs. So, it would have made perfect sense for Morris to call a designed run with 6-7 quarterback Cole Kelley. The Hogs also could have given the ball to running back Devwah Whaley, who had a career day with 165 yards. Instead, Morris opted to punt.
“Because they had created some momentum, I didn’t want to give them a shorter field and allow that momentum to stay with them,” Morris said.
But by punting in that situation, did Morris take away belief from his own team and allow old habits to continue? It certainly seemed that way based on how the Hogs responded.
Colorado State promptly drove 96 yards for a touchdown. Arkansas’ offense followed with a three-and-out, and another second-half collapse was clearly underway. The Rams totaled 17 points and 195 yards after the punt. They had more first downs (10) than the Hogs had total plays (8) over that decisive stretch.
Morris has to find a way to reverse the psychology of his team when things get tough late in games. That process needs to start with him showing he believes in his players can deliver a knockout blow. He failed to do that in his first opportunity last Saturday.