Arkansas Football: Can Paul Petrino Be Blamed for Offense's Struggles?
Paul Petrino’s offense struggled Saturday against Tulsa, a Conference USA team.
The Razorbacks narrowly escaped defeat by holding the Golden Hurricane to a field goal in the second half and scoring a touchdown in the fourth quarter to seal the win.
But during the game there were a number of troubling events that have become all too common during Arkansas' possessions this season.
Tyler Wilson has spent a good portion of this season picking himself up off the field. The game against Tulsa was no exception. Wilson was knocked to the ground nearly 10 times during the game, including one sack.
Broadcasts of Razorback games this season, such as the game against Louisiana-Monroe, have started to include an inevitable highlight reel of Wilson taking hits after he has thrown the football. The announcers, such as in this Tulsa game, take this opportunity to tell the audience how “tough” Tyler Wilson is to stand in the pocket and make a throw even though he is about to get slammed.
But the bigger question that these highlights and comments present is, why is the offensive line not protecting their quarterback? Especially after Wilson had to miss the second half of the Louisiana-Monroe game and all of the Alabama game due to injuries sustained as a result being left vulnerable by the offense line.
Shouldn’t protecting the quarterback have been made a priority in practice in the weeks following an injury to the star quarterback? Why has this issue not been corrected?
Another troubling development this season is the Hogs’ problem with distributing offensive output amongst their attacking players.
Arkansas ran nearly 80 offensive plays during Saturday’s game against Tulsa. Twenty-seven of those plays involved handing the ball off or passing the ball to Dennis Johnson. Fifteen were pass attempts to Cobi Hamilton.
Arkansas’ starting rotation of wide receivers this season involves Mekale McKay, Brandon Mitchell and Julian Horton. McKay has 13 receptions on the season. Norton has 11. Mitchell, who has not played in the last two games due to suspension, has two.
Hamilton has 69. Arkansas cannot rely on the same core players to produce all of its yards on the field.
What this says is that Arkansas’ offensive personnel are not developing as a unit. Players are not getting the kind of coaching and instruction they need in practice, and it is hurting their output on the field.
And finally, there is the issue of the play-calling during games. There were several questionable decisions during the game against Tulsa. One of the most glaring decisions was the failed two-point conversion in the fourth quarter. Tulsa needed a touchdown to win the game whether the score was 20-15 or 21-15. Why not take the safe bet and let Zack Hocker kick the extra point?
It was also odd to watch Dennis Johnson repeatedly run up the middle. The Razorbacks’ ran four plays in their last drive of the game. All four plays were rush attempts by Johnson. Johnson has made some fantastic plays this season, but he cannot make plays against a defense that knows he is going to have the ball every play.
The responsibility of instructing the offensive line in fundamentals, developing players in practice and calling effective plays in games belongs to Paul Petrino.
The injury to Tyler Wilson during the Louisiana-Monroe game, the interceptions this season largely caused by wide receivers not making plays on the ball and the constant plays involving only a few select players are issues that can be directly laid at Petrino’s feet.
The Tulsa game was a lot closer than it should have been, and it was close as it was due to Petrino’s performance as offensive coordinator this entire season.
John L. Smith has faced his fair share of criticism due to the Hogs’ performance this year. It is time to spread the wealth.
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