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The Aftermath Part 1: Offense

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After a few days to cool off, I feel like I can sit down and discuss the game in more depth than "#$@#@!$%^ Tiffin #$$%%$##&$%$& Shula ##$&^%^$ Rader $#^&$#^#$!!!!!!!"  

As most people have noted, this is a game where we completely dominated the Razorbacks on offense.  We bested them in number of first downs (21-16), total yards (316-270), and time of possession.  But, to paraphrase JP, the only numbers that matter are on the scoreboard and this time out we came up short.  

There's a good bit of debate going on as to why we left Arkansas with the first loss of the season hanging over our heads.  Alternate blame is being assigned to Leigh Tiffin and Mike Shula, but playing football is a team effort and every member of this team pulled together to do their best to lose.

JP started the game going 0 for 2, but quickly hit his stride, hitting 16 of the next 18 for 241 yards and three touchdown strikes.  He did commit two costly errors, though, first by passing beyond the line of scrimmage on a scramble, and then by winding up to pass surrounded by defenders resulting in a fumble and a return for a TD.

Lead receivers Keith Brown and DJ Hall had banner days, combining for 241 yards and two TDs, but Hall was flagged for holding and a false start, costing us precious field position and even setting us back at the 20 yard line instead of 1st and goal inside the Hog 5.

The rushing attack continues to be a problem, as Kenneth Darby led all rushers with a measley 64 yards on 26 carries (2.5 ypc), with a long of 12.  Jimmy Johns finished second with 23 yards on 8 carries (2.9 ypc) with a long of 6.
Further, the O-Line turned in a tremendously sub par performance as they gave up five sacks and few creases for the run game.

For all those errors, though, we were still in shape to win this game right up until the 2nd OT.  As several commenters have noted, Shula's playcalling kept us close to winning and it's not his calls that are the problem.  On that, I beg to differ.  While his playcalling might have gotten us close to the win, the last time I checked we were playing football, not horseshoes, and close doesn't cut it.


Easier than football, but not as exciting...

Let me get this straight with you first, before I get lumped in with the "Shula=SUX" crowd; I think he's the right coach for us.  He's a great recruiter, he's seen the program through a very tough time, and he's developed both Brodie Croyle and JP Wilson into tremendous talents.  I also have no problem with the schemes he runs, mostly because I'm not a "scheme over talent" kind of guy.  We put a lot of talent on the field every saturday, and Shulas plays/schemes are designed to let them showcase it.  But I also believe that we can seriously question Shula's decisions when he seems oblivious to what is working for him and what isn't.

We all know what happened Saturday.  Late in regulation with the game tied at 17, Shula called three running plays to set up a go ahead field goal.  On a day that saw DJ Hall catch six passes for 144 yards and a touchdown and Keith Brown haul in seven for 97 and a score, neither one had a chance to break the game.  I can't fault Shula for putting in Tiffin at this point.  He was 1 for 2, with the one he made being the more difficult kick, and this was a kick he's had no trouble with all year.  What I can fault Shula for was playing for the field goal.  Late in a tight game, when you've had little trouble converting on 3rd and long and your receivers are catching just about anything thrown their way, going for the TD is the logical choice.  If we had taken our shots at the end zone and come up short, settling for a field goal try would have been fine.  But deliberately playing for one was irresponsible.  There was over three minutes left to play and there was no guarantee that our young defense could stop the Hogs from mounting a touchdown drive if we did go up by 3.

The second decision I can fault Shula for is sending Tiffin back in when all we needed was a field goal to win.  He was rattled from the misses, and putting the entire game on the shoulders of a freshman kicker who had already blown two go ahead scores when the man who won three close games for us was sitting on the sidelines, presumably ready to go, was also irresponsible, and those two decisions, at least in my opinion, are what cost us the game.

There's no way to know what might have happened if Shula had gone for the touchdown in regulation or put Christensen in in OT.  But I still believe that Shula's job is to give us the best chance possible to walk away with a win, and on Saturday he let his players and all the fans down by ignoring the guys who had made plays for him (JP, Hall, and Brown) in favor of those who hadn't (KD and Tiffin).