Why Arkansas’ hour-long turn in ESPN’s college QB series could have been so much better

Tyler Wilson - Spring Practice
This is a typical setting for Arkansas’ starting quarterback. In a recent behind-the-scenes show, ESPN fumbled a chance to show more.

The premise of ESPN’s “Depth Chart'” as an hour-long glimpse inside the lives of Arkansas football players struck me as far-fetched from the get-go. When it comes to media availability, Razorback football likely has the tightest restrictions of any program in the state and the walls have only shot up higher this season. Look, for instance, at information flow in the immediate aftermath of Knile Davis’ devastating ankle injury during an August practice. By far the most important news that afternoon was Davis’ injury – which left him screaming and requiring a cart to drive him off the field – yet the UA prohibited teammates from talking about Davis afterward. Offensive coordinator Garrick McGee began post-practice comments by informing media only Arkansas’ head coach could discuss injuries, and Bobby Petrino was not scheduled to speak that day.

I absolutely understand elite college footballl programs’ desire to control the when and how news about them is released. What I was less clear about was how that desire would jive with a team of ESPN cameramen and producers trying to document the on and off-field lives of Arkansas’ quarterbacks in the week leading up to the Auburn game. “This position is so closely scrutinized that we created this series to draw back the curtain and reallly show fans what it takes to play quarterback in one of America’s top college programs,” said Vinnie Malhotra, excutive producer of ESPN Content Development, in a press release before the four-part “Depth Chart” series started airing in early October.

So it was with great interest that I watched Arkansas’ episode, which aired last week. By the time I was through, I felt like I had watched the most beautiful sports infomercial ever.

Continue reading Why Arkansas’ hour-long turn in ESPN’s college QB series could have been so much better

Comparing the Razorbacks’ 6-1 start with former SEC champions

  It’s a sign how far Arkansas’ football program has come in four years that there’s plenty of hand wringing in the wake of Arkansas’ 29-24 defeat of Ole Miss. The 6-1 Hogs, after all, are sitting just about as pretty as they ever have at this point in an SEC season. Their SEC-leading offense is a finely-oiled machine, a plug-in-play marvel that won’t stop humming as long as Bobby Petrino is at the helm. Sure, quarterback Tyler Wilson doesn’t have Ryan Mallett’s arm – to end the first half, he under-threw a couple of receivers on deep passes that likely would have resulted in touchdowns. But he made up for that in the third quarter, showing speed Mallett never possessed by scampering around the edge for a touchdown, and later deftly avoiding the rush to throw it away. Casey Dick, Ryan Mallett, Tyler Wilson, it doesn’t really matter – Petrino, like San Francisco 49ers architect Bill Walsh, has a system supercharging any smart, marginally talented quarterback’s stats. [For a good synopsis of Walsh’s vastly influential philosophy, start reading around the 10th paragraph of this post]

  But at the same time, there are a couple serious problems. By now, both could be labeled trends. The first: Arkansas comes out flatter than an ancient Egyptian’s conception of earth when given extra time to gameplan. The Hogs had six weeks to prepare for Ohio State in the Sugar Bowl, and fell behind 28-10 in the first half. Arkansas essentially had the entire off-season and three tune-up games to prep for Alabama, only to see the Crimson Tide build a 31-7 lead early in the third quarter. Finally, Petrino and his defensive coordinator Willy Robinson had a bye week leading into Saturday’s game in Oxford, only to see the Rebels – ranked 10th or worse in every conference offensive and defensive statistical category entering the game – bolt to a 17-0 lead.

  “I didn’t game-plan well enough in the first half and I’ll put that on me,” Robinson said. “I wish I had a different way of looking at them, but we had a much better grasp in the second half.” This let-down is only the latest sign this team has developed Schizoback’s Syndrome since the third game of the season.

Continue reading Comparing the Razorbacks’ 6-1 start with former SEC champions

Freezing Reign in Sun Belt Conference Forecast?

Arkansas State remains the only undefeated Sun Belt team after Louisiana-Lafayette lost 42-23 at Western Kentucky on Saturday. With a record of 5-2 (3-0), the Red Wolves are off to the football program’s best start since joining the Sun Belt in 1991.

The strong start has helped Hugh Freeze keep alive much of the enthusiasm leading into this season, his first as Red Wolves head coach. This was pretty evident to me on a Friday visit to Jonesboro, where I saw all types of puns riffing/capitalizing on dude’s last name. The slogan “Feel the Freeze” is plastered all over billboards and shopfronts. Andy’s Frozen Custard, just a few blocks south of the stadium, brandishes perhaps the most delicious pun of all: the “Coach Freeze,” a shake made from strawberry and vanilla ice cream mixed with soda water.

While purchasing my own $4 “Coach Freeze,” I asked if Andy’s had in previous years also dished out a “Coach Roberts,” named after the team’s former coach Steve Roberts. The cashier girl only giggled, but I really wanted to know.

Go beyond mere feeling at Andy’s Custard Shop. The “Coach Freeze” shake tastes absolutely delicious.

  Arkansas State has its best shot at going to its first bowl game in six years. The strong start helps, as does the fact the Sun Belt picked up a second bowl tie-in a couple years ago. Before 2010, only the New Orleans Bowl accepted a Sun Belt team each year. These days, the GoDaddy.com bowl is an annual destination too.

No matter what bowl Arkansas State ends up in, you gotta believe it’ll have a strong shot at victory there. The Red Wolves’ innovative offense, after all, is pushing the boundaries of conventional spread offense with a trick play propensity and hurry-up tempo few programs can match. It may end up that Hugh Freeze is recognized as a pioneer of sorts – a forward-looking coach from another time.

I, for one, kind of wished he had coached ASU in the 1950s. That’s when the program played in two Refrigerator Bowls*, a setting in which Freeze should have felt right at home.

*ASU beat Camp Breckinridge 46-12 in 1951, but lost 34-19 to Western Kentucky in 1952. Both bowl games were played in Evansville, Ind.

First glimpse of new era in Arkansas Razorbacks basketball

Below are video highlights from the Razorback basketball’s Primetime at the Palace preseason intrasquad scrimmage. I have more video from the event (Hot Shot contest, dunk contest and scrimmage highlights) on my YouTube channel.

1. Freshman Devonta Abron is pretty agile, and isn’t shy about showing it off. It’ll be interesting to see if he tries to do a different dance during each pregame introduction, assuming he’s a starter. He’ll have to play pretty well  for the coaches to let him do this during the regular season!

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wGqGEoyQybE&w=560&h=315]

Below is the expanded video from an earlier post.

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P4kr8LPoZUo&w=420&h=315]

Continue reading First glimpse of new era in Arkansas Razorbacks basketball

Is BJ Young the fastest Razorback of all time?

If there is such thing as a preseason debut, guard BJ Young made a smashing one on Friday night.

The highly touted St. Louis native made a name for himself among Arkansas fans last spring after scoring 27 second-half points in the second half of a high school playoff game against a team led by Florida signee Bradley Beal.

It’s clear the young man can do things in a hurry.

But as I watched Young treat Bud Walton Arena’s court like a NASCAR speedway during the Razorbacks’ “Primetime at the Palace” event, I don’t think it is premature to question whether there has ever been a faster Razorback in basketball.

And by fast, I mean pure speed with a ball from one end of the court to the other.

Two of the fastest players in NCAA history – Allen Iverson and John Wall – flashed world-class speed from the start of their freshmen seasons. Fans didn’t have to wait long to see their athleticism was something special.

It’s the same situation with Young, who is about 6-2 (not surprisingly, he’s shorter than listed on the official roster) but will only add weight to his 175 pounds in the upcoming years. So, he has a longer stride than one of his chief competitors for the title of all-time fastest Hog –  5-10 Kareem Reid. And another contender, Clint McDaniel, wasn’t as fast end-to-end as he was quick, side-to-side.

Enough talk. Catch a glimpse for yourself of what this guy is capable of. But don’t blink around the 25-second mark:

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KrPFjM1ImfU&w=560&h=315]

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vec5mX4U2-c&w=560&h=315]

Could Young already be the fastest Razorback in the history of its basketball program? Let’s hash this out before it’s too late!

[polldaddy poll=5590872]

Razorback letterman Clark Irwin, a former Houston Nutt disciple, talks Ole Miss-Arkansas

At age 24, Clark Irwin finally has a normal life.

The Little Rock native works fairly normal hours, has plenty of time for his wife and parents and occasionally catches NFL games on TV. In the last eight months, he’s even found time to shoot hoops at Cammack Village’s park, not too far from the Foxcroft neighborhood where he grew up.

So far, so good with this normal adult life stuff.

The way Irwin sees it, he jumped into it just in time.

Until February, Irwin had essentially coached under Houston Nutt for half a decade. Irwin spent three years seeing spot action as a backup Razorback quarterback and special teams player, but his real value was as an understudy to the coaches. He signaled plays to the offense and helped run passing drills with fellow quarterbacks Casey Dick and Mitch Mustain, both of whom were roommates at different times.

“I was getting my minor in graduate assistantship if you want to look at it that way,” Irwin says.

He officially took that position in early 2009 after following Nutt to Oxford, Miss., where Nutt had started head coaching Ole Miss the season before. There, Clark spent late summers and falls immersed in game planning, film study and practice seven days a week. “It’s almost like you can ever do enough,” he says. Game days – with the crowds, the adrenaline and the constant in-game chess match between coaches – were the most fun part of it all.

Everything seemed primed for Irwin to take the next step up the coaching ranks, to one day possibly follow in his mentor’s footsteps as a head coach himself.

Continue reading Razorback letterman Clark Irwin, a former Houston Nutt disciple, talks Ole Miss-Arkansas

Bill Romanowski advocates for weekly rib bashing of Tony Romo, pens a letter to body fat

Outspoken. Controversial. Ferocious.

In the 16 years he played in the NFL, there was no disparity between  linebacker Bill Romanowski’s persona on and off the field.

It was a career in which he racked up two Pro Bowl selections, four Super Bowl rings and no shortage of critics for violent play that often pushed past the edge of legality.

In 2005, “Romo” told 60 Minutes he had used steroids for two years, an unsurprising admission considering he whipped himself up into hate-filled frenzies for opponents.  “I started hating the guy I was going to go against,” he said. “I hated the coaches. I hated their fans. I hated their family. You name it. And by the time I got onto that field come Sunday, watch out because there was rage.”

Romanowski also admitted to human growth hormone use, getting injected with cells from Scottish black sheep during live cell therapy and daily ingesting 100 health supplement pills – all adding up to a $200,000  spent yearly on supplements, doctors and therapists.

After such a Krakatoa of confession, what else could Romo possibly spew that would raise an eyebrow?

How about pure, unadulterated absurdity?

After plugging his nutrition company Nutrition 53 at the end of a recent interview with a Little Rock-based sports radio show, Romo told the host he wanted to read a “little letter” he had written to, er, body fat.

Permission was granted, and the following gem was dropped onto central Arkansas airwaves:

Hey fat,
There's a new shake in town, and it's not putting up with your junk. 
In fact, it's not putting up with anyone's junk, especially not junk food. 
And definitely [not] in your trunk. Isn't it about time you took a hike? A long, fat-burning one.

Disrespectfully yours,
Lean One

Asides from anthropomorphizing those pesky triclyerides, Romanowski said some other pretty interesting stuff in the Shawn and Wally radio show interview.

His thoughts on pro football players going overseas for treatment:

Here’s why they’re gong over there. What they’re allowed to do there, what makes the stem cells more powerful and more healing, is they’re allowed to add HGH and testosterone into them.
The combination of the stem cells with a little bit of human growth hormone and tiny bit of testosterone turns those stem cells into an atomic healing bomb…

It’s such a miniscule amount it never would show up on a drug test…

It is cutting edge. Nobody in the country even knows this stuff.

On Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo’s early-season success following a rib injury:

I will give him this. I like the toughness. But here’s what I recommend. I recommend that the Dallas Cowboys, when they play a game, they bring a baseball bat with them and they crack a rib before every game, so we can get better play out of Tony Romo. I’m serious. And heres’ why. Here’s what it did to him: with pain comes extreme focus.

I’m guessing Romo was tongue-in-cheek for a lot of this, but who knows? It’s clear dude thinks on a different level than most people. Regardless, I highly recommend listening to the interview. Provocative, hilarious stuff.

How the story of Arkansas’ first black football player inspired Nolan Richardson’s biography

Part of Darrell Brown’s Legacy

The feel-good story of October’s second weekend of college football belonged to Darrell Brown, the first black football player at the University of Arkansas. Forty-five years after he left the program under depressing conditions – bruised, battered, injured and ignored – Brown was celebrated at a  halftime ceremony of the Auburn-Arkansas game. In front of 70,000 cheering people, he accepted the authentic varsity jersey he’d always craved and an honorary plaque. After such a ceremony, and an attendant Yahoo Sports article, Brown’s story of pain, suffering, bitterness and, ultimately, reconciliation (his three children attended UA) is known to the world.

Throughout it all, a range of emotions swept through Brown.

On Sunday, I spoke to Brown about his reaction to the ceremony. He added that the UA press is talking to him about writing his biography. If it goes through, it appears he’ll co-author the book with athlete-turned-writer Celia Anderson, who led Little Rock Hall High School to a basketball state championship in 1997 before signing with the Lady Razorbacks. In college, she played on a Final Four team and a WNIT championship team. Later, she played pro ball in Greece before embarking on a career geared toward literacy advocacy. Anderson currently teaches at NorthWest Arkansas Community College while pursuing a PhD in Urban Higher Education from Jackson State University.

I was originally introduced to Darrell Brown in 2010 at Arkansas’ Multi-Ethnic Hall of Fame induction in Little Rock by Rus Bradburd.

Bradburd attended that ceremony primarily to speak about his experiences with Nolan Richardson, the subject of his recently published biography. Over the course of interviewing Richardson for that book, however, Bradburd was told about Brown’s extraordinary perseverance.

The story roused Bradburd from one of his worst episodes of writer’s block.

“I was sitting there working on that Nolan Richardson book for about a year,” with about a year and a half until deadline, Bradburd said. “I was surrounded by this big pile of stuff -notes, research, recordings, newspaper articles and I just thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ It just seemed too hard … So I was overwhelmed by the research and then [former Arkansas Court of Appeals Judge] Wendell Griffin said ‘You need to learn what happened to Darrell Brown. Here’s his phone number. Call Darrell Brown and call Davis Hargis, his teammate.'”

“When I heard Darrell Brown’s story, I thought ‘I can do this. If Darrell Brown went through what he did for a year and half, then surely I can write a book for a year and a half.’ It was really the inspiration for finishing this book. I thought there’s no way I can give up now.”

Who Wins Arkansas Auburn?

Pity the DVR during last year’s Auburn-Arkansas showdown.

Even the act of blinking often denied fans trying to keep up with the Tigers’ 65-43 win from catching pivotal plays in real time.

And those who dared dip a chip into that nearby dish of salsa were immediately sent scrambling for the remote control.

No. 10 Arkansas’ (4-1) rematch against No. 15 Auburn (4-1) this Saturday still promises to be a scorcher, even if it is turned down a few jalapenos. Turbo-charging last year’s pace was Auburn’s simple title-winning formula: Give the ball to Cam Newton, block, celebrate.
Continue reading Who Wins Arkansas Auburn?

What happened to Dakota Mosley?

Where did this former Auburn football player go?

Without doubt, Auburn running back Michael Dyer is the most famous  graduate of Little Rock Christian Academy.

That connection will be mentioned ad nauseum this week considering the Little Rock native’s importance in the Arkansas-Auburn game on Saturday night.

But Dyer hasn’t been the only Auburn Tiger and Little Rock Christian alum making headlines in recent months.

In March, Auburn freshman Dakota Mosley was kicked off the college national championship team with three Auburn teammates after arrests on charges of robbery, theft and burglary in an alleged holdup of other college students.

According to victims’ reports, those three other Auburn teammates stormed into a trailer park residence and took cell phones and a safe at gunpoint. A short while later, police found Mosley, along with the three teammates, in a car from which they recovered a handgun, an air gun and the stolen property.

Each of the four ex-players was charged  with first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary and third-degree theft of property in connection with the alleged robbery.

They are scheduled to go on trial during a three-week criminal session in Alabama beginning Oct. 31.

In all this tumult, not much had been written about how Dyer felt about one of his best friends going through such an ordeal. While interviewing Dyer’s uncle Andre Dyer for an article about torn loyalties, I found out that he’s close to Mosley’s dad. He told me Dakota Mosley is currently in a junior college in California. “He’s doing really well,” Andre Dyer said. “He’s really straightened his life out a lot. Everything is going really well with him. I’m proud of him.”

How has Michael reacted to Dakota’s absence?

“He really misses his friend, his good friend, his dear friend. That one person who’s always been there for him through thick and thin. He misses that person beside him.”

Mosley’s friendship was “a lot of the whole recruiting process… and the whole process of being a freshman in a big place, and to know that that’s gone? It does get to him. They try to stay in contact as often as they are permitted to do so.”

(UPDATE: Evan Woodbery of al.com gives a detailed update on Mosley and the other three former players here)