The Arkansas Razorbacks are a team without a permanent head coach, staggering to the end of a miserable season, facing the No. 1 team in the United States and its soon-to-be Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback on the road. Fun times, eh?
By Matt Zemek
What do you do when you inhabit Arkansas’ situation? What do you do when your team is mentally exhausted and doesn’t know who its new leader will be next season? There is no owner’s manual for such a situation, but there are some basic principles which can be observed.
1- Have fun
There are times to convey expectations to players. There are times to establish standards and instill a culture. There are times when college football is very serious business, and players need to know the enormity of the responsibility they carry onto the gridiron each week. This is not one of those times.
This is not a subtle or indirect suggestion that Arkansas should be casual or careless. This is not an encouragement of reckless behavior, or an implied statement that this moment against LSU is meaningless. The privilege of playing college football should always be honored with an honest effort, a sincere commitment to playing intelligently, and a personal pursuit of improvement in technique, tactics, attitude, and everything which goes into the sport each Saturday.
This is an emphasis on not being burdened, on not feeling the need to live up to outside expectations. This is an attempt to merely underscore the point that when a season is miserable – as this one has been in Fayetteville – players should return to the core realization that this is a sport. It is a game meant to be fun. Enjoyment is the biggest thing Arkansas should take from this game. Treating this moment as a chore cannot and will not bring about an improved performance. Having fun will enable this team to loosen up in the right way.
2 – Fourth down festival
Look, LSU is probably going to win big anyway, but if Arkansas wants to have fun, it should try to go for it on most fourth downs, certainly anything near midfield or in LSU territory. Go for it on fourth and four from the 50-yard line in the first quarter. Go for it on fourth and five at the LSU 40 in the second quarter. Life is too short to meekly punt the ball back to Joe Burrow. Let it ride. Make decisions which feed into an aggressive mindset. Will every decision bring about the right result? No. Is it important that an Arkansas team competes vigorously and shows fearlessness in this impossible situation? Yes. The new coach will want to see that, whoever he is and whenever he is selected.
3 – Relish the challenge
Every Arkansas defensive player knows he will go into the teeth of a fearsome offense, the most devastating offense in college football. One can choose to be scared, or one can choose to view this game as a time to personally improve and develop for next season. Arkansas can’t turn around this season. It can, however, build for 2020. Learning the right lessons and applying the right mindset to this game against LSU are real parts of that building process for next year.