QB Film Room: Rebels drop a heartbreaker in Arkansas, and a look back to playing against Monte Kiffin’s 1977 Hog Defense
This week our QB expert David Walker takes a look at the Rebels’ loss to Arkansas Saturday and looks back to when he quarterbacked against then-defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s Razorback defense.
Each week in “The QB Film Room,” I typically take a look back at the Rebels’ most recent game and analyze the quarterback play, drawing on my years as a quarterback and coach.
But this week is a little different.
We all know the Rebs struggled in the 33-21 loss to Arkansas, committing six interceptions and one fumble, and we all know it’s hard to win a game with seven turnovers. I can tell you, from first-hand experience, that Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin is correct when he says this game can humble you. It sure can. But what’s important is how you respond, and I’ve no doubt the Rebels and quarterback Matt Corral will rebound nicely against Auburn.
When Monte Kiffin was DC at Arkansas and Pete Carroll was Grad Asst.
So instead of breaking down the game film from Arkansas, I want to take a look back in time to another Arkansas game, this one in 1977, when I played QB for A&M and when Coach Kiffin’s esteemed father was on the other side of the field.
We were a Wishbone triple option team since our head coach was Emory Bellard — that offense’s “father.” In my four years as an Aggie starter, I’d never heard the words “two-minute offense.” Oh, we ran it all the time at my high school in Sulphur, Louisiana, but at A&M we only had one wide receiver and ALWAYS huddled, waiting for the play to be brought in from the sideline. This lack of foresight was never more apparent than in that particular game.
The 1977 contest featured a new coaching staff at Arkansas instead of the one we’d beaten in Little Rock the year before. Defensive coordinator Jimmy Johnson had left in a huff when his former coach Frank Broyles resigned his position and surprisingly named Lou Holtz his successor as he, Broyles, moved into the AD job.
Coach Holtz hired a defensive coordinator by the name of Monte Kiffin. He also added a now-familiar name to his staff as a grad-assistant, Pete Carroll. Throughout my career, I have always said the Razorbacks had quickness that no one else had, and this ‘77 team was every bit of that.
As the above article mentions, Pete Carroll is frequently queried about the roots of his philosophy, with his response always including a mention of Coach Monte Kiffin and his time with him in Fayetteville.
“I owe him everything. He taught me everything I know about defense.“
Seattle head coach Pete Carroll on Monte Kiffin
Entering that 1977 game, we were undefeated in the SWC and found ourselves tied, 20-20, when Arkansas QB Ron Calcagni hit a long pass with two minutes left. We then blocked the extra-point by their outstanding kicker, Steve Little.
So the score was now 26-20, Hogs leading — eerily close to the 26-21 score that Monte’s son Lane found himself with at the tail end of this past Saturday’s game.
A long march for a score by my Aggies would surely be capped by an extra-point kick by our All-American kicker, Tony Franklin, to win the game, 27-26, right?
Again, we may not have used it much, but we had a passing game. All three of the guys who were lined up behind me could catch a football. So could my split end and my tight end.
After not having passed the entire game (or year, for that matter), we moved with ease all the way down to the Arkansas 15-yard line, before losing 18 seconds on the clock when our coach mistakenly thought he’d called a timeout.
Now, with six seconds to play, instead of four shots at the end zone, we had only one. This is where a lack of preparation for situational football gets you beat, even when you should’ve won.
I get the play from the messenger and it’s a 12-yard out route to my split end. What?? Not only will it not get the yards needed, but it wasn’t even in our game plan. Arkansas played Cover 2 on every play, and a single-receiver out route is dead meat for the cornerback or the safety. It’s nearly impossible to squeeze one of these in. Yet, we had no audible system either, and with no timeouts and afraid to “Mayday” it out of bounds for fear of the clock running out, I called the play I was given.
I scrambled out to the left, was about to get hit, thought I had someone open in the end zone back to the right, and cut it loose. My receiver slipped forward to the turf and the defensive back behind him caught it in the chest for the interception to end the game.
So, yes, I know exactly what it feels like to be on the wrong end of what you expect to be a game-winning drive.
My offensive coordinator later told me the phones had gone dead on that last play, and he was unable to get the game-winning play in to me. (Can you imagine this happening nowadays?)
Lou Holtz and Monte Kiffin had won their first game at Kyle Field, and the win improved Arkansas to 8-1. Their only loss that season was a very close one to then-No. 1 Texas. Without this win against us, though, two-year-old Lane Kiffin isn’t flying with the Razorbacks football team to Miami to whip No. 2 Oklahoma, 31-6, in the Orange Bowl and finish with a No. 3 final ranking in the AP poll.
But back to Saturday in Fayetteville. When Ole Miss took the field with about four minutes to play and down, 26-21, WITH the wind, I figured this game was going to the Rebels. Nobody’s going to stop this team in this situation. We’d seen what this offense could do. (Besides, Arkansas, right?)
Not to mention, I was in Little Rock’s Memorial Stadium two years ago when Ole Miss went 97 yards behind Jordan Ta‘amu to score a last-second victory. I’d played as a 17-year-old in Fayetteville, losing a 14-10 battle negatively affected by a lack of a two-minute offense, but these Rebels have all that — no such worries. The only thing that stops this offense is lack of execution.
So, here the Rebels were once again, just like 2018, with a few minutes to play, timeouts galore, ready to go on a game-winning drive… and the first pass out of the chute is picked off.
There would be no last-second dramatics, no sideline phones going dead, no lost time on the clock, no apologies to the quarterback after the game. No, just a single-receiver out route against Cover 2-slash-4 that the cornerback dropped in front of to seal the game.
What the Arkansas defense did to stop the Rebs Saturday
The Arkansas defense, just like under Monte Kiffin in 1977, did one thing very well. This team used three down linemen, two inside linebackers, and six DBs, dropping eight at the first hint of a pass play.
Their D-linemen were extremely quick, ran their stunts, and beat the double-teams. Their inside backers and flat safeties flew to the football in the running game. When they read pass, every zone was covered and the throwing lanes were limited. They’d read the eyes, go to the football, jump the routes, then go score.
Ole Miss went to a two-tight end set to reduce the possibility of an 8-man drop and force the Hogs to respect it as a running formation. The Hogs did not. There were no substitutions and no adjustments, even with alignment. Their personnel was trained and ready to handle whatever came at them.
They were 4-deep in the secondary with two flat safeties who could also play the run extremely well. Their corners played what’s called “squat” technique, dropping deep with the wide receiver unless or until a second receiver comes underneath. Even then, the flat safeties were taking the second receiver away, allowing the corners to get depth.
I’m sure even Lane’s dad was shaking his head at the efficiency of this Arkansas defense, one that was playing without its top player in linebacker Bumper Pool who was out with an injury, and WITH the Razorbacks’ first-ever walk-on to be listed as a starter.
‘Three things can happen when you pass….’
Turnovers in any offense on a bad day are going to hit your football team hard. We beat TCU, 17-0, in 1974 after losing five fumbles in 8 attempts in that triple option of Emory’s. Fortunately, our defense only gave up 10 yards that day—yes, 10 yards total.
I think it was legendary running back Earl Campbell’s coach, Darrell Royal, who said, “Three things can happen when you pass, and two of them are bad.” Those were dark times, unless you were a running back. The wishbone set football back 50 years. Thank God coaches have come around.
I once coached a semi-pro team and our defensive coordinator was Willie Tullis, one of the great Houston Oilers and a defensive back by trade. He dropped eight on me in a scrimmage one day, and I said, “What was that?”
Tullis just started laughing. “Gotcha, didn’t I?”
Yeah, he had.
Back to the drawing board
Back to the drawing board….you can bet that’s what Coach Lane Kiffin and OC Jeff Lebby will be doing. Kiffin said as much in Monday’s press conference.
“They pay the defensive coordinators a lot in this conference for a reason, so you know, you can’t just get away with what you’re doing,” Kiffin explained.
“They’re going to scheme you up. (Arkansas) did the same thing to Mississippi State (in a 21-14 win over the Bulldogs on October 3) and Kentucky did the same thing to State, too. So people will copycat it. We’re going to have to run the ball better and work different things in the passing game.”
Coach Lane Kiffin
Shake it off and do big things
Any quarterback worth his salt will have a game like the Rebels did in Fayetteville, at least once in his career. It just comes with the territory.
Hall of Fame QB Terry Bradshaw recalled this past Sunday how in 1970 as a rookie QB for the Pittsburgh Steelers he threw 24 interceptions, second most ever by a rookie. Guess who took over first place on that ignominious list — none other than Peyton Manning, who threw 28 picks as a rookie, topping the mark of 27 that stood unsurpassed for 56 years.
As for Matt Corral, he’s still the No. 6 QB in the nation in overall Total QBR, and it’s worth noting he’s just a sophomore. It’s also worth pointing out that Saturday’s game was only the fifth start of his career against an SEC foe.
The young man fought hard to get his job back after losing it last season following an injury in the Cal game. He’s still got a rocket for an arm, a fire in his belly and a coach who believes in him. Hang in there, Rebs!