Normally I abhor the bulletpoint-styled column. But it’s hard to present a cohesive, sane assessment of affairs after a loss like the one Arkansas sustained Saturday in Tuscaloosa. So, for lack of a genuine thesis this week, here instead are the cathartic, unhinged observations of a disappointed Hog fan:
• Alabama is the living embodiment of a team that is so good that it manufactures its own luck. Bereft of any unusually good fortune Saturday, the Tide still would have vanquished a Razorback team that is still too green in very critical areas. Nonetheless, it’s bewildering how so many plays casually went the opposition’s way in the 38-14 drubbing. There was the crippling interception return by Bama’s DeQuan Menzie, which likely never materializes if a healthy, in-sync Greg Childs is on the field instead of the disengaged receiver we have seen so far. A series of helmet-to-helmet blows from Tide defenders on Tyler Wilson went wanting for penalty flags. And when the Razorbacks hung onto hope by their collective fingernails and needed a big defensive stop, A.J. McCarron escaped from a certain sack and flicked the ball to Trent Richardson, standing mere feet away, for the shortest 61-yard touchdown pass on record, which sealed the deal midway through the third period.
• I’m not even going to write about the fake field goal that opened the scoring…well, no, I think I will. Amid all the shuffling of players at the line of scrimmage, and the obvious confusion that it created among the Razorbacks’ field goal block unit, how does a coach as poised as Bobby Petrino somehow fail to call timeout? The play was expertly designed and flawlessly timed, but it might have been shelved if Petrino or one of the players on the field had signaled for a stoppage.
• Tyler Wilson’s durability is commendable, and it may be fleeting. When the video production guys can easily assemble a montage of how many different players have laid licks on your quarterback (I think I saw Derrick Thomas and Keith McCants deliver shots), you not only have pass protection issues, but a legitimate need to get Brandon Mitchell more snaps in practice going forward.
• Alabama cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick is one of the most gifted defensive backs in college football — nay, he may be one of America’s greatest treasures. Don’t believe me? Ask Verne Lundquist. At long last, the effusive play-by-play man has found someone who can fill the cavity in his heart where Tim Tebow was once comfortably nestled.
• In the last 10 meetings with Alabama, the Razorbacks have yielded 15 touchdowns of 50 yards or more, a number that elicits the sort of wincing that I associate with an unforeseen spike in a utility bill or a hernia. Marquis Maze’s 83-yard punt return this year followed his 80-yard scoring reception from the miserable 2009 game at Bryant-Denny. Richardson has now had a 50-yard play from scrimmage in all three of his games against Arkansas, and has averaged eight yards per carry in those contests. It’s no coincidence that Arkansas is 3-7 over that 10-game span, with all three wins against Mike Shula-coached teams. If this program is to liberate itself from Nick Saban’s death-yoke, it starts with a most basic edict: stop the big plays.
Yes, I do think having Knile Davis would have mattered. No, I do not think Ronnie Wingo is capable of being a suitable replacement. These facts acknowledged, I also think Arkansas’s rushing failures are not the exclusive byproduct of tailback shortcomings or offensive line inexperience. The fact is that Wilson, as accurate and able as he may be, does not engender the same level of fear that Ryan Mallett did, and defensive coordinators are far more inclined to challenge him as a result.
Putting this grotesque defeat in the rearview would be much easier if we weren’t headed for Dallas for a brunch date with our newest conference foe. And Hell quite possibly hath no fury like an Aggie scorned.
Texas A&M is precisely not the opponent that Arkansas needs this week — the Aggies have surged back to respectability but are chapped about losing two in a row to the Razorbacks and even more aggravated about coughing up a big lead over Oklahoma State at Kyle Field. The Hogs are wounded and demoralized. It’s a terrible amalgam of events and circumstances, frankly.
Which is why Arkansas, if it can summon a victory here, could be reinvigorated heading into a surprisingly manageable October slate of games. This is still a Top 20 team with Top 10 aspirations. Being clearly out of Alabama’s league is no great sin.
But letting that fact define an entire season would be.