I’ve gone and done it again, huh?
One-third of the way through predicting the Razorbacks’ 2015 schedule, Pearls About Swine again throws an albatross of misery around the program by speculating that Jonathan Williams would start the year with a bang. Instead, a seemingly minor foot injury in a Saturday scrimmage morphed into a season-ending surgery for the gifted senior tailback, and the Hogs are now scurrying for relief at the position, which fortunately seems to be in ample supply with Kody Walker and Rawleigh Williams, a well-built true freshman with uncanny strength, necessarily getting more looks now.
The critical concern about Jonathan Williams is, in this columnist’s estimation, the benefit he provides in the passing game. He’s a far better receiver and pass protector than Alex Collins, but not as dynamic and elusive. We’ll see how this shakes out, because as we chronicled last week, the first four games of the season represent a comparatively smooth entry into the eventual gauntlet that greets the Razorbacks in October:
Arkansas at Tennessee, Oct. 3 — The first true road game of the year finds the Hogs traveling to Knoxville for the first time since 2007, and seeking their first victory there since the massive upset in 1992 engineered by current tight ends coach Barry Lunney Jr. When Lunney guided a patchwork Razorback team to that narrow 25-24 victory over the highly rated Vols, the Razorbacks were trying to find footing in a league where Tennessee had long been a force. Now both programs are essentially similarly positioned, buoyed by newfound stability in the coaching and recruiting ranks after years of upheaval.
The Vols are a trendy East pick with Florida clearly restructuring and nobody feeling terribly certain that Missouri can pull off an unthinkable third straight East title. Butch Jones was a proper choice to take over for the woefully unprepared Derek Dooley, and with Josh Dobbs leading the versatile offense, those in Knoxville are antsy to start the season for good cause. Arkansas’s unbeaten September is built largely on the soft schedule, and the Vols’ defense stifles Arkansas in the red zone repeatedly. The game loses its competitiveness in the fourth quarter with Tennessee converting two turnovers into decisive scores. Volunteers 30, Hogs 17.
Arkansas at Alabama, Oct. 10 — Going to Tuscaloosa after a loss, trying to regain traction at Bryant-Denny Stadium of all places, would seem unpalatable. But it’s here that we see a decade of frustration (OK, only eight consecutive losses to the Tide) end in rather glorious fashion. Since the Hogs were a wayward extra point and fumbled touchdown away from vanquishing ‘Bama last fall, it’s a game that will take on a much deeper meaning to this team, particularly how to respond to adverse circumstances.
Arkansas takes a surprising early lead, 17-0, before the Tide storms back behind brawny tailback Derrick Henry. His two third-quarter touchdown runs draw the Tide closer and then put ‘Bama ahead, but it’s at this point that Brandon Allen gets his signature moment as the Razorback’s oft-maligned quarterback. In the final 10 minutes, he leads two brilliant scoring drives, throwing one touchdown to Hunter Henry and scrambling for another, and Arkansas gets back on the map as quickly as it teetered off the edge of it. Hogs 31, Crimson Tide 28.
Auburn at Arkansas, Oct. 24 — Bret Bielema’s team was dangerous in Fayetteville a year ago, dominating LSU and Ole Miss in consecutive weekends, and losing only in the aforementioned Alabama contest. There will be no letdown for the Hogs against Gus Malzahn’s Tigers, and in fact, memories of Auburn’s shiftless injury-faking ways from the aggravating 2013 season will resurface and spur the Hogs to wake up from an early bye week lethargy.
Auburn’s set to become a bit more pass-reliant this fall with tall and stout Jeremy Johnson leading the offense. He will take some big licks from Tevin Beanum and Jeremiah Ledbetter, and lose confidence in the pocket as the Hogs charge back from a 10-0 hole. Allen again plays error-free football and contributes two scoring throws to transfer receiver Dominique Reed, and we see Rawleigh Williams post his first 100-yard rushing effort. The Tigers’ pacing will create fourth- quarter scares for a while, but in the end, it’s Williams’ long scoring run on third down that cements the sixth win in seven games for the good guys. Hogs 44, Tigers 34.
Tennessee-Martin at Arkansas, Oct. 31 — Homecoming weekend finds Arkansas comfortably in the Top 10 nationally, conclusively rebounding after the Tennessee defeat, and feeling strongly about heading out of the month in great shape. Obviously, a FCS opponent will do nothing to shake that.
A Halloween game enhances the festive atmosphere at Reynolds Razorback Stadium, and after the Hogs break off two long scoring plays in the opening quarter (Allen to Jeremy Sprinkle for six, and Alex Collins going to the house on the next play from scrimmage), it essentially becomes a very early party for the home squad. Allen gets the Crip Hall Award after an abbreviated but highly productive half of football in which he throws for 200-plus yards and three touchdowns, and Arkansas ends a rugged fall slate at 7-1, 3-1, and in the proverbial driver’s seat for the division crown if it can bust through a pretty vicious November. Hogs 56, Skyhawks 17.