Foolish consistency, per Emerson, is the hobgoblin of little minds. What commentary he would’ve offered about the Arkansas Razorbacks’ 10 weeks of wild inconsistency is for debate, but he might’ve been more profane than pithy if he had to sit through this madness.
The Hogs bombed another chance to demonstrate their worthiness as a Top 15 or 20 program, this time getting steamrolled by an LSU team that again endured a brutal game against Alabama in the preceding week and has a minor offseason controversy in the offing if interim head coach Ed Orgeron keeps winning. The 38-10 final margin wasn’t as heinous as that 56-3 rout at Auburn, granted, but in many ways it felt so much worse.
This was the last home game, Senior Night for a slew of players who admirably soldiered onward with Bret Bielema after a 3-9, 0-8 campaign in his debut year, committed to the ideology that the new coach trumpeted. It represented a shot at three straight victories over one of the country’s premier brands, and a chance at harnessing a 10-win season with a closing flourish. It was also coming on the heels of a thorough dismantling, in the same venue, of the weak-sister East Division’s purported frontrunner.
No urgency or passion was evident. LSU committed to not just the power running embodied by Leonard Fournette, but also to the sizzling open-field speed that Derrius Guice has in ample supply. The Tigers cranked out 390 yards on the ground, two-thirds of that from Guice, and transfer quarterback Danny Etling was more efficient than any of the inaccurate slingers Les Miles trotted onto the field weekend after weekend. Mostly, though, this was a night where Arkansas proved its one-week rebirth on defense against Florida was the exception rather than the rule, and where the Hog offense lost its steam because Austin Allen finally bore the markings of a first-year starter.
Make no mistake, Allen is hurting. The abuse his body has taken hit critical mass in the drumming at Auburn, and he was permitted the bye week to finally get some extended recuperative time. Against the Gators, he was a little shaky, but he also delivered the ball quickly and avoided substantial contact.
That reprieve was short-lived. The Tigers unleashed pressure on him with impunity, and it felt like they got about fivefold their number of actual sacks (three). Sophomore defensive end Arden Key is a long, tall terror who resembles DeMarcus Ware rushing free off the edge. Linebacker Kendell Beckwith is the latest in a steady run of Tiger linebackers who exhibit leadership beyond their already-impressive athleticism. Safety Jamal Adams is a hitter, and a pest. Davon Godchaux is cut from the Glenn Dorsey mold as a run-stopper. It’s no wonder Alabama had to battle through nearly 55 minutes of game time to break the end zone against this caliber of talent.
Allen never was settled, tossing a bad interception in his own territory early and later firing another one on a deep out. The junior quarterback coasted through four straight games earlier this year, over 120 pass attempts, without a throwing error; he’s now tossed a pick in five straight, a total of eight over that span, and many of those have been cringe-inducing. But he’s under siege so often, to such an extreme degree, that it’s no wonder his completion percentage and his ball security have waned as the season has progressed.
When your quarterback is faltering, then initiative must be shown by the rest of the team. It simply wasn’t there Saturday night. There was a fleeting moment where the Hogs’ hideous start looked like it might end up a footnote: Arkansas recovered Fournette’s fumble in the third quarter, trailing 21-7, and sought six quick points. Rawleigh Williams ripped off runs of 18 and six to get the Hogs inside the five, but the Tigers stuffed the next, ill-advised run, and then Key deflected away Allen’s effort to squeeze a short out into Keon Hatcher’s waiting mitts.
The ensuing field goal by Adam McFain was good, but the rest of the night wasn’t. Arkansas took a holding call on second-and-10, a move which backfired immediately when Fournette raced for 17 and Guice followed with two long runs to set up his backfield mate’s third touchdown run. The Hogs later pounced on a muffed punt, but then backpedaled right out of field goal range.
And so it ended thusly, Arkansas deflated after another lopsided loss. The 19-point beating Alabama administered remains the closest margin of the four defeats, which says much about how mercurial this season has been. To beat a feisty Mississippi State team in Starkville is ever a challenge, and lowly Missouri isn’t going to squander a shot at closing out a rebuilding year on a high, so it is utter guesswork to project how a bruised, tired group will finish under these attendant circumstances.