The Arkansas Democrat Gazette's headline for today is "Blackened Friday." I was also thinking for this post, "Busted Up on the Bayou" or "Death of a Dream in Death Valley." I was obviously thinking in terms of alliteration. But I think "Put In Our Place (Part Deux)" better captures what happened yesterday. Number one Alabama told us back in September that we weren't at their level, and Number one LSU would do it again, to the same tune of a 24 point defeat, in November. The difference in the hurt this time is that we felt like our Hogs had improved since September and had a number three ranking as evidence. I believe the Hogs had improved, but they also fed on some rather weak SEC teams along the way, got some lucky breaks in top ten teams ahead of them losing, and discovered that in comparison to LSU, Arkansas, especially on defense, isn't where the elite of the SEC dwell - yet. For the last review of the regular season, I thought I would put it in the form of questions to myself, for aren't we all in a question asking mood, such as the fundamental question of "What the hell just happened?"
What was your level of confidence going into yesterday's game? The heart was more confident than the head, as normally is the case with the Hogs when they are underdogs. And at 14-0 at 2:30 in the afternoon, Central Standard Time, with 12:11 standing on the clock in the second quarter, the heart was looking pretty damn smart wasn't it? But like the Japanese in WWII who mistakenly believed that their superior fighting spirit would defeat the Americans and their superior resources and technology, the Hogs' fight was not enough to overcome years of LSU's recruiting of blue chip players and a great Tiger fighting spirit of their own backed up by nearly 100,000 fans.
What did you think the Hogs had to do in order to win? Going into the game, I thought the Hogs had to not turn the ball over even once, for that would be like blood in the water. Unfortunately, Dennis Johnson's fumble was the first serious cut on what was starting to look like a promising answer to LSU's first score. I also thought the Hogs needed to have long and sustained drives with the running game playing a big role. That didn't happen. Of course, nobody has really done that against LSU all year. Arkansas got only 47 yards rushing on 28 carries and lost the time of possession battle in a big way to LSU, 37:09 to 22:51.
How do you think Arkansas's strength (receivers) played out? Jarius Wright this year seems to be always money for a touchdown, but on the flip side, he didn't catch what would have been an important third down conversion. Cobi had that great catch which led to a field goal. Chris Gragg was still money at least on one long third down conversion, but fumbled during garbage time. By and large, LSU's secondary did a great job of making our strength a non-factor, which also had more than a little to do with that 37:09 time of possession by LSU.
How about Arkansas's known weakness, the defense? Oh, boy. Well, it was a weakness again when over the last three games it was beginning to finally look like a strength. What happened? Taking bad angles. Letting running backs drag you down field instead of stopping them cold. Playing too soft on LSU's receivers to where it was pitch and catch for Jefferson. Not getting sacks when they did get in the backfield. Giving up 9 of 14 third downs happened. And I would say the offense not giving the defense much rest also happened.
So should Bobby Petrino just go ahead and "Free Willy" like so many fans want? If Bobby Petrino has not learned the lesson that you win this conference with defense after these last two seasons, then he probably never will. I have to believe that he is thinking the Hogs need an upgrade on defense. Does that upgrade involve a new coordinator? I don't think Arkansas is ever going to get the bluest of blue chip recruits when it comes to defense, so the Hogs will have to have the best "coach them up" people we can get. I am far from convinced that Willy Robinson is that kind of guy. But, of course, only Petrino's opinion matters when it comes to Willy's job security.
What type of defense would you like to see at Arkansas? One that is superior in physicality and actually intimidates other teams. We are neither right now.
You were saddened like all others upon hearing the news of Garrett Uekman's death. How do you think the Hogs handled the passing of their teammate? Looking at the situation from the outside the locker room, I think they handled themselves very well. The tribute on the helmet, the black ribbons on the coaches' shirts, and most importantly the heartfelt public statements by Bobby Petrino were all fitting and touching. I know they wanted to channel that loss into a victory in Baton Rouge, but Hollywood doesn't write these stories. That the Hogs didn't win is no sign that they weren't playing with him on their hearts and minds. The Hogs just ran into a superior team. Simple as that.
At the end of the game, Bobby Petrino let Les Miles know what he thought about him in rather explicit language. What is your take on that? I can understand it. This has been an emotional week, and Petrino is a very competitive guy, and here the Hogs were getting "style" points put on them. In the moment, I think Petrino let the moment get the better of him; whereas, he should have kept what he thought of Les Miles to himself or his coaching staff. In the eyes of the media, Petrino already has character issues, so saying that Les Miles sleeps with his mother on national television (lips can be read) isn't going to help him there. And it isn't going to help him in the living rooms of parents whose sons are considering Arkansas. Mothers, as a rule, don't like that type of talk. Plus, geez, Les Miles of all people comes off looking better in this. Petrino didn't have to give him that victory as well.
What, if any, positives can you take away from this game? Hmm. Well, it was 14-0 at one point. And Alonzo Highsmith's touchdown stays a thing of awesome beauty, no matter the final outcome. My scream of joy lasted the entire length of his trip to the endzone. Our coaches and players saw once again, up close, what you have to be like, in all phases of the game, to have earned a number one ranking. Living in the tough neighborhood of the SEC West, where the Hogs' four regular season losses over the last two years were to top ranked teams, you have to think by now we could draw a team like LSU from memory. Here is hoping we start to learn some things from these encounters.
Any one player that you can point to for having a great game? Tyler Wilson didn't have his best game. He got sacked five times. I thought the line held long enough, but the LSU secondary didn't allow the passing opportunities that Tyler was used to finding out there. Actually, if I had to pick a player, I would want to pick Dylan Breeding who had a career long 70 yard punt and kept LSU penned up in their own territory through the first quarter. But then he also kicked one directly to the Honey Badger with an awful result. At 254 yards on offense and giving up 494 on defense, you have to say it was clearly a team loss.
Any thoughts about the run strategy to start the game? Could you call such an early reliance on the run a wrinkle for Arkansas? Was Tyler's leg work a wrinkle? We all hoped Dennis Johnson would be Knile in last year's LSU game, but he wasn't, and he didn't have last year's line either. What I was more disappointed with is how we didn't find ways to get the ball into Joe Adams' hands. Wouldn't this have been a game to at least try something from the backfield that involved Joe? How about a shuffle pass with Joe coming out of the backfield? Overall, I don't think we really showed LSU anything that a season of tape hadn't already shown them. Not to say they wouldn't have cancelled out the new stuff as well. But as a fan, I would have appreciated seeing the attempt at least to throw the kitchen sink at them.
You are a rationalist when it comes to the modern world. You think Oswald killed Kennedy by himself. You don't believe Obama is a secret Muslim. Global climate change is real. You would rather read Dawkins than Deuteronomy. So how do you explain your less than rational game day actions? College football, I confess, is an area where my rational self has just a thin membrane between it and the believe that I have control over the distant workings out of cause and effect. I was drinking out of a 1994 Basketball National Championship glass with the hope that it might help the Hogs. I even changed hats at halftime! haha. I think a lot of us try to overcome our powerlessness as fans with things like that, but at the end of the day, we know these things really don't impact outcomes. Yet, if somebody had handed me a Honey Badger voodoo doll on Friday afternoon, I would have stuck every pin in the house in it. haha.
Along the same lines of thinking, would you say that the Hogs are cursed when it comes to playing in big games? It is tempting to think that the Broyles Center and the football field were built over some Indian burial ground. But I don't believe in any outside curses. If there is any hexing being done, it is largely the Hogs to themselves with a sprinkle of bad calls on top along with simply facing teams that are physically and mentally (football smarts) superior when it comes to the Big Game. Looking back at history, I think Arkansas was on par with that 69 Texas team. In 2011, I think this LSU team would have beaten the Hogs eight or possibly nine times if they were to play ten games against one another. Keep in mind, that even in all of LSU's rich history of football, they've never had a team go undefeated in the regular season until this team.
What really galls you the most about yesterday's loss? Actually, several things. One of them is that this loss can't be bandaged over somewhat until the bowl game, over a month away. Though I and probably many of you like me need a break from Razorback football, I hate it that there isn't a game next week. I also hate that our players's sadness at losing a teammate couldn't be dampened some by a win and a possible trip to the national championship game. I hate it that now we are probably looking at the Cotton Bowl, which going 8-4 probably would have gotten us as well. Finally, it galls me that our fan base is just as passionate as the LSU fan base, but we'll have to go another year without the crystal ball. LSU? They have a good chance of lifting a third such crystal ball within a decade come January the 9th. Huey Long, an LSU supporter, was known for the phrase "Share the Wealth." Well, we don't really do that in our 99 percent 1 percent society, and most of the time it doesn't work that way in football either. The same traditional haves keep winning it. Yet I keep believing that the day will come when the Hogs's fan base will see that crystal trophy up close, and it will be ours. We'll break on through to the other side.
Finally, what are your thoughts about the bowl game? Just win, baby. Has that been said before? haha. Players, if you are reading this, please do just that. Win it. Ten wins is wonderful. But you want to know what is better? Eleven, which we haven't seen since the Holtz era. Don't let 2010 and 2011 (back to back ten win regular seasons) become the 88 and 89 of the 21st century. We ended both of those seasons with defeats in the Cotton Bowl. Those 17 seniors deserve to go out on a better note than laying an egg in a bowl game. Don't let LSU defeat you twice in one season! Just think how much more positive momentum would carry over to next season with an eleventh win. And it would set us up with a top ten ranking to finish this season and a top ten ranking to start the next. A line of success like that is what gets the attention of the recruits we need.
Oh, one more thing, which team will you be pulling for in the likely national championship game, LSU or Alabama? Meteor hit at halftime? Honestly, I don't think there will be any pulling from me for either one of them. But as a proponent of a plus one play-off, I suppose having a muddle of sorts with Alabama winning the rematch might help that cause. But that is down the road. I have a more immediate concern. I have Christmas lights to put up. Shine on, Hog fans. Woo Pig Sooie to you all. And, oh, LSU, I'll see you in Little Rock in 2012. I'll be bringing it!