If there is one positive takeaway from Saturday's game between Arkansas and Ole Miss, it's that I may have pinpointed the exact moment when true apathy set in. When the outcome of a Razorback football game became secondary not only to my mood for the rest of the afternoon, but also secondary to things much more mundane.
When I watch a football game live, I do not want to miss one play. If I'm hungry, I'll wait until halftime. If I need to use the facilities, I will hold it until an opportunity arises that allows me to use them without missing a single snap. As long as i'm inside the stadium, my eyes are on the field if the clock is moving.
Not yesterday. Not when the product on the field was so pitiful and the outcome on the scoreboard so obviously inevitable. I peed while we were on offense. Went to the concession stand and bought a Coke while we were receiving a punt. And when Bryson Rose lined up to kick his third field goal of the game with three seconds left in the fourth quarter, a majority of my focus was on how to position myself best for exit following the game-winning Rebel kick.
That doesn't mean there's not football to discuss, however. Let's get to it.
Unfortunately, my biggest takeaway from the game is that Hugh Freeze may very well be a damned good coach. In a game on the road where his team was outgained by over 100 yards, Freeze led his team to a victory by orchestrating scoring drives when it mattered the most. Point to the blocked punt or the alignment penalty if you wish, but the reason the Razorbacks lost was that they could not stop Ole Miss at the end of each half. The Rebels answered two Arkansas touchdowns with their two longest drives of the game, scoring 10 points that the Hogs had no opportunity to counter.
Freeze did it with an effective mixture of plays that had seen success the entire game, and unexpected riffs off of those same plays. The play that put Ole Miss in position to kick the game-winning field goal was none other than the wide receiver screen that Freeze had used to make the Razorback defense look absolutely foolish on three consecutive plays earlier in the half. The play that centered the ball deep in Razorback territory and cemented the victory was a quarterback keeper that took advantage of a defense that was stretched boundary to boundary to protect against the sideline routes that Ole Miss had enjoyed on their march down the field.
It was so elementary, but credit Freeze for not overthinking. And place a truckload of blame on our coaches for not adapting.
Offensively, the Razorbacks seemed to fall back to their previous form when facing a defense capable of putting pressure on Tyler Wilson. While under pressure, Wilson failed to display the poise in the pocket and accuracy when throwing that he has displayed throughout his career. In fact, he just seemed agitated all day. Lots of negative body language to accompany a performance that certainly did not meet the standards he or any of his coaches, current of former, hold him to. He missed throws, like the first play of the game where an accurate toss might have gone for a touchdown instead of just a large gain. He missed receivers, including a wide open Austin Tate that managed to get behind the defense on a play in the second half. Finally, he just flat-out mismanaged his team while they were on the field. He's the general on the field, and instead of holding his team together, he reflected and magnified their lack of composure. Just not a very good outing, unfortunately. Save last year's game against Mississippi State, Wilson hasn't seemed to perform his best inside War Memorial, for whatever reason.
Dennis Johnson, on the other hand, continued to improve on a terrific season. With an offensive line that clearly isn't adept at creating running lanes any more than they are a stable passing pocket, Johnson's pinball running style is by far the most effective option the Hogs have, as it's the least dependent on the play that's drawn up. Johnson just gets in there and ad-libs, legs churning until he gets taken down. It doesn't make him a better running back than Knile Davis, but it certainly makes him a better back behind this line. 2010 was obviously a different story, as Davis was able to wait for blocks that allowed him to used his speed and get into space. Those blocks aren't coming this season, but that doesn't stop everyone (including me) for wondering what the hell is the matter with him. I'm not sure he's changed as much as the personnel around him.
Defensively, it was more of the same from the Razorbacks, and obvious early on that the success they had enjoyed the previous two games was a result of two completely impotent offenses with inept offensive lines. Facing a quarterback capable of moving in the pocket and running when necessary, the pass rush just seemed to be two steps too late, and the pass coverage two steps too slow. Once again, the Hogs looking best against the run and were generally very effective at bottling things up inside, although they did allow Jeff Scott to get to the edge on occasion. A.J. Turner delivered some more big hits that have been lacking, and Otha Peters got his feet a little wetter.
All in all, a big, giant regression following a two week stretch that had actually managed to get me excited about the upcoming stretch and the possibility of bowl eligibility. After yesterday, it wouldn't surprise me one bit if the Hogs lose to a surging Tulsa team and hang a doughnut for the rest of the season.
Fortunately for me, I've already cashed in all my emotional chips for this season. My bladder and blood pressure will surely thank me for it.