On the surface the outcomes of Arkansas and Alabama’s season openers might seem telling about their early season Sept. 15 showdown at Reynolds Razorback Stadium.
The No. 8 Razorbacks struggled with Jacksonville State before finally overpowering the gamecocks with four consecutive touchdown drives in the second quarter on their way to a 49-24 victory.
The No. 1 Crimson Tide, however, looked in midseason form while grinding overrated Michigan, previously the No. 8 team, into to wad of Wolverine meat. Alabama steam-rolled to a 31-0 lead before letting off the accelerator to coast to a 41-14 manhandling.
I’ve read and heard plenty of boohooing from Hog fans who’ve had their high hopes for the season dashed already. The season might as well be over because the defense gave up some meaningless points and the offense suffered a case of the bobbles with three fumbles.
Not a lot of faith, folks.
As an aside, I did find it funny that after so much preseason consternation about Knile Davis not being tackled to the ground that "everybody" but him fumbled.
Now, I’m not totally blinded by my oh so retro rose-colored glasses. Alabama looked like it picked up right where it left off last season, even though Nick Saban and his crack staff sent four defenders off last year’s national-title team to the NFL via first-round delivery.
Beating the Crimson Tide is going to be a monumental task, and if the Razorbacks duplicate last Saturday’s performance against Alabama, well, the game will be uglier than the rash dotting Big Al the Elephant’s hind quarters.
And if I did have to bet something more substantial than a soda pop or lunch, you’d probably have to give me points before I’d take the Hogs.
But that does not mean the Razorbacks won’t put up a heck of a fight or even upset the Crimson Tide. Weirder things have happened and generally do across the landscape of college football on those awesome autumn Saturdays we love so much.
The main reason I think their respective season openers may give us a false view of their impending matchup is that Alabama and Arkansas went into their first games with different objectives. Obviously both wanted to win, but Saban was very clear last week about his reasoning for scheduling a big early season game for his squad.
He said having an opponent like Michigan to aim at kept his team focused throughout the summer and into preseason camp. You see Saban’s mission in August wasn’t so much to build or rebuild a team, but to keep all that talent from becoming complacent after winning their second championship in three seasons.
After Alabama’s national title in 2009, Saban felt his 2010 team started too slow, believing it could turn on and off its intensity, will and desire like water through a faucet. As talented as that team was, he felt it never gelled and ultimately underachieved. He’s determined to not let that happen again and has wisely used his schedule to help matters.
For the Hogs, things are a bit different. No doubt the Razorbacks wanted to play well last Saturday. Certainly, they would have liked to have put on a more polished show than they did, particularly on offense, but the last thing the Hogs coaching staff wanted against Jacksonville State was a peak performance.
It’s a long season and the less emotion and energy spent on non-conference opponents the better.
With all due respect to Jacksonville State and even Louisiana-Monroe, this Saturday’s opponent, both serve as tune-ups and diagnostic tests before the Razorbacks venture into their true schedule, their Southeastern Conference slate.
As a tune-up, Jacksonville State gave the Razorbacks just what they needed. The Gamecocks had enough talent in their skilled positions and discipline and technique on their offensive and defensive fronts to expose some of the Razorbacks weaknesses.
As deflating as that might have been to some Razorbacks fans, it’s better fumble three times against Jacksonville State than it is to do so against a conference opponent.
It’s good to know that work — a lot of work — needs to be done with tackling, that Arkansas’ cornerbacks are probably going to need safety help as much as possible and that the offense needs to be ready to score as many points as possible each week to obtain success.
I would think there was a true sense of urgency when the Razorbacks took the practice field Tuesday afternoon.
I’m going to be very interested to see how the Razorbacks respond against a Louisiana-Monroe squad that seems to be feeling a bit cocky prior to rolling into Little Rock’s War Memorial Stadium. I want to see if Arkansas’ offense has tightened up its ballhandling and whether Tank Wright and Alonzo Highsmith are more in sync at linebacker and if safety Eric Bennett, who had a fine season a year ago, revert back to form after missing a lot of practice time with preseason injuries.
My expectation is for the Razorbacks to perform much better this Saturday and then lay it all on the line against Bama on Sept. 15. That may not be enough to pull off an upset, but it ought to be fun to watch.