Arkansas Fight Panel Discussion: Week 7 - Looking Ahead To South Carolina, Midseason Thoughts

Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

Gathering our contributors' thoughts on the topics of the week.

1. Even though the scoreboard wasn't truly out of hand until late, it felt like the energy of both the team and the fans was gone in the second half. Is that a short term thing caused by the disastrous second quarter, or is that carrying over this week? In other words, how much energy is there among both the players and fans going into South Carolina?

Scottie: I think the player and fan energy will be there for South Carolina. For one, I'm not completely sold on the Gamecocks.  They have been less than stellar in their last two games (at UCF, Kentucky) and I think the coaching staff and players know this as well. Secondly, I think we can bounce back again because we did against A&M after the huge meltdown in Piscataway. Fans will be rowdy from getting liquored up early on a Saturday morning, and the crowd will be a fun one. It's homecoming week, surely we'll have a good crowd.

Brent: I'm hopeful. I was impressed by the atmosphere for the A&M game after a loss that I thought was much more deflating -- the game at Florida has been an expected loss since the schedule came out; blowing a 17-point lead at Rutgers was the real kick in the shins. I also trust the staff to move this young team past last week's doldrums. John L. & Co. couldn't do that, but I don't see this team folding.

Adam: You can define a team about what happens AFTER things start to not go their way. Luckily, with young guys, one expects them to deflate and stay deflated. I wanted the opposite to happen, but it just didn't. A lot of fans think we've got a good chance against South Carolina. Until I see some consistency, I don't see how.

Drew: A combination of a sputtering offense, a lagging defense, and a 3-game losing streak will be deflating to almost any team.  Bielema's got his work cut out for him this week - we'll see if his motivational skills and "1-0" mantra will be sufficient to get the team to not dwell on the outcome of the past three games and instead look forward to SC.  As for the fans, we're a notoriously fickle fan base.  It won't surprise me if the atmosphere in RRS this weekend is pretty tame.

Randy: Brandon Allen's first two games: 69% completion, 5 TD / 0 INT, 9.1 yards per attempt. Since then: 40% completion, 3 TD / 4 INT, 5.8 yards per attempt. The correlation between interceptions and W-L record is profound. Failure to catch Gary Nova's bad passes killed the Hogs at Rutgers. Allen's turnovers -- not just picks but also fumbles -- were way too much to overcome the past two weeks. Bad quarterbacking + going pass defenseless is a lethal combination for fans. It's a shame; Allen deserves respect for getting on the field and taking more hits. Who's going to beat him out?

Kevin: Being that it is a home game and seeing as it is going to be against a team we've had success against in the past, I think team and fan energy will be there. But if things start to swing too dramatically in the favor of South Carolina, then I truly wonder if we'll have the energy to swing it back in the other direction. And if we can't stop the bleeding with South Carolina, we sure aren't likely to stop it the week afterwards against Alabama. So you could be looking at a soul killing five game losing streak with only microscopic hope for a bowl game and winning season. Much rides on this South Carolina game. Win it, go lose to Alabama, as expected, and then you have a chance of getting to six wins with Auburn at home and Miss. State in Little Rock. You might even be able to pull off a road win in Oxford. Lose it, and I think we really are going to see the energy of this season disappear in thoughts about next season, maybe even thoughts about basketball.

2. How big of an issue, if at all, is it that Arkansas' receivers have only led the team in receiving in two of the six games this year? (Running backs and tight ends leading the other games)

Kevin: If we were winning games, I wouldn't think much about it. Since we aren't, any area of the team that appears to be under-performing becomes a big issue. Arkansas has a very thin margin of error to win. We need the receivers to be a threat, something for the opposing team to think about, but they have not been that thus far. Herndon at the beginning of the season looked like he might be the threat that opposing coordinators would have to worry about, but I don't see South Carolina's defensive staff losing much sleep this week worrying about him or any of our receivers after Saturday's performance. And maybe that is just where we want them. One can hope.

Drew: Not that big of an issue, because our TEs and RBs are just that good.  What is an issue is how unproductive they've been over the past few weeks, especially all the drops.  I think what we're seeing is a result of Petrino and John L. leaning too heavily on Adams, Wright, Childs, Cobi, Gragg, and DJ Williams over the last 5 years.  For pretty much all of our receivers, this season is their first as "Option 1A," and they're choking under the pressure.

Scottie: It's a problem to an extent. I don't mind if tight ends are the leading receivers, because they do play a significant role in Bielema and Chaney's philosophies. I still think the offense is searching for that go-to receiver midway through the season, which isn't good. Still waiting for Julian Horton to make an appearance this season, and Herndon has kind of slipped since the hot start. Maybe it's a bigger deal than we originally thought. We need some sort of production from this position.

Adam: I don't think it's that big of a deal. In fact, it could be a good weapon. However, without a seasoned quarterback and inconsistent receivers, that weapon might need to be holstered.

Randy: Lack of elite receivers means they are always covered, unless (as Allen keeps discovering) the coverage is baiting you. The QB has to be closer to perfect in this situation, but Allen hasn't gotten passes off soon enough, or in the right location. Good receivers can fight for the football if it's thrown in the right place, even when covered. They don't have to be great. Arkansas is back to the point where it needs to learn how to take what is there. I'm pretty disgusted with all the stupidly low-odds passes in obvious passing situations. Hey fellas! A football field covers 42,000 square feet. Even if the opponents all lie down, they can't take up more than 175 square feet.

Seriously, when Arkansas has the ball on its 25, stretching before the offense is an expanse of almost 36,000 square feet. Even with seven in coverage, they have to take care of 5,100 apiece, roughly a 70-by-70 square. Somebody's turning large swaths of turf into unused space - them, or us.

Brent: I think it's indicative of the fact that we don't have the NFL-caliber wide outs Arkansas fans have become accustomed to, but I don't think it's a huge problem. Last week was awful, but I'm not going to hold that against them too much. That was the best defense most of those guys have ever played against, and for Javontee Herndon, the default elder statesmen, it's the first time he's played against that kind of defense when he was anything other than a safety valve/third option. We've got limitations, but I think Keon Hatcher can be a high-end No. 2/low-end No. 1 SEC WR, and I'm ready to see more of D'Arthur Cowan. If they continue to improve we'll be fine (not great, but fine) at WR.

Zack: It wouldn't be if they'd catch the ball. Just catch the ball! You spend most of practice catching the ball, your most important job is to catch the ball. I know some of its on Allen but good lord. Just catch the ball!

3. Should teams have their punt returners practice bobbling kicks into nearby defenders to pick up a quick 15 yards?

Scottie: Why the hell not? Defenders are instinctively going to go after the ball when bobbled whether they know the rule or not. What a bogus rule.

Zack: Worked for Florida, why not?

Randy: What's riskier, trying to master the punt-muff, or expecting the officials to enforce the rule? Both suck.

Brent: Hey Beavis. He said muff.

Drew: Knowing our luck, it wouldn't be called correctly for us.  That's definitely a rule that needs to be looked at in the offseason, because once Purifoy touched it and didn't maintain possession, that should have been a live ball regardless of whether the ball touched the ground first or not.

Kevin: Hopefully Bielema or Jeff Long can bring this apparent loophole before the rules committee and get the penalty factor removed. My other thought is that if the situation had been reversed, they might have let us keep the ball, but they sure as hell would have not remembered the 15 yard penalty part.

Adam: Excuse me while I throw-up a little.

4. South Carolina doesn't have Florida's defense nor do they have A&M's offense. What are Arkansas' biggest concerns this week and how much of a chance to win do the Hogs really have?

Scottie: SC running back Mike Davis. He's a load. Arkansas' run defense geared itself up to stop Florida's run game, and there can't be a letdown on that side of the ball against SC. The defense has to bring the same mentality into this week. I give us a decent shot if we can also avoid shooting ourselves in the foot with turnovers.

Randy: Mike Davis is on pace for a better season than Marcus Lattimore ever had. QB Connor Shaw, when healthy, murders defenses with precise throwing and timely scrambles. South Carolina spreads the passes around and finds big-play receivers all over. Having faced five good-quality opponents, the Gamecocks are alive in the SEC East race despite a leaky defense and the inexplicably absent Jadeveon Clowney.

1. The Gamecocks have a frustrating ability to convert third downs. Fifteen of their 20 touchdowns were scored on drives covering 70+ yards. Must get pressure on Shaw and force turnovers, without letting Davis go wild in the process.

2. Run the football! South Carolina's defense depends on getting to third down and sacking the quarterback. Arkansas must run well on first downs. To win, the Razorbacks must run like crazy.

3. Don't give away the game with turnovers. The Hogs are minus-1 in turnover margin now, but the Cocks are -2.

Drew: We have to score points.  Period.  I'm not sure how many we "have" to score, but if we only put 10 on the board like we did last week, we probably have no shot to win.  Our defense is still a work in progress (and our secondary does not match up well with their WRs), and our offense isn't really suitable for playing from behind.

Adam: Their mental game. How they pick themselves up from a terrible 3-quarter showing against the Gators. If they can learn from it and play with the heart and passion as they did against the Aggies, they have a much better shot.

Brent: The Hogs have a shot, and according to Vegas, it's a better shot than they've had the last two weeks. I tend to agree, but Connor Shaw worries me. He's fairly mobile and he's a competent passer -- two attributes that cause the Arkansas defense all kinds of trouble. For the Hogs, just about every game is gonna come down to a couple of factors: can they limit the other team's big plays and can they take care of the stinking football?

Zack: As we saw last week, they should be concerned about a mobile quarterback they can't get to in time. The Hogs should also be concerned with Carolina's (anyone's, really) passing offense. I think we'll be solid again against the run, but Will Hines will be a big loss. Oh, and that Clowney fella, if he plays, and if he decides he wants to hit Brandon Allen late a few times with no chance of ejection. He'll do a little more damage than Powell did.

Kevin: I am a big Saints fan, so I watched them play the Bears on Sunday, and the win there did make up some for the damage down to my football self on Saturday. Let me just say that I am glad Lord Alshon Jeffrey no longer plays for South Carolina! I think our biggest worry is Connor Shaw lighting up our secondary. We just can't give him much time in the pocket, at all. He needs to have Smith and Flowers in his face every play. Vegas says South Carolina by six points, I think. Since we are at home and played well against ULL and A&M in Fayetteville, I'll give the Hogs a 50 / 50 chance. But if we get down early, I really wonder about our capacity to fight, fight, fight.

5. We're at the halfway point of Arkansas' regular season. Takeaways? What are we focused on going forward?

Kevin: It is amazing to think that half the season is already gone. My takeaway is to try to enjoy college football more, for there is such a narrow window for it, and it seems to go by so fast. Yeah, it is hard to get juiced up for other games after your own team has lost. I always enjoy watching them more when I can see Arkansas in gold on the bottom of the screen in the crawl. But the season is unfolding like many saw it unfolding, as a learning year where we take more lumps than give them out, and as fans, there really isn't much we can do about it other than remain loyal fans and go to the games we have tickets for, or pass those tickets to somebody else who wants to go. I am going to try to remember that I am also a college football fan, not just a Razorback fan, and look for and hope for the best games I can find on the channels that I have. What to focus on going forward as a Hog fan? That bad seasons tend to run in twos for us. 2004 and 2005, for example. 2012 and 2013, it looks like. Not saying that 2014 will be 2006, but I think we'll see some kind of upswing in our favor.

Scottie: I have a few: Chris Smith and Trey Flowers are as good as advertised, for one. All the preseason hype was on Clowney, but as of now I'd easily take either of them over him. Both are in top 3 in SEC in TFL, and their draft stock is continually rising. Secondly, we have not identified a go-to receiver (which I pointed out earlier). Horton has been a no-show, and Herndon has fell of recently. Next, we need to get the ball to Hunter Henry more often. Good things happen when he touches the football, just look at his stats. I'm really high on this kid. He's a stud. Give him the dang football more than once or twice a game. Last, but not least, is the young talent on offense. It seems the whole offensive gameplan is predicated around them. Collins, Williams, Henry, even Dan Skipper are all heavily involved. I'm excited about the future with this group of guys.

Brent: We're about where I thought we'd be. It's a rebuilding year, though not on the scale of 2008, in my opinion. There's talent and depth on the defensive front (though much less of both in the back seven), the OL is improving (and the true frosh look very good), and the tailbacks are the strength of the offense. Sounds about right. What I want to see going forward is more steady play out of our QB. He's got some talent, but from a mental/game managerial perspective, he's got lots of room for improvement.

Randy: The one thing that went right to date was outstanding preparation for the season opener. Samford was a D+, Southern Miss a C-, Rutgers three quarters of A-B work and one F-, Texas A&M a C+, and Florida an F. Everyone who took Bret Bielema's dare to "pick us last" looks brilliant. And it's not a big deal. Arkansas's new staff is putting in a system. They can't hide the lack of competitive talent at so many positions. Too many Hog fans were eager to praise Houston Nutt and Bobby Petrino because they occasionally stumbled upon diamonds in the rough, or benefited excessively from the rare runs of great in-state talent. Nutt and Petrino were equally inept recruiters. That does not mean all their players were terrible, of course not. They were bad at managing the recruiting process for the long run. How can you explain the short bench Petrino had lined up, even for wide receiver and quarterback?

Much of the carryover roster looks unmanaged, unplanned for. Too bad Petrino didn't have to live with his handiwork. Bielema and staff are working on a program that will have continuity, not groping for short-term fixes. I expect the second half of the season to look better and better, but some positional weaknesses may be too much to overcome.

Zack: 1-0 is cool in essence but not when it comes to Saturdays where you haven't been 1-0 since you beat Southern Miss. Another is to not call anymore upsets. I've seen a lot of improvements from last year in the run game, defensive front, etc. But it's going to be a long second half of the season.

Adam: This is all going to fast for me to comprehend. Maybe I'm just getting old. Stay the course, continue to evaluate our mistakes and look to correct them each and every week. I'm not expecting even a bowl berth this year, but I do want to see some growth. We'll get there....as angry as this season makes me at times.

Drew: Frankly, we're right about where we were predicted to be at this point.  Expectations skyrocketed when we raced out to a big lead at Rutgers, and I think that's the major contributor to the sense of disappointment with being 3-3 that quite a few Hog fans have.  Bowl eligibility is still possible, at least theoretically, and I think that should still be the main focus.


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