I feel confident that most Arkansas fans thought this game had all of the makings for a blowout: a team coming off a devastating loss a week ago, facing the best player in college football, and possessing a suspect defense.
Most Razorback fans thought Manziel could have a similar performance to his national showcase from a year ago, where he threw for 453 yards and three touchdowns and added 104 yards and a score on the ground in College Station. If you didn't think this, here's to you for having more faith in the a Razorback rebound than me.
While this edition of the Southwest Classic never saw an Arkansas lead, there were times when Arkansas fans were thinking, "maybe...just maybe we can pull this off." The Hogs pulled to within five points of the A&M lead before attempting a far-too-early two-point conversion which failed with a minute to go in the third quarter.
Five points was as close as the Razorbacks would get to the tenth ranked team in the country, losing 45-33 in Fayetteville.
The score may not suggest it, but there are parts of this loss that let us in on what is to come, as Arkansas looks to get back to bowling, though they stand three wins away from doing so.
Brandon Allen was back. He threw two interceptions, but he also was able to effectively move the ball through the air better than this offense did in his absence. He was under a 50% completion mark and threw two picks (one of which was a late-game heave), but tossed for 282 yards and three touchdowns. Let's face it. This offense is more explosive with him and it was good to see him under center again.
Alex Collins was back to being a 100-yard rusher, and as we march further through this season he must continue to be one of the two best offensive players on the team. The other being Johnathan Williams who came alive in the passing game with two touchdown receptions in the second half.
Hunter Henry was much more comfortable tonight than over the last game and a half. He caught passes for a couple big gains and is clearly Allen's go-to receiver.
I liked Deatrich Wise and his enthusiasm, no matter the what continual downers Brock Huard and Mark Jones said during the second quarter about his celebrations. Wise got the crowd into the game as much as it has been involved all season.
The defense as a whole played better than it did a year ago, but really, how could this unit not?
There are plenty of issues on the defensive side of the ball, but as far as slowing down the most exciting player in the game, they can leave Razorback Stadium knowing they "held" Johnny Football to only three points more than the vaunted Alabama defense.
Johnny is going to be Johnny, and as one of college football's greats on the field, he is going to get his.
On the other hand, the run defense was atrocious, especially in big situations. In two consecutive scoring drives the Aggies didn't complete a pass and scored 14 points. So much for a balanced offense. Part of that is because the defense as a whole seemed to have a mindset to just not let Johnny beat them. And he didn't have one of his most masterful performances, but he did hand the ball off to Trey Williams and Tra Carson, who both averaged over six yards per carry for just under 150 yards..
Sure, just like every other team in the game, this one has some flaws. It can get better all over the field, in this season and in subsequent ones. But going forward, through tough building games like this one where the Razorbacks have nothing to hang their heads about, Arkansas got better.
Bielema has this team headed in the right direction, where a tough defense is expected and an offense with the ability to score in a multitude of ways is required. We saw tonight more glimpses of what can come.