If our elaborate system of sundials and water clocks is correct, the Razorbacks have played exactly one-third of their schedule. We marked the occasion in the same way that Hog fans have always celebrated reaching the season's one-third marker: by conducting an e-mail Q&A with Chris Bahn of ArkansasSports360.com.
Read on to get Chris' take on the 2009 season so far. Many thanks to Chris for his time. Give us your thoughts in the comments section.
What's your assessment of the Razorbacks' season: Have the Hogs generally played about like you expected or worse?
Not much has surprised me so far, honestly. This team has an explosive offense and a, uh, less-than-perfect defense. That's right on par with what I think most folks saw coming. I am surprised we haven't seen more run production from Michael Smith and more receptions from D.J. Williams. Ryan Mallett has a lot to do with that because he's doing a nice job of reading defenses and distributing the ball. Arkansas and Texas Tech are the only teams in the country with nine different players to catch touchdown passes. That's wild.
Although there were some signs of life against A&M, the running game has been surprisingly weak this season. Why are the Hogs struggling in this area?
Who could have seen this question coming considering the previous decade when Arkansas was one of the nation's best running teams? It's the offensive line more than anything and guys like guard Mitch Petrus aren't shy about admitting it. Maybe it hurts that Arkansas is scoring so quick.
The Razorbacks have seen seven of 16 scoring plays cover 25 yards or more. Those quick-strike touchdowns aren't helping the offensive line maintain a down-and-dirty approach to blocking. Run blocking is tough work, and not doing it on a consistent basis might be a problem.
Texas A&M is the first time we've seen a true glimpse of what the running game is supposed to be under Bobby Petrino. Arkansas used the backs in the passing game to loosen up the defense, then chipped away with a lot of fresh bodies and eventually wore the Aggies down to the point that they couldn't tackle Ronnie Wingo on his 62-yard touchdown run. Don't get me wrong, Wingo had a lot to do with the run, but he broke a tackle about seven yards in and a fresh defensive player probably stops him.
Last season, there were various reports of players being unhappy with Petrino. What's your assessment of the locker room chemistry and attitude this year?
Bobby Petrino is difficult man to play for and work with. I'm probably not breaking news here. Petrino demands perfection in every detail. That was a shock to the system for a lot of players in his first season.
Now that they've had a year to understand Petrino's way of thinking/working, I think the players who remain are in tune with what is expected. I don't think that makes Petrino any easier to play for, but it's not quite the shock to the system it was a year ago. Because of that, there is less complaining and the chemistry is better. That should help on the field.
It's like any of us who have ever had a change of supervisor in the work place. That's a tough transition to make for everybody involved. It takes time to get to know each other and only in rare cases does it click for everybody right away.
Is the defense capable of significant improvement over the course of this season, or do you think the Hogs' SEC foes will continually ring up big offensive numbers?
Both. ... I like what we've seen from the Razorbacks defense in terms of points allowed the last three weeks. They've gone from 52 to 35 to 19. Arkansas still gave up a ton of yards against Texas A&M, but managed to stiffen in the red zone. Arkansas has done a better job of tackling each week.
Willy Robinson seems to be finding a rotation of players that works well. There's not enough talent on this defense to shut people out, but Arkansas can do better than the 43.5 per game it's giving up to SEC opponents so far.
Before the season, you predicted an 8-4 record. Are you sticking with that? What's your forecast for Saturday's Auburn game?
Now that I know what I know about the Razorbacks and the rest of the Southeastern Conference, eight seems a touch optimistic. This schedule is absolutely brutal. And there are three consecutive top 25 opponents coming up, including two games on the road. Yikes.
That said, Arkansas' record is just what I thought it would be at this point: 2-2. I'm not sure why so many people had their finger on the panic button after the Alabama loss. That's a damn good football team in Tuscaloosa, and Nick Saban is as good as they come at building a program. Georgia is probably better than we all gave them credit for after they lost to open the year at Oklahoma State.
Anyway ... Auburn is better than I thought. I had no idea Gus Malzahn would make the immediate impact he's made on that offense. I'm leaning toward Auburn in this game (as of 10:15 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 7) because I think its defensive talent is better than the Razorbacks', but I reserve the right to change my mind between now and kickoff on Saturday.
To bone up on the Auburn Tigers, be sure to head over to AS360 to read Chris' "Everything You Need to Know about Auburn."