With one win in five games, two losses in SEC play that made fans long for an impromptu installation of an NCAA mercy rule, and a defense that ranks near the bottom of every meaningful category, the one thing universally agreed on is that the Arkansas season has been awful.
It seems the only inflammable thing related the Arkansas program right now is the Hogs’ offense, which has yet to catch fire and instead has made a habit of using its toes for target practice.
But some of us, cursed with the (obviously) untreatable affliction of optimism are clinging to hope. Granted, it's a different kind of hope than it was a month ago. These days, instead of dreams of BCS bowl berths and conference titles, we just hope that this will not be the grandest meltdown in recent college football history; that it will not be the worst Arkansas season in 54 years; that Tyler Wilson – as real a Razorback as ever there was – won’t have to endure a senior season of unyielding embarrassment; that Kiehl Frazier & Company will serve as the water that extinguishes this blaze.
In short, we're keeping our shoes on.
So is Alfred Davis, and that’s good enough for me.
Asked this week what positives he’s seen from his teammates this season, the senior defensive tackle responded: "that nobody’s hung up their shoes."
"It can be easy right now for some guys on this team to say, 'Hey, man, look. I'm a freshman. I'll just wait until next year. But they are not doing that. They accept the role. They understand that, 'Hey, we have a lot of football left to play. And they are not quitting. They are not giving in. They are still showing up on time, going to class, doing the things they are supposed to be doing to be good football players. That's a lot of credit that should be given to us for that because it's so easy in some situations just to give up."
If big Al won’t give up, I won’t either. So let’s all find some comfortable footwear and look at a few things the Hogs need to do to get a win this weekend.
1. Stop with all the turnovers (GEEZ, KNILE!)
Because a big part of this season has been coming to grips with statistical masochism, we’re gonna dump some more pain and suffering in numerical form here.
Arkansas has turned the ball over 15 times through five games. That’s tied with Troy for 118th in the nation. Only Idaho has given the ball away more – by one – and not included in the Razorbacks’ total is the ill-fated punt snap of the Alabama game or the 13 fumbles that have somehow found their way back into the Hogs’ hands.
Five games, 20 fumbles. Even though "only" seven have been lost, that’s a recipe for disaster. And it’s precisely how a team can rack up 515 yards in a game, like the Hogs did against Texas A&M, and still come away with only 10 points.
Zero turnovers on Saturday, and the Hogs stand a chance.
2. Force a turnover (GEEZ, KIEHL!)
The last turnover Arkansas forced was Ross Rasner’s interception early in the third quarter of the ULM game. There have been a grand total of two forced all season, enough to tie Central Michigan for 117th in the country (get some, Buffalo!).
Movable force, meet the resistible object.
Auburn quarterback Kiehl Frazier has thrown just two TDs and seven interceptions in four games. The Tigers have also lost six fumbles, giving them more than three total turnovers per game.
Arkansas doesn’t even have to be average in this regard on Saturday. Slightly below – or two turnovers forced – and the Hogs stand a chance.
3. Score in the red zone (GEEZ, PAUL!)
Remember that movie Twins? It’s probably better if you don’t, so I’ll sum it up. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito play twins who were separated at birth. By some plot contrivance they’re put together, discover their shared genetic history, and at some point DeVito’s character despairingly refers to himself as "all the crap that was left over."
I think you can see where we’re going with this.
While Paul Petrino’s play-calling has left many of us longing for the days of a good Smoke Draw, at some point the Hogs have to overcome and figure out a way to convert in the red zone. They’ve scored only 12 times in 19 chances deep in enemy territory this season – ranking worst in the SEC – and only nine of those have been touchdowns.
If I’m Tyler Wilson, I’m in full-on insubordination mode at this point. He’s gonna get screamed at by
DeVito Petrino anyway, so what’s the difference? And TW's freelancing can't be worse than the garbage that's being dialed up for him in the "critical zone" by the angry little man on the sidelines.
Against A&M, Arkansas entered the red zone five times and came away with three points. If that total climbs even to a modest 20 points with the same chances against Auburn, the Hogs stand a chance.
4. Don’t implode (GEEZ, GUYS!)
It was easy to see it happen, just as it’s been in each loss so far. Against Texas A&M, Arkansas was trailing 13-10 midway through the second quarter and was driving, already in position to at least tie the game. There was no indication at this point that there was a 48-point separation between the two teams on the field.
And then something bad happened, and everything changed. The mood, the body language, the effort, the score.
In this case, it was an ill-advised Wilson pass that resulted in an interception, and led to an Aggie touchdown and the weekly unraveling of Arkansas. The Hogs didn’t score again. The Aggies scored 45 more points.
In each loss so far, when adversity hits, the Razorbacks fold like origami.
There’s no stat to quantify this point, and there’s no tangible way to correct it, but it’s at least as important – and in some ineffable way, leads to – the others.
If Arkansas can summon the fortitude and find the leadership to weather what storms this Saturday has in store – in other words, if they’ll just keep their stinking shoes on – the Hogs stand a chance.
If they don’t, the burning season will drag on until they do.
Brent Holloway is a sports journalist who gets paid to write about high school kids. He writes about the Razorbacks because it's healthier than punching himself in the face and achieves the same psychological effect. Follow him on Twitter @thebholloway.