The losing streak is at six and the misery rolls on. You could call it Murphy’s Law, the adage that states whatever can go wrong, will go wrong.
Or you could call it bad luck, a curse, or bad voodoo. But I think there’s a simpler explanation.
Granted, in a computer simulation based purely on the skills of the athletes comprising both teams’ rosters, Auburn might have beaten Arkansas 35-17 just the way it did in real life Saturday night at Razorback Stadium.
But that wouldn’t tell the whole story. Because just as in every other loss for the last two seasons, Arkansas has been taking on more than just their opponent on the opposite sideline.
A quick refresher via the first-half drive chart:
Arkansas ball: The Hogs’ first drive looked promising as they moved into Auburn territory.
- Javontee Herndon let a beautifully thrown pass from Brandon Allen slip through his fingers.
- Then Brandon Allen left the field on a cart after an apparent leg injury.
- And then back-up AJ Derby threw a pick – maybe not his fault, it was tipped at the line, but still.
Auburn ball: The defense holds!!!
But then …
Arkansas ball: Derby can’t take a stinking snap, he fumbles, setting up Auburn’s first touchdown.
Arkansas ball: Allen returns!! Arkansas scores!!! Finally!!! Even if it was just a field goal, we scored!!!
An onside kick fooled precisely no one, and, of course, set up the next Auburn TD.
Arkansas ball: The Hogs drive all the way down to the 1-yard line!!!
I think you can sense the pattern by now…
- The Arkansas coaching staff somehow has yet to realize that they don’t have much success when everybody knows what’s coming and we just line up and try to mash people.
- And so, after two Jonathan Williams runs right into the middle of the line of scrimmage on third and fourth downs netted minus-1 yard, a 17-PLAY, 73-YARD, 8-MINUTE-AND-13-SECOND drive died at fruitlessly at the Auburn 2.
So at the half, Arkansas had three trips into the red zone and only three points to show for it. When people talk about teams beating themselves, this is what they’re talking about.
But bad luck would play its role, as well. Because in this game, unlike in the previous three, Arkansas showed some gumption. We actually got four quarters worth of football, and man, it was good to see.
We’re not talking about a moral victory here, because this wasn’t that. It was just encouraging to see our guys fighting, believing they could come back, even after Auburn built a 28-3 lead midway through the third quarter.
Korliss Marshall provided a spark when he returned a kickoff back to the Auburn 13. Then Allen connected with Keon Hatcher on a well-executed fade route for Arkansas’ first touchdown in 25 quarters.
The defense forced a quick stop, Bielema RAN THE SWINGING GATE to convert a fourth down, and suddenly it was 28-17 and Gus Malzahn had his guys faking injuries.
(Really, Gus? Let’s be better than that.)
Suddenly the team had life again. One touchdown and we’ve got some swag back. Two touchdowns and guys are bouncing on the sidelines, the defense is playing with energy, and crowd is getting into it.
Such is life with a very young football team whose veterans have been beaten down the way Arkansas’ have. They sink fast, but can come back up just as quick, given the slightest reason.
But nearly two years of foul mojo isn’t reversed quite so fast.
Arkansas missed its chance to continue the unlikely comeback when Auburn QB Nick Marshall fumbled on the ensuing drive and somehow the ball trickled through the hands of two Razorback defenders and right back to him.
To the Hogs’ credit, they didn’t collapse right then and there, but you could sense the deflation on the sideline and in the crowd.
It wasn’t gonna happen.
Sure enough, Auburn continued marching down the field, Tre Mason scored his fourth touchdown of the night, Arkansas’ next possession was spoiled by a questionable offensive pass interference call, and here we are.
There are only three games left in the season, starting with Ole Miss next weekend (How is that a season can seem so long and still go by so quickly?) A bowl game, while still a mathematical possibility, has long been a pipe dream. At this point most of us just want to see some growth and maybe a win or two before we close the book on this season.
By some measures, we saw some of that Saturday. The offense showed flashes of sustained competency. The defense wasn’t good, but … well, it just wasn’t very good. But the guys didn’t just roll over and take a 50-point beatdown, so that’s something, right?
But if the Hogs are going to match the 2008 team, and score a big win late in the season that sends them into the offseason with something to build on, they’re going to have to do more than just defeat Ole Miss, Mississippi State and LSU.
They’re going to have to figure out a way to stop beating themselves.
Brent Holloway is an escaped journalist, but will consider returning to the industry for hundreds of thousands of dollars and a position that doesn't require Waffle Hours hours. Await the renaissance with him on Twitter, @thebholloway.