1. After the Ole Miss game, Bielema said, "What happens in these next two weeks, I don’t think has any effect on what we’re doing or how we’re going about it. It would obviously be a positive step in the right direction for people to talk about." How do you interpret that? Is that an indication that, now that Arkansas is not bowl-eligible, the coaches, while obviously trying to win, are more focused on developing for the future than winning now?
Drew: My interpretation is that, although he phrased it poorly, the fact that we've been eliminated from bowl contention is not going to change how the coaches or team prepares for these remaining two games. In his first season, Petrino got to 5 wins by knocking off LSU on Thanksgiving weekend, and that was widely viewed as positive momentum for the next season - so there could be an interesting parallel here. One might even argue that "winning now" (and thus avoiding a 9 game losing streak heading into next season) and "developing for the future" (e.g., showing potential recruits that we're not going to lay down and die) are not mutually exclusive.
Scottie: I take it as he and the coaching staff are keying on next season and beyond since the team is out of bowl contention. It's kind of an odd statement to make with games still to be played, though, if you ask me.
Graham: I'm not sure if you made him read it he would be 100% in what it meant. Sounds like coach speak out of control, but I hope he means that "we are still going to play hard these next two games. In fact, since I have yet to be shy with my mouth, why start now? I am guaranteeing victories for the next two weeks!"
Randy: I do not interpret Bielema's statement as "Hey Hog fans, everybody be sure to show up at War Memorial on Saturday." Not the best salesmanship. How well the team matches the intensity of Mississippi State will be interesting to see. Reminds me of the attitude of resignation Nolan Richardson assumed late in his first season as Arkansas coach. Nolan knew his team was broken and could hardly wait to get new players.
Kevin: I hope Bielema realizes that what happens in the next two weeks will have an impact on the fan base. We need to see some end of the year improvement in this team. We need to see a win! I said before the season began that LSU was the upset most likely to happen because I thought these coaches would have improved the team over the season. Not so confident about that now. Yeah, develop some players, but they need to work like hell not to end this season on a losing streak. Bielema wasn't here last year. But we were! This is year two of all of this losing for us.
2. Alex Collins only got 10 carries against Ole Miss. Is that enough? Of course, there are situational considerations in playcalling, but what should the target be for both Collins and Jonathan Williams?
Scottie: Going into the game coaches should target around 15 carries each, and if one of them gets going, much like in basketball, you keep feeding him the ball. Collins only getting 10 carries against Ole Miss is absurd.
Randy: Collins might not be 100% healthy. The coaches do not want to advertise where his sore spots are. No ball-carrying quotas necessary. Besides, I want to see more Korliss Marshall. He could be the most fun Razorback since Gary Anderson.
Doc: If he's healthy, he should get more than 10. I don't know what the right number is, but it should be more than 10.
Graham: Around 15-20 touches apiece, depending on who started, scheme, practice the week before. Hopefully with that many attempts the coaches might can start to see who is giving the opponent's defense more problems and go with him. I like both of these backs out of the backfield catching the ball, especially with the lack of skill from whoever is throwing it. If you watched the Auburn-Georgia game, you saw UGA stick with Todd Gurley to get them back in the game. He touched the ball 25 times (even more than his season average) even with the Dawgs trailing big in the second half
Drew: I'm okay with not overworking him this late in the season, especially since he's a freshman. It wouldn't hurt to get him some more touches by getting him involved in the passing game out of the backfield.
Kevin: I don't know the exact number of carries Alex needs to get, but it is more than he is getting at present. And why can't they both be on the field at the same time? Put Collins out at receiver with the threat of just dumping it off to him in the flat. Have Williams lined up behind Allen with Marshall on the other side of the field from Collins. Hunter Henry at tight-end. If you can keep the defense guessing where the ball might go, you've already won half the battle.
3. Were you encouraged by the Ole Miss game since Arkansas was competitive on the road until late in the game? Or were you discouraged by the obvious mistakes (personal foul penalties, playcalling, awful tackling aka grass-tackling)?
Kevin: A mixture of encouraged and discouraged, I guess. Yeah, it wasn't a blowout, but at the same time, the same mistakes, the same inabilities by the coaching staff and players we've seen all season.
Drew: I am so tired of "moral victories."
Scottie: In some ways I was, but it's tough to be really encouraged by their play when they make the same exact mistakes week after week after week. I did like the drive towards the end of the half resulting in a Hunter Henry TD catch. But I was then kicked in the gut when Eric Bennett forgot to do anything to impede the Ole Miss receiver from catching a game-changing TD right before the half. That was just disheartening.
Doc: Yes, the team played better overall, which is great. But I was disheartened. I can live with the lack of talent on the depth chart, but I can't stand seeing the mental mistakes from the coaches that aren't necessary and making a bad season worse.
Randy: First quarter - A.J. Derby was used to run the QB draw on third and 5 at the Ole Miss 32. Can you say field goal?
Second quarter - Personal foul called on Jeremy Sprinkle during a kickoff for touchback. Was this call necessary? Gave Ole Miss an easy path to its second touchdown.
Second quarter - The earliest knee-down I've ever seen, 45 seconds before halftime. Wimpy.
Third quarter - Momentum-death. We had a nice run - Alan Turner INT, short-field touchdown drive, three-and-out stop, 31-yard punt return by Javontee Herndon, good run by Collins to the home 39. Then came a halfback pass turned 9-yard loss. Punt, then Tevin Mitchel fell down and allowed Ja-Mes Logan to go 75 yards. Arkansas really was close to taking over an SEC road game.
Fourth quarter - Brandon Allen threw into heavy coverage and got a pass intercepted in the end zone, when Herndon was open on the other side.
Fourth quarter - Eric Bennett's interception return was cut off by an indefensible illegal block call. SEC referees protect bowl-bound teams.
Fourth quarter - Two-minute drill produced 12 plays, four gains, seven incompletions, and a missed 58-yard field goal.
Despite the doom-talk about the team by many Razorback fans, this was a better performance than the Auburn game, which itself was dramatically better than South Carolina and Alabama. If we could hope for a linear uptrend, the Hogs should have a chance to beat Mississippi State.
4. All year long, people have circled the Mississippi State game as the most winnable SEC game of the season. The Bulldogs have given Texas A&M and Alabama pretty tough games in the last couple of weeks. The betting line isn't very big either way. How do you see Saturday's game playing out?
Randy: Mississippi State has been good, mediocre and bad. Statistically, the Bulldogs are a little bit better than Arkansas on defense, 12 touchdowns better on offense. Testosterone-wise, MissStake has always put up a fight even when overmatched. But with MSU's top two quarterbacks hurt, Arkansas has a chance to avoid going 0-7 in the league + keep the Dogs winless inside the state of Arkansas. The Hogs' pass rush ought to give the opposing quarterback problems. Question is can anybody score. Don't expect many points. I'm calling for Zach Hocker to be the player of the game.
Drew: Throughout this season, I've been pretty much universally wrong with nearly all of my analysis and predictions. So, let's try this: Mississippi State may be the most talented team we face all year. We have no chance to stop their offense, and their defense makes the '85 Bears look like a JV squad. We have no hope.
Graham: It's hard to have confidence in the Razorbacks right now. Mississippi State had a few opportunities to put points on the board in the red zone against Alabama. Will the defense hold up in those situations? Based on previous games, probably not. What does give me hope is that both starting quarterbacks for Mississippi State are day-to-day as of Tuesday with injuries.
Kevin: Due to my heckling and loud voice, I alone totally unnerve the MSU offense, and they have a hard time all game getting in sync and commit numerous false starts, thus helping the defense to get a shutout. The offense manages one Hocker field goal for a 3-0 Arkansas victory! Haha. Seriously, I am afraid the Arkansas defense will have all the stopping force of a wet paper bag against a much more physical MSU team. We'll have to score forty points to win it. Something we haven't done all year, but I am hoping still!
Scottie: I don't like our chances, to be honest. Although Mississippi State has never won in Arkansas, they have a lot to play for Saturday. With a win, they'll be at five wins going into the Egg Bowl. They're going to be a very motivated team, and we probably won't be. I'd take MSU and the points at (-4).
Doc: I expect a close game. Not sure who'll win. Arkansas always has a shot in Fayetteville or Little Rock, but I think it will be close.
5. If you see AJ Derby take the field as a quarterback while Brandon Allen is healthy again you will ________.
Scottie: Scream. Loudly.
Drew: Watch the play implode, then change the channel to sitcom reruns or something. I can get score updates on my phone.
Randy: Hope he audibles into a wildcat play, even if it's an empty backfield.
Graham: Give up and pull for letting Kiero "Big Cat" Small throw the football. On that note, you heard "Big Cat" first here on Arkansas Fight, and thanks to Scottie for beating the national media to that story. That's the sort of thing you can't read anywhere else.
Kevin: Cry out "Oh, the humanity!" like the radio guy at Lakehurst, New Jersey, when the Hindenburg went down.