1. Starting this week, it's almost like Arkansas' real football season begins. How much of Arkansas have we seen? It's become a cliche to say every team is vanilla in the first few cupcake games, and that's certainly true to an extent, but how much does that apply to Arkansas this year?
Kevin: That is a good question. I would like to think that there is a lot we haven't seen. But I suspect we've seen most of it already. And most of it is getting the ball to Collins or Williams, which has worked very well thus far. But we aren't going to be able to bully every offensive line that we play from here on out, so I hope Chaney has something to answer with when a Rutgers or Texas A&M brings everybody up to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Here's a suggestion. Make six foot ten Skipper eligible as a receiver!
Adam: We've seen the bulk of the schemes, if I had to guess. But we've also seen three straight wins. As long as the number in the "W" category continues to climb, I have no reason to change my favorite flavor of ice cream from vanilla.
Drew: I'm not sure how "vanilla" we've actually been, especially after I watched not one, but two, direct snaps to Kiero this weekend. We may see a few wrinkles here and there (I expect to see Nate Holmes get more touches as a change of pace back), but like Adam said, I think we've seen the bulk of the schemes. I would like to think that our pass coverage has been playing "vanilla" to lull our upcoming opponents into a false sense of confidence. Wishful thinking, right?
Graham: We've seen the good and the not so good that the rest of the season holds for this team. The good: There will be an emphasis on the running game all season long, even more if Brandon Allen is a no-go. There are two really good running backs that have potential to put up big numbers if the offensive line can get a push. There's a defense that makes a big play when it needs to. The not so good is that there seems to be little talent backing up the starting quarterback. The offensive line hasn't always dominated lesser opponents like they should. Lastly, the defense gives up its fair share of yards. I expect a varied rushing attack as far as formations go, but can we be done with the Kiero Small running the Wildhog formation?
Randy: On both sides of the football, the Razorbacks used as much deception as necessary to defeat three soundly coached but talent-limited opponents. The rest of the season, Arkansas will need to take more risks. This wasn't merely maintaining a good poker face. The Hogs have been trying to master new systems while working around injuries to important players. Losing starting QB Brandon Allen early in last Saturday's Southern Miss game was the biggest setback yet to the rollout of Jim Chaney's offense. How much of a surprise element Arkansas can add for the road trip to Rutgers now depends on what backup A.J. Derby can handle after a week's preparation to start in Allen's place.
Scottie: I think we've seen a good amount of this team thus far. On the offensive side, we've seen a willingness to throw the ball. But, as we've seen, when the run is working, Bielema and Chaney tend to stick to it. On defense, I think we've seen some new things, like the third down speed package when there is only one down lineman and 3 or 4 DEs on the field. I don't think Bielema is trying to hide anything.
2. Obviously, the big story of the Southern Miss game is the quarterback situation. Were you alarmed at how limited the passing game became when Derby came in? It obviously wasn't going to be as strong as when Allen is playing, but less than 40 yards total over the last three quarters? And should we be concerned about that going forward?
Randy: This should be beyond question. It was asked over and over this weekend, because of history.
Arkansas fans react emotionally when their team refrains from throwing. Flashback to a 1987 game in Little Rock, when the Hogs were unable to protect a lead over Texas because no available QB was physically healthy enough to pass (and the Horns won on a last-second touchdown pass). Danny Ford failed to retain big passer Mike Cherry for stylistic reasons; after Arkansas won the SEC West in 1995, a QB-light '96 season was the beginning of Ford's end. Clint Stoerner set passing records for Houston Nutt in 1998-99, but the Hogs never returned to that level under Nutt. The 2006-07 teams with McFadden-Jones-Hillis-Monk were fatally flawed for want of a functional passing game.
Derby didn't get second-team practice reps till August and didn't have a prayer of catching up with Allen (who was still learning the offense himself). In his first series filling in, Derby was caught off guard by his first shotgun snap. When the defense shifted on another down, Derby tried to reset the offense, but the Hogs' bench had to call timeout. His coaches managed the game to halftime, then put together a set of plays Derby could run. When the QB can't get out of a bad play vs. the defense's shift, of course it affects play calling. You can't call the plays where, if you guess wrong, the consequences could be game-changing. Coaching intelligently shouldn't be alarming, but Arkansas fans are quick to overreact when it comes to throwing the football.
Kevin: Yes, we should be concerned. You just can't be so one dimensional in the SEC and expect much success. Southern Miss. we could hold off with just the ground and pound. But those teams looming on the schedule, I don't think so. The threat to throw will need to be there. And if Allen can't play, we need to have a quarterback who can pass the ball to take his place. This is one of the reasons why I was upset with their play during the Samford game. A big lead would have been nice in the second half so we could have put Derby and other backups out there to get some live game experience. That send-in-the-backups time might come again this season, but it is likely to be doing a losing effort.
Adam: If it ain't broke, don't fix it. I don't understand the A.J. Derby hate. He got the job done. Yes, if he has to take on better competition, the passing game will need to be a weapon in his arsenal. But I fully expect "Bruiser Brody" Allen to be back this Saturday.
Doc: I think it's interesting that there are so many unconfirmed reports that Allen won't play. The athletic department is usually so incredibly tight-lipped. I'm very curious to know who's leaking that info and why. It could all be a ploy to make Rutgers think he won't play, if you're into conspiracy theories.
Scottie: I was upset we didn't try to pass the ball more. I understand trying to settle in a QB by not giving him anything too strenuous, but only 6 passes in 3+ quarters? If Brandon Allen isn't able to play in the next couple of ball games, you have to think about burning Austin Allen's redshirt to get in a capable passer. Otherwise, SEC teams will load up the box on Derby, stop the run and force him to pass.
Drew: After Derby's first pass was so far off the mark, I'm not all that surprised that Bielema elected to run it down their throat for the rest of the game. I'm not convinced that Derby's performance on Saturday was necessarily indicative of his skill set, either - if he starts at Rutgers and we still don't have a passing game, then it will be time for concern. I'm more concerned about how the TEs have apparently disappeared since the ULL game.
Graham: Forty yards on only six attempts doesn't make me feel that the coaches have faith in the future of the passing game beyond Brandon Allen at this point. I'd love to credit Derby's struggles to the fact that he didn't know he was going to play. This week, if Allen plays or does not, we will know much more about the future of the passing game.
3. Alex Collins has drawn comparisons to Darren McFadden (and with Williams they've been compared to McFadden and Jones) as they've been racking up yards in these first three games. Is that fair?
Adam: Come back to me in about 2 months...
Graham: While both have put up good games running the football, they haven't caught a pass this season or thrown for a touchdown yet. Part of what made McFadden so fascinating is the versatility he demonstrated with scoring, and Jones was always a threat to take a special teams kick to the house. These comparisons are entirely unfair. Collins and Williams are talented backs in their own right, but comparing them to a program's legendary player and his sidekick is premature.
Randy: Arkansas's best running back might be Jonathan Williams. Williams is reminiscent of Neal Anderson, first team all-SEC at Florida in 1985, four-time Pro Bowler for the Chicago Bears. In his prime, Anderson was a home-run threat running and receiving, just like Williams. He also would average 3 yards a carry on 14 tries, then break a long one to get his stats. Alex Collins has power like Williams but is harder to stifle. Collins has an uncanny ability to shed tacklers and gain yards after first contact. Collins has not shown breakaway speed, which was what made McFadden outstanding. Collins might end up being as productive as McFadden was, if he continues to be effective in all situations regardless of down and distance. Collins already looks more polished as a freshman than McFadden and Felix Jones were.
Drew: D-Mac became a legend for what he did in his sophomore and junior years. I see no problem with making comparisons between Collin's freshman performance and assumed trajectory and McFadden's.
Kevin: The legend of McFadden and Jones has grown so large that if you had told me that they had a three game stretch where they both got over 100 yards rushing, I would have believed you. But, no, that is something that only Collins and Williams have done! But I think we should hold off still in putting them up there with McFadden and Jones until we've seen them go through an SEC schedule. But I sure as hell like what I see thus far!
Scottie: It's tough to compare anyone to DMAC, but AC3 has some serious talent. I need to see him and J-Will go through an SEC schedule together first before I start making any comparisons. They definitely have the potential to be a great tandem, however.
Doc: Collins is so good, and so fan-friendly, he could end up among the most popular Razorbacks ever. I haven't seen enough to put him and Williams in the McFadden/Jones category yet, but both have tremendous personalities, and few Hogs have ever embraced the fans like Collins has so far. He's someone fans should take great joy in watching for the next few years.
4. Rutgers has one of the very few running backs in the country with more rushing yards than either Arkansas' running backs. The Razorback defense could not stop Rutgers at all last year. Do you have confidence that they can this year (assuming Gary Nova plays)?
Graham: It's hard to tell because of the uncertainty of the quarterback postition, which can be said for both squads. However, I do feel Arkansas' defensive unit, with better coaching and a year more of experience, is much improved over last year. Of course, the talent it has faced is not been up to the level of play they will see this weekend on the road, and how this team adjusts to the being on the road is of greater interest to me. If they give up a few more points, that's understandable because the competition is greater than the first three weeks, but will they be able to find a groove and make adjustments in that environment? That's what I want to see.
Drew: Arkansas' secondary could not stop the Rutgers pass attack last season, and this year's secondary probably may be able to handle it a little better, but not by much . If Rutgers decides to lean on their rushing attack, though, we may stand a better chance.
Scottie: I think Arkansas' defense is more capable of slowing down Rutgers' offense this year. Our d-line is so strong I like our chances in limiting the running game. If Nova plays, this will be the first real test of the secondary, but I think the DBs have improved enough to not be thrashed like last year. I actually have some faith in our defense (did I just say that?).
Kevin: There was a spell there in the Southern Miss. game when they were sending running backs right through the heart of our defense for big chunks of yards. I don't doubt that Rutgers is going to study that portion of the game. I'll put it this way. I have some confidence. But I wish it was much higher! Still, our secondary worries me even more! I am afraid we haven't seen yet just how vulnerable they really are to a passing attack.
Adam: The defense stepped up in a big way on Saturday. However, I still have my reservations. Our offensive mantra will most likely be Rutgers' this Saturday, as well. It will be interesting to see if we can handle a taste of our own medicine.
Randy: Rutgers knows as little about its 2013 football team as Arkansas does. The Scarlet Knights scored 45 on Fresno State (hard to tell how good Fresno is yet, but its defense was bad in 2012), 38 on Norfolk State, and 28 on Eastern Michigan. Starting QB Gary Nova threw a TD pass after sustaining a concussion, then sat the rest of the Eastern Michigan game. After he left, Rutgers punted after six of nine possessions. The 28 points included a kickoff return TD. Nova took two helmet-to-helmet hits; I'm not at all assuming he plays this Saturday.
What made Rutgers special last season was defense. The bigger question in this game is whether Arkansas can score enough to win. The Hogs failed to produce a first down on six possessions vs. Southern Miss. That was more than in the first two games combined. It's very unlikely Brandon Allen will be ready to play on Saturday. If Rutgers has any weakness, it is pass defense - and Arkansas is not well-prepared to exploit that soft spot. Expect a low-scoring game decided by special teams and turnovers. Arkansas has been erratic when punting and returning punts - that must change now.
Doc: Most of the 7 Rutgers players that were drafted last year were defensive players, but their defense isn't what beat Arkansas last year. Cobi Hamilton set his SEC record against them. The issue was that Arkansas couldn't stop them. Most reports seem to suggest that Gary Nova is probable to play, but there's also a chance it rains. I agree with Randy, I think it will be a low-scoring game that isn't exactly the most fun to watch.
5. I edited out a question from an earlier discussion about concerns with Bielema and most of the answers focused on his Twitter usage, but then last Saturday Jen wrote the #karma tweet about Wisconsin that ended up on the front page of Yahoo!. Is this now a legit cause for concern or are people making too much of this?
Scottie: I don't think it's a concern. It's not a distraction for the team.
Adam: People blow things out of proportion on twitter? I had no idea this kind of thing happens! #tweetersgonnatweet
Randy: Bret and Jen Bielema interacted with fans on social media while at Wisconsin. A number of those fans badgered the Bielemas after they moved to Fayetteville -- all winter, spring and summer. But Jen's comment was more likely directed at Wisconsin AD Barry Alvarez, who has been undignified in his relentless criticism of Bielema. Responding with indiscretion is not what I'd like to see even from our coach's wife, but I understand it.
Kevin: I hope it is a one and never done again type of thing. The Hogs have attracted enough bad karma lately that we don't need the coach's wife out there inviting more of it to swing back around our way. If Coach Bielema can refrain from using twitter during the season, then maybe his wife should too. The thing about twitter is that people make too much out of everything that goes on with it; that just seems to be the nature of it. I wonder if any bowl committee members are thinking right now, "Hmm, if Arkansas and Wisconsin should both get bowl eligible . . . "
Drew: I heard about the "uproar" over the tweet before I actually saw the content of the tweet. I was expecting something a lot more specific than just "#karma." It was certainly a lot tamer than what quite a few of knuckle-dragging Badger fans have directed at her, and if anything, watching Wisconsin lose because of a clock management error is pretty ironic, if not downright karmic. To me, this is actually less of an issue than Bielema's reacting to negative tweets directed at him.
Graham: If she meant to use "karma" according to what the word means, then yes, there is cause for concern. Karma, from what I understand, is when someone does something bad to you it comes back to them. The only person who did something "wrong" to another entity was Bret for not fulfilling his contract with Wisconsin until the end of 2016. Does that mean that he and Arkansas program have more bad coming its way? After 2012, let's hope not. As for the Bielema's and their Twitter use... if that is what people want to hate Arkansas for, with many other programs finding themselves in NCAA trouble, then whatever. Hate Arkansas.