1. The Razorbacks have shown they can play with pretty much anybody in the country this year. The question I think the team faces now is how much longer can they continue buying into the coaches if the SEC win doesn’t come soon? Obviously there’s no way to know for sure, but how much more can anybody (players, fans, anyone) take of this?
Adam P: That's the big question I brought up on this week's podcast. Something's gotta give one way or another. This weekend I think will give us the answer we seek, for better or worse.
Scottie: I've been wondering this myself. After Saturday's game I saw several players on one knee just stunned and confused as to how they lost another game that was theirs for the taking. Fans, I think, can see significant progress and they're hanging on, but need to see the team break through. As far as the team goes, I think players are convinced they can play with anyone. Coaches have been this way for a while, but the players have bought in. It's coming.
Jamie: A lot of these players lived through John L, and even more lived through last season. I think the players can see the progress and know they're headed in the right direction. And you can't watch any interview with Bielema and think he doesn't believe that he's got this thing headed in a positive direction. It's frustrating, I get it, but, preseason, how many of you thought we'd be with in 1 point (or 20) of Alabama this year after consecutive years of getting blown out?
Mark: The progress is obvious. The players have to know and understand that they're improving against a level of competition not seen by 99 percent of CFB. The fan base seems to be appropriately patient as well, realizing the dumpster fire we became after April 1, 2012. Obviously, though, we need to break the streak this year. It would set us back to go 0-8 again, recruiting-wise, branding-wise, and at that point, it would become psychological. I don't think it is yet.
Mitchell: I think everyone needs to hamper their expectations for this season. It's year two of the Bielema era so give the guy some time to build a team of his guys. If we have the same woes this time next year then we can start to question the staff.
Adam F: I think the players realize that the problem isn't the coaches. This team has been in a position to win two straight games against (supposedly) far superior talent. They have to finish, though. No comment on Arkansas fans.
Devan: The players haven't quit. Thats for sure. It's kind of surprising that the fair-weather fans have seeming found some commonsense and haven't really called for anyone's firing (yet). That win has got to come soon though because I'm not sure if anyone can keep this up for much longer.
Doc: We always like to think "This has to be it. Nobody can take any more," and then everybody comes back out the next week. I think that sort of negativism is more prevalent in basketball than football just because football is so physical and no one wants to get their butt kicked on TV. But the team hasn't faltered yet through this SEC losing streak so there's really no reason to think it will start now.
2.How good is this Arkansas defense? Are struggling offenses making them look better or are the Hogs causing enough genuine disruption to make those offenses look that bad?
Jamie: I don't think you can fake or gimmick anything in the SEC, especially not for multiple weeks. This isn't National Championship Bama, but this defense has been way better than I thought an Arkansas defense could be. This staff and these players deserve a ton of credit. How tough must it have been to go back out and get 3-and-outs each time the offense couldn't produce late in the Bama game? And they did. They didn't quit and they got the offense the ball back each time.
Scottie: I think this Arkansas defense is legit. I watched the replay of the Bama game just to watch them do things I've never seen an Arkansas defense do. This is the best defense the Razorbacks have fielded in quite some time. Clay Jennings, Robb Smith and the entire defensive staff deserve major props for turning it around.
Adam P: This is the best Arkansas defense we've seen in a long, long time. As of right now, I'm going to give all the credit to Rob Smith and his players.
Mark: I'm actually beginning to believe it's pretty dang good, if only thin. I know, horror of horrors, Bama is not wiping the floor with every team it plays -- it does play in the NFC South essentially, after all -- but that offense was averaging 550 yards a game. What our D did on Saturday night was impressive. The SEC West is cannibalizing itself, that's all. A&M would still score a lot of points on virtually every team outside the SEC, I'd wager.
Adam F: It's getting better every game, but it's going to look good when it's put in a position where line play is critical. It's tough for a defensive line to take over a game against an Air Raid team, and Darius Philon and Trey Flowers still managed to against Texas Tech and for most of the game against Texas A&M. Then against Alabama, you saw what these guys can do against a more pro-style offense. I expect another monster performance this weekend.
Mitchell: This is tough because there hasn't been a whole lot of defensive personnel changes for the better, but we are being more productive. I chalk it up to experience and a better defensive coordinator.
Devan: They aren't just good, they are downright outstanding. I'm not sure the last time that the defense has been this good, or been the strength of the team but it has been a long time. They held A&M to less than 300 yards for 3+ quarters before they wore down. They completely shut down the Crimson Tide and Amari Cooper. He only had 22 yards. Whatever Robb Smith is being paid it really isn't enough, and if he keeps this up all season long it'll be time for an extension and a raise for that entire defensive staff.
Doc: Yes, the new defensive coaches have paid immediate dividends. It's really spectacular, I think. Credit to them and to Bielema for hiring them.
3. Where do you fall on the Arkansas offense debate? Is the problem Jim Chaney’s playcalling? Brandon Allen? The receivers? Alex Collins missing workouts?
Adam F: The receivers. I hope folks didn't expect this team to run all over Alabama in year two. Stopping the downhill run is Alabama's forte. Depth has been a factor, as Arkansas' offense typically wears down faster than the opponents, who are rotating. But the receivers not getting separation keeps the offense from being able to move the chains late in games.
Scottie: The problem lies with the lack of playmakers. Alabama shut down Arkansas' passing game when it needed to late, but the receivers couldn't separate from man coverage. This just reiterates the fact you can't win and be one dimensional on offense.
Jamie: I live in Nashville and most of my closest friends are UT fans. They didn't think much of his late game play calling for the Vols. I don't know if I'm there yet. We don't have a lot of toys yet at WR to scare anyone in passing situations, especially when they know it's coming, but I'm keeping an eye on Cheney and how he continues to call games late.
Adam P: None of the above. It's a depth issue, I believe. The O-Line fades in the second half, allowing the opposing defenses to shut down the run. With more depth of big-uglies, the run would most likely still be there in the second half and we wouldn't have to rely solely on the pass game.
Devan: It's a combination. Chaney shouldn't give up on the run so easily and he's done it over and over and over again. Brandon Allen was about 6 inches away from being the savior Saturday night if he would have thrown that ball just a little further. Williams was open for a touchdown there. They obviously need some playmaking receivers but JoJo Robinson is redshirting and they have KJ Hill coming in next year so there is hope there. On Alex Collins I'm not sure what to think about him. He's an elite player but he keeps doing stupid things that gets him in trouble. He's got to get that together because it is hurting the team.
Mitchell: I think it's a combination of the first three. Play calling has been questionable late in games and BA isn't going to break any school records. We need a qb that can occasionally win games despite the team, and even make bad receivers good. Obviously better receivers would alleviate a lot of the pressure on BA. If he had a tall guy to high point the ball in the end zone he may be a little more productive.
Doc: I didn't hate the playcalling. There were a few specific plays where I was surprised they didn't call a run. But anyone paying attention had to know Arkansas was going to have to throw the ball to win. The Razorbacks weren't going to just run over Alabama. I don't know if it's more that the receivers aren't good (they've disappointed me) or that the scheme and plays/routes they run aren't very sophisticated, or a combination, but the passing game has to improve at some point. Also, Alex Collins picked an awful week to start getting shaky with his workout attendance.
Mark: Lord have mercy, we expect perfection. That was Alabama we played on Saturday. Chaney's calls can frustrate to no end at times, but has there ever been a coach or coordinator who called a perfect game? Overall, we're fine. One OL class away from scary good, I think, running the ball, and yeah, we could use some speed out wide.
4. After seeing what Georgia did to Missouri without Todd Gurley, are you concerned at all about whether Gurley will play? Did the Missouri game scare you at all?
Mitchell: Not worried at all. Missouri is bad. I told my Georgia friends and family they were going to dominate without Gurley. Gurley is great, but I don't buy into the hype that he is all important to the team. Chubb and Sony are very capable, but our defense and our game plan give us the advantage. And to top it off, Mason is not a good quarterback. Look for the hogs to win by two scores.
Mark: As impressive as 34-0 in Columbia North was, I'm wondering if that result was more about Mizzou than UGa. I think our D matches up well against Georgia, even with Gurley. Honestly, another week, another top 10 team. I think we're beyond being scared by anybody.
Jamie: I'm a bit more concerned than I was before the game, but to be honest, I'm not impressed with anything that Mizzou has going on right now. I'm not sure that dominating them is any real feat and I fully expect Arkansas to do the exact same thing to Mizzou. I think, like many major recent events in Arkansas football, the break will come this week in The Rock.
Adam P: No. I have this strange feeling that the Hogs are angry and are looking for blood. #FreeGurley if you want, but I don't think it's going to make any difference come Saturday at War Memorial Stadium.
Scottie: Georgia going to COMO and blanking Missouri was impressive, no question. But at no point this season have I been impressed with Missouri. What scared me was that the Bulldogs didn't miss a beat with Gurley out. Nick Chubb stepped in, carried the ball THIRTY EIGHT TIMES and did whatever he wanted to. It seems like Keith Marshall and Gurley will be out again his weekend, so another heavy dose of Chubb is likely coming. If the Arkansas run defense plays like it did against Alabama, I like the Hogs' chances.
Adam F: If Gurley doesn't play, I expect a win. Georgia's rushing yards came on pure volume of carries, not quality runs. Nick Chubb averaged a weak 3.8 yards per carry, and even less than that in the first half when the game's result was still undecided. The bigger story is Georgia's defense holding Mizzou to 147 yards and five turnovers. Mizzou's offense has struggled all year, but if Georgia's defense has turned a corner, I'm worried.
Devan: I think Gurley will play. He's practiced this week and if I have found out anything about Arkansas this year it is that God has forsaken Arkansas football and they aren't catching any breaks. Ever. Although Arkansas is due for a breakout game. They're getting closer. I expect it to be fun in War Memorial.
5. Now that we’re midway through the regular season, how have your expectations for this team evolved, if at all? If you didn’t expect them to be bowl eligible before the season started, will you be disappointed now if they still don’t make 6 wins?
Jamie: It's hard not to. I had us at an optimistic 5 wins in our pre-season round-table and in the 3rd quarter of the A&M game I had us in the Cotton Bowl in my mind. I'd REALLY like to see us get 2 SEC wins and make a bowl. I think the momentum would be huge and have us all singing everyone's praises at season's end. I've just gotta keep reminding myself that that wish is 1 more game than I optimistically gave us before Auburn. I don't think it's fair to anyone to be disappointed in less.
Scottie: This team is ahead of schedule everywhere but the win column. It'll be disappointing from the standpoint that it's obvious Arkansas is a bowl-worthy team, but because of the schedule and little mistakes it might not get there. This team is really good, and like Doc said in the first question, they can play with anyone.
Mark: Going in, my expectation was 5-6 headed to Mizzou with a bowl game on the line. I think we're on pace to exceed that, and yeah, of course I'll be disappointed if we don't. Then again, it would be so "us" to start out with low expectations, exceed them almost wildly, and then finish flat and underachieve. But I just don't sense that's gonna happen. My main concern is holding up for 6/7 more games. I do believe we're legit good, but as noted, we're awful thin in spots.
Adam P: You're crazy if you think the team isn't light years better than what we thought was possible in the pre-season. I expected them to get bowl eligible and I still fully believe that with the way they're playing.
Adam F: I said 6-6, and I'm sticking to that with a chance for 7-5 (and possibly 8-4, although that's unlikely). This is a winnable game, and LSU and Mizzou should be wins. An upset of one of the Mississippis could be in order as well. I think, so far, the losses have been closer than I thought and the wins more dominant. The progress is coming faster than expected.
Devan: No, I still think they will go 6-6. There are 3 wins on that schedule. LSU, Mizzou, and UAB are the obvious ones. The only thing that would be a disappointment at this point is if they completely fall apart and lose every conference game again.
Mitchell: My expectations are definitely higher but not unreasonable. I never would've guessed this team would perform like they have and I think they are miles ahead of where they should be at this point in the rebuild. I think 6 wins is very doable with what we've seen, so ya, I'll be disappointed, but I'm under no illusions at this point.
Doc: At this point I do think fans should be disappointed if they don't make 6-6. Not only have they completely blown two games that they should have had in the bag, they still have three certainly winnable games to go (not including UAB). And I still believe at least one of the Mississippi schools will screw up before the Egg Bowl. Before the season I thought a lot would have to go right for Arkansas to get six wins, but so far a lot has gone wrong and it still seems like they should get those six, to the point I think fans should be disappointed if it doesn't happen. But I believe it will happen.