Brought to you again this week by Bob Marley, Tito's Vodka, and, well, lots and lots more Tito's Vodka. And bourbon. And those Bud Light Straw-Ber-Rita things that you can talk trash about if you want, but are actually not that bad, especially if you get them super cold.
Yesterday sucked. For the first time in 2014, my unbridled optimism about the future was overwhelmed by the urge to dull the pain with whatever was left in my cooler. It happened so quickly, too. A dominating opening drive on which only one pass was needed and the phrase "run at will" was on the lips of fifty thousand tightly-packed fans inside War Memorial Stadium, a stunned stagger following the second blocked extra point in as many games, and after that, out go the lights. Goodnight, Lucille. Mirroring so many of its fans inside the stadium and out on the golf course, Arkansas blacked out for the first half. The Hogs came to briefly in the second half, but that was ultimately only to vomit one last turnover before calling it a night.
So what the hell happened? Georgia is a good team that is solid on both sides of the football, but they aren't that good. Arkansas just looked unprepared. Undisciplined. Unready to earn the victory that has eluded them for two years. It's hard to even fathom this thought, but is it possible that a team who has lost its last SIXTEEN SEC games could have gotten caught reading their own press clippings? Arkansas has been a trendy upset pick for the talking heads at ESPN for two of their last three games, but it's hard to imagine anything more than losses will be predicted going forward until they prove themselves. Good will with the media will be evaporating. Good will with the fans will be evaporating. Good will with me certainly took a hit as well. Three quarters and four turnovers was as much as I could stomach.
As I sat in Section 21 yesterday, there was a gentleman standing in the ramp, watching the scoreboard feed instead of the field. He kept poor mouthing Brandon Allen. He's just not good enough, according to this guy. Will never have it. I kept nodding without really agreeing or disagreeing as I watched slow developing shallow crosses, and slow developing passes to the flat, and play-action roll outs right into the teeth of blitzing defenders. As I sat there and seethed and stewed, it occurred to me that the guy in the ramp was right. Not as tightly reined as Allen is. In order for Brandon Allen to be the guy, he has to be good enough to be the guy, but at the same time Jim Chaney needs to act as though he believes Allen is good enough to be the guy. One certainty is that Brandon Allen is not good enough to "just be good enough" with the way that Jim Chaney is trying to run this offense. In his attempt to keep Allen from having to do too much, Chaney effectively leaves his quarterback with too much to do. Play-action passes five yards downfield into an area littered with defenders don't stand up to any logical analysis of their risk. They force precision from Allen that yields far too little of a reward even when he delivers it. They don't don't open up the running game. They don't make his next pass any easier. They don't leave the offense in a position to attack. They don't afford Brandon Allen even the opportunity to be good enough.
Allen needs the deep play-action threat in order to be good enough. Especially against top-tier defenses like Alabama and Georgia. The offense is dependent upon it. It's critical, and I would go so far as to say more important than minimizing mistakes, because without it the mistakes are going to happen anyway because the offense is going to be playing from behind the chains while they are behind on the scoreboard. Deep play-action and screen game. "We can't do that" isn't good enough anymore, because there's a blueprint for stopping this offense, and it's not too difficult to follow if you have the personnel, and unfortunately most every team in the Southeastern Conference is suitably equipped.
Defensively, I guess it goes without saying that Brooks Ellis cannot get back on the field quickly enough. He filled gaps against Alabama that were left open yesterday, and Nick Chubb enjoyed the daylight that Ellis frequently denied TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry. Martrell Spaight played a terrific game, but the weaknesses elsewhere were just too glaring. Between that and the double-move against our secondary, the Bulldogs just ate our lunch. It was just like the scene from A Christmas Story. Mason would execute a play-action fake, and I'd look downfield with wide eyes. Georgia receiver running two steps free. Ohhh fuuuudge.
I left after Allen's last interception and the subsequent Georgia score, so I have not yet seen the fourth quarter, and I certainly missed a lot during the three quarters that I watched in person. I did see enough, however, to gather that yesterday was definitely a step back. The deficiencies the team has exhibited since the fourth quarter of the Texas A&M game have only become more prevalent. Undisciplined play is becoming a calling card of this team, instead of an anomaly to be shrugged off. Desperation on offense, especially in the second half, is becoming a four-quarter identity.
And the inability to capitalize on mistakes... wow. Take control of the game with a dominant first drive, and miss the extra point. Get great field position following a foolish onsides kick from Georgia, and lose yards on the ensuing possession. Stop the Bulldogs on third down, and give them the ball back via an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, then give up a touchdown on the next play. Finally catch the Bulldogs' secondary napping on play-action, and throw to a double-covered tight end while Keon Hatcher runs downfield, five yards clear of his defender. It's maddening.
I hope that in watching the fourth quarter, I am encouraged by the fight displayed by the Razorbacks. I certainly saw some things to be positive about in the third quarter, namely an attempt to loosen things up in the box by getting to the edge more and also giving Brandon Allen some different targets. The sweeps to Demetrius Wilson were effective, and some of the mid-range passes looked promising, too. The fourth down touchdown pass to Hunter Henry was beautiful and terrifying.
Alabama-Birmingham is up next, and will surely (hopefully) give Arkansas a much needed victory, but this may be one of the hardest weeks to coach that Bert has this season. For the first time this year, this team got whipped. For the first time this year, it felt like 2013 all over again. Bert has to keep that doubt and that shadow away, with the knowledge that nothing the team does next Saturday can really do anything to help. He needs to beat an SEC team, and he won't get another chance for two weeks. And then it's against the #1 team in the country. On the road. The fifth conference game this year, and the fifth conference opponent ranked in the top ten. Oof.
I'll see y'all next week.
Trent Wooldridge will be that guy with enough bourbon. He loves the S-E-C chant and honks because he hates Texas. He puts honey on his pizza, demands aisle seats, and sees quitting golf as more of a hobby than actually playing golf. Follow @twooldridge and track his quest to transform his four-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.