Arkansas fans and many in the national media believed the Razorbacks had turned a corner following close losses to two top 10 Southeastern Conference opponents. Although the games still went down as losses, fans, for the most part, were encouraged.
Bret Bielema’s team was extremely competitive and should have beaten both Texas A&M and Alabama. Everyone who followed the program realized Arkansas was very much an improved football team and a few boneheaded mistakes from knocking off then-national title contenders in consecutive games and becoming a legitimate threat in the SEC West.
Last Saturday’s date in Little Rock with Mark Richt and Georgia was supposed to be the week Arkansas stopped making costly mistakes, ended its 15-game conference losing streak and gave Bielema his first SEC win. I was among several media members who believed the Razorbacks would end its conference losing skid in War Memorial.
Arkansas came out firing to open the game, playing classic Bielema Ball, punching it in the end zone following a nearly eight-minute scoring drive. The Razorbacks looked impressive on their first possession and seemed to be taking out its frustration from previous games on a top 10 team.
Following the score, however, what we saw were glimpses of recent Razorback teams, particularly 2012 and 2013. Georgia responded to the touchdown by taking shots downfield in the passing game, and Arkansas’ problems in the secondary suddenly seemed to reappear.
The second quarter, when Georgia scored 31 unanswered points, was a blast to the past for many. Issues everyone thought were left in the abysmal 2012 and 2013 seasons reared their heads once again in Little Rock, the birthplace of the program’s downward spiral.
Turnovers plagued the Razorbacks throughout the game. Georgia capitalized on four Arkansas turnovers – three from Brandon Allen – and turned them into 21 points. Bielema’s teams are traditionally known for playing clean, mistake-free football, but Saturday was a flashback to the undisciplined, sloppy play of a team coached by one John L. Smith.
Pass protection from the offensive line was uncharacteristically poor, not giving Allen enough time to survey the field and make proper reads. When Allen did have a clean pocket to stand in, he often opted for the check down instead of taking the deep shot downfield. On multiple occasions he had an open receiver streaking downfield, but instead threw into the flat for a minimal gain.
In the second quarter, Alex Collins had a routine pitch bounce off his facemask for a turnover inside the Arkansas 10-yard line. Georgia then scored on the next play and blew the lead open. Lately, Collins has not been the typical star running back fans became accustomed to after a stellar freshman season, disappearing from the Arkansas game plan for the second straight week following fumbles.
Once Arkansas found itself behind 38-6 at halftime, Bielema and Jim Chaney had to change the offense and go to the air more to try to cut into the deficit. Allen attempted more than 40 passes for the second consecutive game and shouldered much the offensive responsibility with a very average group of receivers. At times, AJ Derby and Hunter Henry were Allen's go-to targets and downfield threats.
Arkansas is not a team built to play from behind, and it certainly showed last weekend. Allen was able to piece together a few scoring drives after halftime, but it wasn’t quite enough to make the Bulldogs sweat. Quick two- or three-minute scoring drives are not a strong point for the offense. It doesn’t have the playmakers to do so.
The Razorbacks, at least for part of Saturday’s loss, showed glimpses of some of the darkest times in the program’s recent history. Arkansas was altogether out of whack for portions of the game, bringing back memories of some very forgettable football.
Bielema and the coaching staff must quickly regain the trust of their players or risk a collapse in the final five weeks of the season. UAB coming to Fayetteville this weekend should be a good way to right many of the wrongs from the past few weeks.
Arkansas is three wins from bowl eligibility, which isn’t a far-fetched thought for this team. But if the team performs down the homestretch like it did last Saturday, the program could be carrying a damning 20-game SEC losing streak into the offseason.