Brought to you once more this week courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito's Vodka, and the ceaseless generosity of Butch Jones. It seems there is literally nothing that man will not give away, and he deserves some recognition. He gives until it hurts, and I saw the pain up and down Cumberland Avenue last night.
I've been in them thar hills since Thursday, y'all, and it has been one hell of a time. My wife and I accompanied our friends Josh and Courtney McMahan back to their hometown of Cosby, in Cocke County, Tennessee. Deep in The Smokies. We've met some of the friendliest people and seen some of the finest fog and rain I've ever encountered. We've toured the Foothills Parkway and Smoky Mountain National Park and visited Gatlinburg. And then we went to Dean's Place, a tiny bar in a tiny town where I watched a large man pull the not-so-freshly disembodied head of a large bear from the bed of his pickup truck.
He offered the head to me. I politely declined. He offered again. I declined again. He shook his head in disbelief and told me if I changed my mind, well, it would still be there, in a garbage bag in the back of his truck. Butch Jonesian in his generosity to an interloper. Unlike the Hogs, though, I held strong. I didn't need a bear head as bad as the Arkansas Razorbacks needed a win. When Tennessee hospitably offered the Hogs their first SEC road win of the Bielema Era, Bert and the gang eventually accepted the offer.
But goodness gracious, it took some coaxing, didn't it? Let's talk some football.
How many times in the history of college football do you think a team has won despite having a kickoff returned against them for a touchdown, having a field goal blocked, and failing to convert a fake field goal? It has to be less than five, right? You are supposed to lose if ANY of those things happen, much less all of them. Bert was a TREND BUCKING MACHINE last night.
What has kept this team from winning games this season? Red Zone inefficiency. Penalties. Not forcing meaningful turnovers. It comes as no surprise that in cleaning up two of those three issues the Hogs looked, for the first time this season, like the team that finished 2014. A bludgeoning offense combined with a stifling defense. It certainly didn't feel that way watching live from inside Neyland Stadium, but a look back at the statistics sure paints that picture.
How good was Alex Collins last night? 27 for 154 is a great line, but the real greatness is in the way he ran. Patience. Vision. Ball security. It looks like his explosiveness through the line is back, but in truth it was never gone. He just had places to run last night. I'm not ready to say yet that the offensive line is jelling, but things sure don't seem as shaky as they did two weeks ago. And the running game cannot be discussed without congratulating Rawleigh Williams on his first 100-yard game as a
Razorback. He is going to be a really, really good off-tackle back. Through the line, one cut, and there he goes. Bielema has a knack for finding those kinds of backs, and it looks like he's found yet another with a bright future.
Brandon Allen. If you're complaining about overthrows in the endzone today and not praising him for that 3rd down pass to Hunter Henry, I don't know what to tell you. He didn't win that game for us, but don't say that pass wasn't clutch. It was the best pass he's ever thrown as a Razorback, and it came in a huge moment. So good on you, BA. Soak it up. You earned it.
Switching to defense, it certainly didn't look like a dominant performance, but the Arkansas defense surrendered a touchdown the first time it came onto the field, and then didn't allow one for the rest of the game. If you don't let your opponent in the endzone in the last three quarters of a football game, you're going to win. A lot. It wasn't flashy, but it was damned effective.
So next week the Hogs travel to Tuscaloosa to take on an Alabama team that I thought would be ripe for an upset right up until I watched them dismantle Georgia yesterday. I'm going to walk back my prediction of a win for the Hogs, but I think it will be closer than most expect. Bert's team is getting back to doing what they do best. They play boring. They frustrate their opponent. They befuddle everyone watching them. And they keep games close against teams they shouldn't play close. And now they've won one of those games and hope springs anew.
But not too much hope. It's still Alabama.
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 five-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.