Somewhere, sometime, somehow...we were gonna win a close game. We were gonna win an SEC road game. It had to happen. The law of probability demanded it.
So, in addition to being enveloped in math, the close road win Saturday night in Knoxville was coated in gravy. Not the kind we gorged on last November against LSU, but it was sweet and meaty nonetheless. Saturday night not only exorcised more monkeys (surely we're out of those by now), it revealed continued progress and a team beginning to look like the squad that ended the 2014 season in December.
Texas ineptitude aside, that team sure resembled one deserving of a top 15 preseason ranking.
Perhaps that team — the one we envisioned as a Southern fried version of Bielema's best in Madison — is emerging from the rubble of a 1-3 start. Of course, as is befitting of Arkansas (the program, the people), we jump from frying pan to fire with what appears to be a rejuvenated band of marauding red elephants awaiting this week in Tuscaloosa.
But let's revisit Rocky Top before we head to Sweet Home.*
Saturday night was another roller coaster ride. Half way through the 1st, let's be honest, we were all thinking, "1-5, really?" But we persevered, teased of a boot heel to the throat and held on for — and this can't be overstated — a season-salvaging win.
A few notes:
- We took the crowd out of it. With the exception of the opening kick aftermath, it wasn't a factor at all. In fact, I heard several glorious Hog calls on the TV broadcast and nary a Rocky Top.
- Inside the 10 in the second half, we got too cute. Just let AC finish it out.
- There's work yet to do in terms of closing teams out, of course, but that 3rd down scramble and toss to Henry was clutch. And BA's effort on 4th was fantastic.
- I've seen Hedlund's blocked FG coming. The young man gets no lift. We've got to shore up special teams 'cause nothing shy of perfection is required this week.
- Penalties were few and far between, and that was refreshing if not essential to the win. We'll need to bring that discipline to Bryant-Denny.
- Enos seems to be finding his groove, though I'd love to see more targets to Henry and maybe even some more wildcat with Duwop, which we almost got to see Saturday. Reed now appears ready to contribute and Drew Morgan....he's stepping up big time.
The last two weeks truly have shown progression: the run game has found its groove and the defense is coming around. I tend to agree with Trey Biddy, who suggested this week that the Toledo game was Robb Smith's first bad game plan. We didn't look much better the following week, either. Over these last two weeks, however, the D is starting to get comfortable in its own skin and making more plays than it's giving up.
But can it withstand the bull rush that's coming in T-town? Can we squeeze out 100-plus yards on the ground against a D that held Nick Chubb in check? Alex Collins and his fantastic feet will have their work cut out for them. Indeed, it'll be lunch pail time in Tuscaloosa, and we'll need to make it another brawl, another bare-knuckle street fight. Football was meant to be a brawl, after all, and the game is so much more satisfying when played between the hashes than the choreographed arena ball of the spread.
So, can we out-Bama Alabama? We did last year, everywhere but the scoreboard. Unfortunately, this doesn't appear to be the same Bama team that went down at home to Ole Miss.
Then again, given the Black Bears' egg in Gainesville, who can forecast any SEC game with confidence these days? (Although, as soon as I saw that over-the-top Ole Miss SI cover, I knew Oxford was fixin' to meet earth.) And the same Volunteers who looked so pedestrian on Saturday night had OU and Florida on the ropes.
So, really, who knows anymore? It's wide open and week-to-week across all of college football, although I confess that right now Bama's looking pretty good to win out. And last week, it manhandled a team that plays like us.
Bottom line, we're back on track for 6 wins and a bowl game at least. With nothing guaranteed, a lesson we revisited in September, the remaining home games all appear winnable. And does anybody really think we don't stand a chance in Oxford or Baton Rouge? Fournette is a beast, but the Tigers don't look unbeatable to me. And Ole Miss will be playing for the 10th straight week.
Bama, on the other hand, well, that's a little more of a free shot and once again, we're due. Eight years due. Here's to making the most of our shot.
[* -- I wish we had a song. Our fight song is awesome, as is its title of course...I love it. But I mean a popular culture song that unites Arkies and is easily identifiable as "Arkansas." Hank Jr's Hog Wild just doesn't lend itself to a stadium-wide sing-along. William Tell sort of fits and is a fantastic part of our canon, as it were, but it's not recognized as being unique to Arkansas. And, of course, has no lyrics other than the A-R-K-A-N-S-[bum bum]-A-S spellout at the end. Maybe Black Oak's Jim Dandy? Something from the Man in Black? Anyone...anyone? Bueller?]