Brought to you, as always, courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito's Vodka, and the melancholic dirge following a poor performance against a lesser opponent. With Razorback Stadium bracketed by empty seats and a steel-hued late October sky blanketing the Ozarks, 64,206 fans watched the Arkansas Razorbacks sleepwalk their way to a win over the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks, displaying in their triumph all of the urgency and intensity of a villain in a horror movie.
It didn't matter how fast Tennessee-Martin ran. It didn't matter if they racked up over 500 yards of offense. It didn't matter if they scored four touchdowns. Arkansas, as the villain on this Halloween afternoon, had the inevitability of victory on its side, grunting and shuffling its way to 63 very easy points as the scrappy Skyhawks did everything at their disposal to stay alive, apparently going so far as dressing to resemble Auburn and running much of its offense. In the end, of course, it would not matter. UTM was dispatched without fanfare, their battle cry silenced and replaced with the anguished screams of Hog fans descending the hill from Razorback Stadium on their way to Lot 56 and points elsewhere, issuing prophecies of doom on their way down.
"OLE MISS IS GONNA KILL USSSSSSSS," one man wails as he ambles down Razorback Road, his hopelessness manifesting itself audibly with an eerie tremor, like what you might hear from the mastermind behind every villainous plot in every episode of Scooby Doo, or perhaps the witch from Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
"WE GAVE ROBB SMITH A RAISE FOR THIS???" screams another tormented soul, stumbling wildly and aided by his wife on the way to their car. He cannot see where he is going, for he was rendered blind in the third quarter, his retinas forever burned with the image of Rohan Gaines bouncing off of a UTM Skyhawk on his way to the endzone, Gaines' armless tackling homage to the Venus de Milo a surprise Halloween treat for art lovers.
On and on it went, a cacophony of caterwauling, online and presumably on campus, two conference wins and a respectable losing effort against Alabama forgotten, the gains of October wiped out by a blowout victory that was not as much of a blowout victory as perhaps it should have been. It is no surprise that the games which lend themselves to extrapolation the least are the ones that we as fans will extrapolate out onto a season the most. Arkansas' level of intensity or preparation or personnel for Tennessee-Martin matters not, as the game could have and should have been a massacre even with backups running basic schemes while giving uninspired effort, right?. And the fact that UTM moved the ball with ease and it was once, in the third quarter, a 35-21 game, points to some really bad times for Arkansas over the next four weeks, right? Right?
The defense certainly played uninspired football. It allowed itself to get put into bad situations which Tennessee-Martin took advantage of. Ryan Pulley's lack of experience was tested early and often by the Skyhawks quarterback Jarod Neal, and the true freshman was given loads of moments to learn from on Saturday, with thankfully not a single one of them coming with the stigma of having contributed to a loss. Tackling was atrocious team wide, and specifically within the secondary. But we have seen this defense tackle poorly and then shore things up enough in the past that the expectation for the Hogs to tackle poorly at Ole Miss because they tackled poorly against Tennessee-Martin seems to be based more on emotion than history. Arkansas may very well get torched by the Rebels next week, but I think an impressive performance (relatively, let's not pretend that this season's defense is on par with last season's) seems just as plausible. This is the exact point in the season that the 2014 defense turned the corner and finished the year as one of the best units in the country.
Dre Greenlaw once again led Arkansas with 10 tackles. Brooks Ellis, pass coverage liability, disappeared into zone coverage and made a great interception to halt a Skyhawks drive in the first half. Jeremiah Ledbetter and JaMichael Winston and Mitchell Loewen has solid games. Taiwan Johnson made a nice tackle behind the line of scrimmage. There were some positives to go with the negatives.
Offensively, it's hard to find anything to complain about. Dan Enos explored the space with play-action, calling at least three passes over the top of the defense, two of which were completed for touchdowns to Damon Mitchell and Dominique Reed, and the third completed on an impressive catch by Hunter Henry. I have been begging for this attack since week two, and after a five game absence, it returned last week, although unsuccessfully. Against Tennessee-Martin, it accounted for 157 yards and two touchdowns. SO WHY DID WE NOT TRY IT FOR FIVE GAMES? The rushing attack performed with its typical thudding consistency, and Alex Collins enjoyed a career day with 173 yards and 5 touchdowns on runs of 2,6,5,3, and 63 yards. Draw, toss, counter. Nothing fancy, because nothing needed to be fancy.
Denzel Evans and Juan Day shared 10 carries. Austin Allen threw a touchdown pass. Backup offensive linemen were able to get some snaps. How did these guys look? I have no idea. It was garbage time. Gauging ability from these plays is like betting on preseason NFL. Just don't.
Now the Razorbacks travel to Oxford to face Ole Miss, who struggled at times with but generally handled Auburn. It promises to be a song and dance of giving enough attention to Laquon Treadwell without allowing the Rebels to feast on the short middle with draws and slants. It sets up to be a game in which the best defense for Arkansas is a productive offense. Not only converting on third down, but stringing those conversions together into lengthy drives and points. Arkansas has proven this season that it can win close, and that it can win on the road. It gets opportunities in its next two games to prove that it can win when it faces teams that are playing for more than a bowl game. Ole Miss and LSU are both in position to win the SEC, and each team will be giving Arkansas their best shot, which maybe was not the case last season. I am excited to see how things play out, and even after yesterday's disappointing 35-point victory, I feel pretty good about the Hogs' chances.
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.