Brought to you once more courtesy of Bob Marley, TIto's Vodka, and Bret Bielema's complete and utter lack of appreciation for the voodoo magic of Les Miles, Leonard Fournette, and Tiger Stadium after dark. Fear not, onions, peppers and celery, for your status as the holy trinity of Acadiana is safe.
The brackish waters of southern Louisiana, while harsh and hostile to crops, apparently provide the precise environment in which legends flourish. Most everywhere has food and fun and football, but down there they believe they do it better. Much of the time they do. But even when they don't do it better, they still believe they do it better. What's more, they believe they do it much better. So much better, in fact, that the words everyone else uses to describe things are not appropriate for what goes on down there. Their food and their fun and their football are so much better, so legendary, that they require their own lexicon.
Down there, a tailgate isn't just a tailgate, and a running back isn't just a running back. And a night game in Baton Rouge isn't just a night game at home. It's "Saturday Night in Death Valley" and it is where dreams go to die. That's the legend. That's what the Arkansas Razorbacks were tasked with overcoming yesterday, in addition to the 85 football players across from them and the 101,699 fans screaming at them and the real live tiger eyeing them.
The only problem with that is that boorish Bret Bielema isn't really one for folklore. He comes from a place where they carve giant sculptures out of butter and cheese and probably other dairy products, so he's pretty hard to impress. So polish off those beignets, refill your go-cup, and settle in. It's time to talk some football.
Would you like to hear something absolutely bonkers? I have more confidence in this offense, at this point in the season, than I had for any of the great offenses of the Bobby Petrino era. Not to be better statistically. Not to light up the scoreboard with points every game. But to attack the weakness of the opposing defense, and use its possession of the football to control the timbre of the game, and provide the answer nearly every time it is asked the question in crunch time. The balance that Dan Enos has established is exactly the way he described what his goal is before the season. It's not simply a balance of production, but a balance of threat, and if a defense wavers even slightly in its defense of all those threats, Enos attacks ruthlessly.
That's why Brandon Allen passed for 442 yards and six touchdowns against Ole Miss, and Arkansas rushed as a team for 299 yards against LSU the very next week. That's why Arkansas has now scored in 17 consecutive quarters and five overtime periods since the third quarter of the Alabama game, scoring at least one touchdown in 16 of those quarters and all five overtime periods. For the last month, the Arkansas offense doesn't have to wake itself up, and it doesn't fade away. It is a relentless force, inflicting damage upon and inducing despair in its opponent for a full 60 minutes, or longer than that if necessary. "Thudding efficiency" is the term that I have found myself using when discussing this offense, but that may need to be reexamined in light of the explosiveness the Hogs displayed in the last two weeks.
Arkansas is now ten games deep into its season, and we know who the offensive weapons are. We now know that Brandon Allen is a pretty damned good quarterback, and that Alex Collins is more than capable to be a featured running back, and that Drew Morgan is a gamer and that Dominique Reed is fast. So, today, let's talk about the little things. Jared Cornelius blocking down and keeping the sideline open to help spring Dominique Reed for the game's first touchdown. And Dominique Reed maintaining a block 60 yards down field to guarantee that Jared Cornelius scored the game's last touchdown. See the symmetry there? The balance? What about the fake handoff on the same play that was so well executed it caused LSU's entire defense to crash on Kody Walker? Or the pre-snap motion and the pulling block of Sebastian Tretola that gave Alex Collins a direct path to the end zone from 80 yards away in the second quarter? Little things create big plays, and this offense has done the little things so, so well since the Alabama game.
On the other side of the ball, Arkansas finally found itself in a position to cash in on the pressure that its defensive line had been creating since coming to life during the Alabama game. Robb Smith crowded the box and slowed down Leonard Fournette enough to force Les Miles to put the game into the hands of Brandon Harris, and Deatrich Wise and others responded by consistently beating right tackle Vadal Alexander on their way to Harris. The Hogs sacked Harris five times, one forcing a fumble that led to a Razorback touchdown and another pushing the Tigers out of field goal range. Arkansas won all over the field on Saturday night, but the mismatch at that position might have been the most important of the night for the Hogs.
Leonard Fournette is a bad, bad man. It's true that he's not like just any other running back. He can and will run through a defense. But he can't control a game if he has to do that every time he touches the ball. Last night, the Arkansas defense made Fournette earn nearly every yard he gained by forcing him to drag a defender along for the ride. Even a legend will have a difficult time pulling that kind of weight. A week after being seemingly unable to lay a finger on the freak athletic specimen that is Chad Kelly, the Razorbacks stood tall and shut down Buga Nation. Figure that one out.
Arkansas now sits at 6-4 (4-2) and is in second place in the West. This team with home losses to Toledo and Texas Tech has now won games in Knoxville and Oxford and Baton Rouge. This team that was awful in the red zone is now converting in it with incredible efficiency. This team that couldn't play clean and couldn't stay out of its own way as it was starting 2-3 has now played the last five in 4-1 and are seeing their opponents succumb to the drops and the fumbles and the penalties. This team has two more games to reinforce the idea that Bert really is building something special in the Ozarks, and building it to last. Much like the brackish water of southern Louisiana, the rocky hills of northwestern Arkansas aren't ideal for growing things. But the food's good, and the fun's fun, and the football is getting better. Maybe legends grow just as well in mountain fog as they do swamp haze.
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.