Has any regular season game in recent memory meant as much to the program as the one that awaits us on Saturday night?
The train is derailed. It can be put back on track, but it sits perilously close to the edge of a Kliff. Lose to Tech, and the season is headed south.
As dramatic as that sounds, Hog fans can be forgiven a little apocalyptic ranting. After all, the last three years have seen us weather a ride not recommended for children under 14 or those with heart conditions.
Remembering, faintly perhaps, that this is just college football after all, a simple game played by teenagers and young men, and that the results of one game shouldn't send anyone into a tailspin of clinical depression and all-out media boycotts...(I'm back now, by the way), let's take a look back at the roller coaster ride that did not in fact end on that chilly night in Fayetteville last fall against LSU.
We've endured, symbolically, the odyssey from hell. Ulysses has nothing on us. This latest twist was a sheer drop off the Tower of Terror the likes of Monroe. And really, in a way, it was worse than Monroe. Three years ago, our starting QB went down and we had an interim coach. We built a big lead, at least, only to squander chances to make it bigger and ultimately pucker under the emotional toll of injuries, a cupcake that refused to bake and a lack of leadership emanating from the sideline.
This was not supposed to happen under Coach Bielema.
Several factors contributed to Saturday:
- We took Toledo lightly; our swagger got ahead of our game (players, coaches, fans).
- We got away from who we are on offense.
- We got sloppy, then harried, and then more sloppy.
- BA, as gutsy as he is, as much as I like him personally, is not a clutch QB. He led us down the field beautifully, but you gotta finish for it to count. I hope and pray he becomes clutch this season. He'll have to. This team has to figure out how to win a close game. (It's got to, Mister!)
Toledo is a good team. It'll win its division at least, I'd guess, and very likely the MAC. But it doesn't look like one of those blue moon mid-majors that runs the table, climbs the polls and makes Power 5 commissioners nervous. It should've been the next progression in our 3-game appetizer before the main course begins at Jerry's Place in Arlington.
[Heavy sigh.] But it wasn't. The brand took a hit last weekend, this one denting the fender of that nice little rolling paddy wagon we'd built in Houston.
Can we get back on track? I think so. The simple return to our roots on offense (patience in the ground game, please), and an even simpler come-to-you-know-who meeting the OL needs to have with itself, should do much of the trick. If nothing else, we'll finally get to see JoJo on Saturday. And hopefully see him take one to the house. Cornelius will take another to the house, soon, and next time it'll count. And a little more Rawleigh is welcome.
Four days out now, and I don't believe we're as bad as we looked Saturday. (Through Sunday, anyway, I had my doubts). The D and its soft middle will be tested, but I expect it to make some plays of its own. Enough of them, I think.
I know this: The boys with TT on their helmets are better, especially at QB (a fairly significant position in that offense), and they now sense atonement is possible.
Razorback Stadium needs to bring the same intensity it would have had we beaten Toledo (still can't believe I'm typing those words...and I'm not even gonna touch the whole Little Rock issue for now, except to say that Little Rock clearly is no longer Little Rock).
This game is as do-or-die as a Game 3 can be. I shudder to imagine the players' collective psyche, much less the fans', should we lose.
Anomaly or harbinger? Texas Tech will tell us exactly what Toledo was.