The morning of my oldest son's 16th birthday this week, his much anticipated first solo drive to school was delayed, however briefly, by a dead battery.
The table was set - we'd found a decent ride two weeks ago (here's to knowing people in the car biz) - and he'd logged plenty of miles in it. It was all there.
Not unlike the Hogs' 2015 season...the table was set for big things. We got the car jumped and eventually the battery replaced, and it's all good again. Forward ho and all that.
If only it could be that easy for our Hogs. These last two weeks, frankly, have sucked. The whole Bielema-Kingsbury saga has just made it even worse. (What is it about our last two coaches that bring out the hate? I get it with BP.)
Podium drama aside, I'm afraid that there's more to the Hogs' problems than a simple jump can address. Everyone from casual fans to the most seasoned analysts expected a ground game juggernaut and a defense that — despite the loss of the Triangle — would be salty if not pick up where it left off. And it left off as a pretty good unit, a legit top 10 D.
We did crank out 200-plus on the ground against Tech (and my hat is tipped to AC for his hard work on Saturday), but the Raiders still held us below their average. Like last year, we should've been able to run for 400 on that D. The loss of J-Will perhaps is bigger than we realized, and we all knew it was a big loss.
The D, honestly, looked lost on Saturday night. I understand it's hard to generate pressure against a spread that releases the ball so quickly, but man, we've got to figure out a way to make our D-line a factor against these teams. And, let's just face it, we have a giant hole in the middle of our D. Plus, I'll be darned if we're not back to whiffing in the open field again. Ugh.
Looking back, it's surprising that we gave up "only" 35 points and 480 yards, because in the second half it sure seemed like we had no shot at stopping their offense. In a sense, the game was lost in the third when we opted for 3 instead of going for it on 4th and goal. Our saving grace to keeping it close was our own ball-control O, which seems adept between the 20s but inept in the red zone.
Going into the season, I knew Toledo and Tech, at least, would be no cupcakes. Toledo is a solid program and after two weeks it was obvious Tech was better. Still, our opening three weeks sure seemed to offer a nice, terraced step-up in competition, beatable competition, leading into the gauntlet we now face.
The table was set. Even on Saturday, despite coming off a Monroe-like loss, we had a sellout and a good, November loud crowd; even Kliff acknowledged it.
I think we'll get some things figured out, but it's apparent we're still not there personnel-wise in certain spots, much less equipped with the proper depth. And we've got to get a handle on these drive- and TD-killing penalties. At this point, all we can hope for is progress each week. But we still can resemble the team that finished 2014.
And who knows, can we get to four SEC wins? The three on-campus league games appear winnable. Can we steal one in Dallas or Knoxville? We'll certainly be solid and deserved underdogs in each, but we'll see. Historically, the Fightin' Razorbacks play much better as 'dogs.
Really, we just need some good things to happen. Progress.
But to achieve even that modest goal, the coaches are gonna have to spend some time under the hood and look beyond the battery.