Has there ever been a more potent Razorback offense than the one that ran through and ultimately suffocated Kansas State on Saturday?
Beliema Ball was on full display in the Hogs' 45-23 Liberty Bowl win, picking up where it left off against Missouri in the regular season finale (Brandon Allen's opening series pick notwithstanding).
Up 38-23 in the 4th with the game still marginally (oh so marginally) in doubt, the Hogs took over with about 10 to go and drained the next six minutes off the clock. We "moved that ball right down the field," mixing plays both routine and spectacular, Kody Walker's 4-yard TD run culminating the drive and hammering home the nails.
It seemingly took forever to put Bill Snyder's scrappy bunch away, but Coach Bielema and the Hogs took K-State's best shot coming out of the half, weathered it, then owned the 4th.
Beliema Ball. And it's beautiful to behold. One might even say it resembles real American football...
Once we get a defense to match the offense we fielded beginning in week six or so, championship aspirations will become more than realistic on the Hill. It took Enos a few weeks to find his groove, but he and Allen found it and the offense was virtually unstoppable once they did: disciplined, steady, clutch and at times eye-opening.
Remember when third and 12 represented a death knell? When first and 15 meant burying our faces in our hands? To the band of chrome-topped brothers that capped an 8-win season on Saturday, third and 12 is just another down. Falling behind on first down is no longer a cue for the punt team.
Allen will leave as one of the program's greats, and deservedly so. Once he cleared that mental hurdle against Auburn, he was brilliant. Once he delivered in the clutch, once he transformed from game manager to playmaker, it was on. I still contend his performance this year at Ole Miss was the single greatest performance by a Razorback quarterback ever.
The defense, of course, while statistically good against the run, took a step back in 2015. We've got to figure out how to defend competent QBs in a fast-paced, spread offense. We've got to figure out where to be on every play. That said, this year's defense may have been overmatched at times, but I'll take its heart every time. Good things are coming as Robb Smith continues to build starting with that nice big brick out of Hope.
As for the kicking game...take it away, BVC. Our own Hog shaman summed it up pretty well. A work in progress, it remains. The "luxury" of being reasonably confident in a FG beyond 25 yards is something we've got to have; we've got to be able to consistently send the kickoff into if not out of the end zone; and we've got to shore up our kick coverage.
Saturday's kick strategy was understandable. I get it. But we gave the K-State offense some assists with prime real estate with which to start drives.
All in all, another good night in Memphis. Once the sun set behind the southwest stands, the night teased ever so slightly of East Carolina cold. Fortunately, the Razorback offense generated all the heat we'd need.
Some notes from a night at the Mid-South Fairgrounds:
- I gotta say this: I like K-State. The fans, the band, the way it plays for Snyder. Speaking of bands, ours is great...The Marching Razorbacks (it'd be nice if we went back to calling them that officially). But it's a bit mundane. We could stand to model ours after K-State and add some pizzazz, to the unis if nothing else. For starters, the drum corps needs to wear berets...
- The lack of a single organized Hog call was frustrating. We couldn't even get the back-and-forth "Arkansas, Razorbacks" chant going beyond a section or two. And it's admittedly hard with no orchestration and 40k-plus spread out over an entire stadium. (I gotta say, it's hard when we can't let loose with 'That's another Arkansas Razorback...FIRST DOWN.' And that stadium announcer was a KSU grad, I swear.)
- The KSU chants after their scores...we need something to do after scores. Something that would become automatic.
- Of course, the spontaneous Hog call that erupted following CBB's comments on the trophy stage at midfield after the win was as satisfying any I've participated in or heard in quite a while. Razorback Stadium East, indeed.
- Speaking of, obviously we should expect to travel well to Memphis, but lordy. That was a home game. K-State travels well, and their fans made themselves known, but my youngest son and I counted just three sections in the stadium that held more KSU fans than Arkies, and a couple of those were close. We may not have the numbers of other fan bases (we are a demographically poor, rural state of still under 3 million, after all), but I agree with CBB: ours are the best fans. Nebraska could make an argument perhaps, but there's not a single sports team that means as much to an entire state as the Hogs mean to Arkansas.
- I didn't even notice at the time, but so cool that J-Will got to take part in the Victory formation at the end. Really proud to have him in the Razorback family.
So, essentially, 2015 is a reboot but one with a kick. We head into the offseason with momentum and optimism for 2016, just like last year. But this time, it feels a little different. It feels like we've got a few more men on the wall with more on the way. Despite losing a few good ones in the process, maybe earlier than we'd hoped, we truly seem closer to full-on, plug-and-play mode.
We're getting there, and in the SEC West, getting there is a grind. But it does feel like we're closer. September remains a hurdle we have to clear, but it's early January and we're coming off a big bowl win with a 6-1 finish. Right now, it seems like a hurdle we can clear.