Whenever you ask, “What is Vegas thinking?” guess what, they got you.
I don’t think in my years of writing about the Razorbacks have I heard more attention and questioning of a point spread about Arkansas. Admittedly, I thought the spread was a little bit bigger than I expected, but there were reasons Auburn should have been favored. If you’ve read our most recent advanced stats previews and recaps, you’ll know that Arkansas, despite their record and ranking, has at times played pretty badly this year, and their rankings in those numbers reflect that.
That being said, at no point should anybody have expected the type of 56-3 embarrassment that we saw on the plains Saturday night.
Arkansas earned its poor ratings in advanced stats because they’ve given up quite a few big runs this year (and big rushing yards), had trouble finishing drives, and in Arkansas’ losses, they’ve been blown out. It’s a significant difference than the last two years when Arkansas rated quite highly in many stats categories but didn’t get any wins to show for it.
So that might explain the point spread, but that spread was only about 10 points. It does not explain an inexplicable 53-point disaster.
This was a historic loss. Auburn rushed for 543 yards, the most Arkansas has ever given up in a game (que up the now-infamous Bielema quote when he arrived at Arkansas “J]I can give them something they’ve never had”). Arkansas hasn’t seen a loss this bad since the humiliating October of 2013 when Arkansas lost to South Carolina and Alabama by a combined score of 104-7. But it’s one thing when these types of losses happen during a transition time - in Bielema’s case, the first year of a pretty massive rebuild - but this is Year 4. It’s almost entirely made of his own design. It’s inexcusable.
The only good thing that happened was Adam McFain’s 54-yard field goal just before halftime. It kept the Hogs from being shut out. But at the same time, you have to question why McFain hasn’t been the kicker for 1.5 seasons. He might have been hurt at the very beginning of the 2015 season, but that was a long time ago. It’s mind-boggling that someone capable of making these kicks (and hit a 40+ yard kick last week) has been sitting on the sidelines and practicing while Cole Hedlund has been missing easier kicks for the last year-plus. That may have cost Arkansas wins.
Don’t let any excuses fool you. Yes, this was Arkansas’ 8th straight game. Yes Auburn was coming off a bye week. No, there weren’t 70,000+ fans raising decibel levels to nearly 120 to support the Razorbacks, and it never helps to be in that situation, but that doesn’t account for a 53-point blowout. That’s simply a failure to show up. I don’t know what Arkansas spent the week planning, but Auburn busted open a 78-yard touchdown run on their very first play and the game was never close. They only passed for 89 yards. That’s it.
Arkansas now has a bye week before consecutive home games followed by consecutive road games. This team’s been hard to figure out. Normally, even when the defense has been bad, the Hogs have found ways to score points. They scored 30 points against Alabama and came about five combined yards from scoring 40 on Texas A&M. But tonight that wasn’t working, either. Austin Allen wasn’t awful, but mistakes in the first half like a fumble that he just flat dropped without being hit was a lowlight. He suffered some sort of knee injury in the first half but came back, bringing up all the usual commentary about how tough he is. And that’s great, he deserves it. But it doesn’t score points, and there will be questions about his knee likely for the next couple of weeks.
The Razorbacks are just bad in some areas. They’re bad on the offensive line. They’re bad on defense, especially the run defense. And that’s the most disappointing thing about this team to me. Arkansas was pretty solid against the run last season and there isn’t any reason to explain this year’s unit being worse. Just about every player from that side of the ball last season is back this year. And they’re significantly worse against the run and maybe a little better against the pass, but that’s a low bar to clear.
It’s a combination of bad recruiting and bad development. On the offensive line as well as the defense. It’s up to the coaches to fix it.