Brought to you once more courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito’s Vodka, and the secret factory located somewhere within the Yellowhammer State that churns out one blue chip football player after another. Oh sure, the pundits will tell you that these players come from all over the country and were “recruited” by Nick Saban and his staff, but the truth can’t be covered up forever, and the truth is that these football machines roll off of an assembly line in Selma or Opp or Huntsville or Muscle Shoals. They are given a backstory, some basic human features and traits, and then wrapped in crimson and shipped to Tuscaloosa, a small flap of tape the only thing ensuring their switches aren’t accidentally flipped from [OFF] to [DESTROY] while in transit.
Coach Saban oversees everything, from placing the order online to taking in his shiny new champions at the receiving dock. Clipboard in hand, he checks off each running back, safety, and defensive end, wondering why they bother including batteries at all if they are just going to use the shitty off-brand because they know good and well he’s just going to replace them immediately or else have to do it a week from now, and how frustrating is that? It’s just a waste. Anyway, that’s how it happens. You can follow “recruiting” and track stars and believe the so-called experts, or you can listen to me.
Supreme Commander Saban took his humanoid expeditionary force to Fayetteville for drill this weekend to practice combat against the hostile enemy tactics of... striped football stadiums and loud noise? That’s it? That can’t be right. Surely Arkansas defended its home field with more than a color-coordinated seating chart and a decibel meter. Let’s look into that.
Defensively, it is difficult to come up with a nightmare scenario worse than what the Razorbacks endured last night against Alabama. They were outmanned from the first play, outsmarted seemingly whenever Lane Kiffin wanted them to be, and outefforted at intervals far too frequent for most Arkansas fans to stomach. The defense lost its leading tackler in the opening minutes of the game, allowed four plays of more than 50 yards, and only pushed the Crimson Tide into a third down eight times. More than all of the horror show statistics, however, the nightmare creator from this defensive performance was the feeling, as a fan, of watching a play unfold and thinking we don’t know what we are doing. Yes, there were lapses in effort and in focus, but most terrifying were the moments when there was no Arkansas defender around the football at all. That’s not ever supposed to happen, but it’s certainly not supposed to happen on basic running plays.
How bad was it? Cody Hollister, wide receiver, had as many tackles as Deatrich Wise, Taiwan Johnson, and Jeremiah Ledbetter, and more tackles than Tevin Beanum and Bijhon Jackson. Let’s say that again. NOT ONE DEFENSIVE LINEMAN HAD MORE TACKLES THAN CODY HOLLISTER, WHO ONLY PLAYS ON OFFENSE. THIS IS WHAT YOU MIGHT CALL A PROBLEM. The only, and I mean the only thing to pin hope on is that if it is truly an exes and ohs problem and not solely a Jimmies and Joes problem, then it can be fixed. If these guys are really, truly just that bad, then a) it’s going to be a long last half of the season, and b) I’ve got to wonder WHAT THE HELL HAVE WE BEEN DOING UP THERE?
Things on the other side of the ball weren’t much better, but there were at least a few more positives to take away. Whether by force or by design, the playcalling of Dan Enos was much more reflective of what is going to carry the Razorbacks to whatever success they accomplish this season. This is a team with a tremendous pocket passer and a deep and talented group of receivers and Dan Enos is beginning to replace the square peg he started the season with for what actually works. And get this... it DID work, to the tune of nearly 500 yards, against the best defense in college football. Yes, Alabama forced four turnovers and had two defensive touchdowns, but Arkansas still moved the football. Alabama wasn’t playing bend-don’t-break defense. That’s not what they do. They smother offenses. Last night, the Tide beat up and bloodied Arkansas, but the Hogs still moved the football, and not because Alabama let them. 30 points that really was 34 points if you account for the atrocious holding penalty that negated a touchdown. Two yards per carry or not, I’m not going to complain too much about the offensive output. The Hogs true offensive identity is taking hold, and I predict the running game to come around in the last half of the season.
Now that I have that sunshine pumping out of the way, we have to address the elephant in the room, which of course is the elephants that were in the backfield on seemingly every passing play. Alabama is credited with 12 QB Hurries and six sacks, and I bet we can agree that Mr. Statistics Awarder was being pretty stingy if he thought that Austin Allen was under duress for only 18 out of 54 drop backs. Allen was hit nearly 30 times, and his body language at the end of the game indicated that he was really freaking tired of it. Once again, I’m no expert. I don’t know how to solve the problem or even if it can be solved. But right now Arkansas’ greatest weapon is being protected by its weakest link. Austin Allen needs a Secret Service detail, and right now he’s got Barney Fife. This unit couldn’t but trusted to keep Otis in the drunk tank, they damn sure couldn’t keep Alabama out of the backfield, and they won’t keep Allen healthy unless they take some major, major corrective action.
Now Arkansas sits at 4-2, halfway through the season and sporting the record I would guess that most fans anticipated they would be sporting at this point. Even halfway through it all, I still have no idea what I should expect out of the 2016 season. Two blowout losses to teams with two of the better defensive lines and two of the better offenses in the country. The one signature win over TCU doesn’t look so signature anymore, so it’s possible that next week against Ole Miss will be the Hogs’ first game of the season against a merely good opponent. The Texas A&M and Alabama games have established quite definitively that Arkansas is a long way from great, but I’m not prepared to say anything more than that yet. Six conference games left, and they will provide the narrative for this year. There is literally not one outcome, from 0-6 to 6-0, that would shock me at this point. We will know a little bit more after next week, and should know a lot more after Florida.
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 six-year-old into a southpaw ace in the bigs.