clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Feel The Rhythm: Mississippi State

New, 17 comments

Your [HEAD COACH BRET BIELEMA] Approved Companion to the ‘16 Mississippi State Game

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Mississippi State Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Brought to you once more courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito's Vodka, and that part of your soul that can only be filled with a defense at least somewhat capable of stopping the run. There is no substitute for this part. No stopgap. No workaround. Neither money nor fame nor gilded running back with gaudy statistics can alleviate the gnawing sense of emptiness left by again watching your defense succumb to poor alignment, poor pursuit angles, and poor tackling. You enjoy your successes and excesses, sure, but still that hole remains.

Last night Arkansas scored 58 points on the road in the SEC and won by 16 points. The offense didn't turn the ball over and never punted. Rawleigh Williams ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns, and threw for another. Devwah Whaley ran for over 100 yards. Austin Allen threw for more than 300. Think about that. In a single game, Arkansas had a 300-yard passer, a 200-yard rusher, and a 100-yard rusher. And the question most asked around the dinner table this Thursday will rightfully be "What the hell is wrong with the defense?"

In honor of the spirit of the Arkansas defense, and also due to its author's current location of New Orleans' French Quarter as opposed to home, today's version of Feel The Rhythm will be abbreviated and half assed. Sound defense may be the only thing that can fill that hole in my soul, but surely a Sazerac or three won't make it any larger.

Offensively, Arkansas had its most successful and explosive meaningful outing of the season in large part due to the defense of its opponent, but also because Dan Enos played to his strengths. Outside runs and intermediate passes moved the Hogs down the field in large chunks, and were precisely what was missing last week against LSU. Yes, of course, LSU's defense is vastly superior to Mississippi State's, but you try to do what you do best, and that's what the Hogs did last night.

Enos shouldn't get all of the credit, though, and I haven't given enough praise this year to the players when Arkansas has had successful offensive games. The season has been up and down, but the offense has improved because its players have improved. Rawleigh Williams' vision through the line of scrimmage is better. His explosiveness as a one-cut back is better. Devwah Whaley's patience is better. The run blocking of the offensive line is better. Even the pass blocking, bad as it still is, is better from its nadir in the Auburn game. The offense is getting better, and last night it may have peaked. Part of it is Enos, part of it is the opponent, and part of it is that the players are improving.

The defense is not improving.

There's nothing left to say about it other than to discuss what or who may fix it. I loved the 2014 defense so much that I have long held on to the hope that Robb Smith could save what has now been a hopeless unit for two full seasons. I can't do it anymore. A change has to be made. The mistakes are too catastrophic and too glaring and too elementary in nature.

Yes, it's a recruiting issue, but there are also some good components to build around. Yes, it's a competition issue, but this defense yields yards and points even to teams it can simply outclass. It's just a broken unit. It's a broken unit whose only successes have been found when facing an equally broken unit on the other side of the football. A change is necessary.

So now the Hogs sit at 7-4 with only a road trip to Missouri remaining. Arkansas should be favored, and a win would secure an eight win season, a 3-1 record in true road games for a second consecutive year, and an improvement in the regular season win total for a third consecutive year. Which is much better than how most saw this season playing out when the fourth quarter of the Louisiana Tech game started, much worse than at halftime of the Texas A&M game, and just about exactly how many if not most guessed it would play out before the season began. It's been a long, strange year. Last night was a bright spot, except for that gaping hole.

We eat to remember and drink to forget, and I'm in one of the best cities in the world for both. I'm going to go eat to Rawleigh Williams and drink to Robb Smith, and 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.