Brought to you once more this week courtesy of Bob Marley, Tito's Vodka, and Drive-By Truckers "Goddamn Lonely Love", Jason Isbell's masterful dirge that chronicles descent into pain and outlines how to lean into it. Whether it's a woman or a drink or yet another three hour block of emptiness on an otherwise beautiful fall Saturday, the path is the same for grappling with the transition of something that once brought great joy into something that brings only despair. Lean in. The anger dissipates, and the acceptance of loss is but an unobtainable pinprick of light in the distance. And right now Arkansas fans are stuck in this goddamn lonely love.
You've got green, Jeff, and we've got blues. And every day there's a little less difference between the two.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. Arkansas steps onto the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Alabama looking not only physically outmatched, but psychologically defeated even before the first instance of toe meeting leather. Expressions of defeat. Body language of defeat. Of intimidation. Of fear. That's not uncommon in Tuscaloosa, of course, but isn't being #Uncommon exactly what this program strives for? The ask for this game was not a win, or even a competitive contest. The ask was to watch a team that at least wanted a win. That wanted a competitive contest. I saw it in flashes, and in players, but that is quite simply not enough. What I saw more of was a team desperate to get it over with. To play sparring partner to the prize fighter, collect its check, and take that Greyhound home. To be a cupcake. To be the homecoming opponent that it literally was.
Stop me if you've heard this one before. We're going to fix the kicking game. We missed an extra point. Stop me if you've heard this one before. We're going to get TJ Hammonds involved. He didn't once touch the football. Stop me if you've heard this one before. We've got to establish the running game. 6'7" 267 lbs quarterback Cole Kelley had the longest rush of the evening. In fact, over the last two games, Arkansas running backs have rushed the ball 39 times, and two, TWO, of those rushes were for ten yards or longer. Stop me if you've heard it ALL before.
Of course it wasn't all bad last night. There were positive takeaways to make if you look hard for them, but they're important ones to make if you're determined (or, more likely, cursed) to snatch up any hopefulness available like a lone Twix swimming in a plastic jack-o-lantern full of Chick-O-Stick. For the Little League mamma who's watched her son strike out looking every at-bat for the entire season, even a foul tip is reason to celebrate.
Cole Kelley stood in the pocket and made throws. He took a beating and made mistakes and errant passes, but he was in there to play quarterback. He didn't look damaged. Through very little fault of his own, Austin Allen has appeared damaged this season, and that's no way to play quarterback. Part of Kelley's apparent lesser degree of terror is likely due to the coaching staff finally settling on the best arrangement of the offensive line (which still allowed five sacks and eleven hurries), which is both encouraging and horrifying as THIS WAS GAME SIX.
Defensively, it was a game where Arkansas allowed 41 points, gave up a 75-yard touchdown on the first play of the game, and appeared to be by far the most prepared unit on the team. That's how bad it was, but we’re sifting for positives here, and to find them you almost have to look at individual plays. Bijhon Jackson blew up the Alabama line once on a running play in the second half. Kevin Richardson undercut a route and intercepted Jalen Hurts for the first time all season. De'Jon Harris perfectly timed a blitz and notched a sack. And hey, only the one 75-yard touchdown. That's about it. That's what you get. Alabama is that good. Arkansas is that bad.
And now Arkansas is 2-4 (0-3) with Auburn coming to town. The Tigers lost yesterday after giving up a 20-point lead, and they will be angry. They won't view Arkansas as a sparring partner with whom to stay sharp for more important contests later in the season. Gus Malzahn will not take his foot off the gas. The Razorback football program is in desperate times. In college football, fans are either satisfied, angry, sad, or apathetic. In Arkansas, satisfaction is a speck in the rear view, and it gets harder to muster the anger each and every week. If other fans are anything like me, they're currently stuck suffering that goddamn lonely love. If Jeff Long doesn't think we won't eventually, finally, at long last turn to apathy, though... well, I'll take two of what you're having, Jeff. I'll take all of what you got.
I'll see y'all next week.