Improved and Ready for Late Fall

I’m probably like everyone else, there is magical juice in a great victory. I feel the juice this Sunday morning after covering the Arkansas victory over Ole Miss.

First, that’s three straight over Ole Miss, the team with all of the fancy recruiting classes. So recruiting rankings are important, but not as important as developing your roster. And, it’s really important that you don’t have any holes in the roster.

Ole Miss has some holes, especially at linebacker. Arkansas scored the 34-30 victory in part because it had better linebackers than the Rebels. Brooks Ellis and Dwayne Eugene played better than the Ole Miss tandem of Detri Bing-Dukes and DeMarquis Gates. The two D men for Ole Miss combined to make 15 tackles, but they were down the field, not at the line of scrimmage.

Ellis made nine tackles and many were close to the line of scrimmage as the Rebels never got their running game going outside of quarterback scrambles.

I picked Ole Miss on Sunday morning of last week. As the week went on, I felt better and better about the Arkansas chances. I was told late in the week that Zach Rogers might take over at right guard for Jake Raulerson to give some life to the run game. As it turned out, Raulerson lifted his game in practice at the end of the week and kept his spot. I think Raulerson played better, as did everyone else on the UA offensive line.

But, here is what made me feel much better about the Arkansas chances. A friend who covers Ole Miss told me when he got to town that Ole Miss really has no answers at linebacker and teams with a little bit of a running game who will stick with it are deadly against that defense. He said, “If you can pass AND run, you are going to have a big day. They can’t defend both. And, I think they are going to really focus on Jeremy Sprinkle. You can’t do that and stop the run.”

Well, that guy nailed it. I’ve always said the real issue with my ability to predict outcomes lies in knowing a lot about one team and knowing very little about the other teams. You are embedded with one and don’t see the rest of the SEC teams play each week. You see a bit here and there because your weekends are focused around getting a magazine out.

What he didn’t add is that Ole Miss may not be very good at safety, either. Arkansas hasn’t been good at safety in the last few years, either. But Josh Liddell and Santos Ramirez played more than good enough against the Rebels.

If you can tackle at linebacker and safety, you’ve got a chance to play defense. That’s the feeling I’ve got now about the Hogs for the rest of the season when quarterback play for the opposition might slip a little bit.

I will say that I expect Arkansas to run the ball better in the second half of the season. I have no worries at all with what Kurt Anderson is doing with the offensive line. I was told by someone who knows football this week that he’s a very good coach, a very good technique guy and will eventually have these guys playing really well up front. He said he’s also going to be just the kind of recruiter needed because of his ability to make relationships. He’ll develop players when they get on campus and make them play his way to the best of their ability and it fits perfectly with what Bret Bielema does.

This was a very good victory for the Hogs, won with running the ball and making plays on defense. Arkansas got better this week. They improved in several areas on defense. Cutting down the rotation up front helped everything, too. Getting Ramirez healthy helped, but secondary coach Paul Rhoads showed his touch with Josh Liddell in this game. Liddell made more plays and was in the right spots.

Here is another item to note, both Alabama and Texas A&M are very good. They are no doubt the best two teams in the league. Arkansas is in a group fighting for that third spot, better than I thought a week ago – but about where I thought in preseason. It sometimes takes a few weeks for things to sort out. They are beginning to sort out in my mind.

At 5-2, Arkansas is close to becoming bowl eligible. Next up is a trip to Auburn. Like Ole Miss last week, the Tigers were off this week, licking their wounds and preparing for the Hogs. Auburn is better on defense than Ole Miss, but not as good on offense. The Tigers can run the ball a little bit, but don’t have any great backs and they are not dynamic at quarterback like Texas A&M, Alabama and Ole Miss.

It shapes up for a good finish for the Hogs. Now that they can run the ball and give something for defensive coordinators to fret about aside from Austin Allen and those glorious wide receivers, it should be a fun finish.

I got to thinking last night driving home about the All-SEC quarterback. Allen is better than most in the league and he’s just getting started. I’d take him over Kelly. Jalen Hurts might win it because he’s on the best team. But there might not be anyone I’d rather have in the SEC than Allen.

For sure, there is not one I’d rather have than Allen with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. He doesn’t back away from the tough moments. He embraces them and competes. That’s what I saw the Hogs doing all around him, too.

I give Bielema a lot of credit for getting his team to raise its level of play in the week after a crushing loss to Alabama. It’s the mark of a great coach. He is that and has the ability to hold his squad together when adversity strikes. To me, the essence of coaching is to get your team to play hard. The Hogs did that. It made things fun again for the fan base. There is nothing like fun football in October and November.

I have a lot of friends who like to hunt. This is the time of year they are making their late fall plans. Do I hunt, or do I keep my tickets and go to Arkansas games? They’ll be in the stands in three weeks when the Hogs play Florida in Fayetteville. It’s the way it should be for Arkansas football in November. It’s a fun time.

Clay–you mentioned DL rotation. I noted Agim’s group rotating in the third qtr and each time in they shut down OM, forcing punts. Did not notice the rotation so much in the fourth qtr, but his group made an important contribution.

So I guess I missed your point on less DL rotation.

Very nice, fun write up, BTW. Way to go.

Generally, Fred you do miss my points. Just kidding. They did not rotate nearly as much at some positions, particularly nose tackle as they had been. Taiwan Johnson played the majority of snaps at nose. Bijohn Johnson did play some at nose, but Austin Capps didn’t play hardly any. I do think Agim played more snaps than some of the others. In some games this year, they were rotating every three plays. Of course, if there is a three and out, there won’t be a rotation on that possession anyway.

Great read, Clay!
I live in Jacksonville, Florida, but I’ll be at the Florida game rooting on the Hogs!
As soon as my wife retires, (2 1/2 years,), we will be moving to Cotter. We have a place there on Rainbow Drive, on the White. Go Hogs!

Rainbow Drive is about as sweet a spot as you can have there. It’s right in the middle of all of the action. Not far to Bull Shoals Dam. Nor far from Rim Shoals. Not far from Norfork Dam. Easy trip to Mountain Home to eat out. You got it all. Of course, for me, Cotter is the shortest trip from Fayetteville out of all of those spots, just under two hours. Well, most of the time it’s exactly two hours. But I always think I can beat that.

Is Capps in the doghouse? He hasn’t played much since the scooter accident.

I don’t think he’s in the doghouse. I think it’s just a case of a young player not being in the right gaps. Taiwan Johnson is playing better. Bijohn Jackson moved ahead of Capps and played better when he got more chances. So there are two older players getting snaps.