Arkansas’ progress shows versus Florida

Remember the Arkansas vs. Alabama game from earlier this season? Remember 35-7? The missed tackles? Remember the Georgia game? Remember how we couldn’t stop anybody?

On Saturday, the same Arkansas Razorbacks from those early season games took the defending national champion, no. 1 in the nation Florida Gators to the brink of defeat on their home turf.

My point? The Hogs have come a long way this year under coach Bobby Petrino this season. I’m talking light years.

In a game decided by 3 points, with two missed field goals by Arkansas’ Alex Tejada, and several questionable calls by the officials in the 4th quarter, Arkansas stood toe-to-toe with the Gators on a national stage, and almost handed the Gators their first defeat of the season, falling 23-20.

More importantly, Arkansas may have turned a corner on Saturday.

Loaded with talented freshmen and sophomores at the skill positions, Arkansas had struggled to put 4 quarters of good football together thus far this season. They had struggled to stop opposing teams in the passing game, and to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. They have missed tackles, and they have missed opportunities in big games to compete with some of the most talented teams in the nation that they face on a week to week basis in the Southeastern Conference.

After the Alabama game, Bobby Petrino accused his young Razorback team of not believing they could play with the likes of mean old Alabama on their home field.

On Saturday against Florida, the Arkansas Razorbacks proved that they can play with any team, at any place in the country.

Arkansas held All-American Tim Tebow to only 2.6 yards per carry (a full yard and a half below his season average), and were in the backfield all night pressuring Florida’s chosen one, sacking him 6 times.

The Razorbacks are still young. They still have issues of depth going against some of the tradition rich teams of the SEC, but these young Hogs are talented, they are making progress under second year head coach Bobby Petrino. They showed a lot of that progress on Saturday.

Since the Alabama game in Tuscaloosa, Willy Robinson’s defense has corrected their big play problems. With the emergence of DeQuinta Jones and Jake Bequette on the Hogs defensive line in recent weeks, they have found a way to get pressure on the opposing quarterback.

Broderick Green and Dennis Johnson have proven capable backups to Michael Smith, and we already knew we had a passing game.

Even after the loss on Saturday, Arkansas has a chance to turn the 2009 season into a very special year. If the Hogs can muster a victory against former Arkansas head coach Houston Nutt and the Ole Miss Rebels this Saturday, they will be a virtual lock for bowl eligibility. If they can win their remaining two home SEC games against South Carolina and Mississippi State, they will secure an 8 win season, and the Hogs will be playing against LSU in Baton Rouge for #9.

The 2009 Hogs are good enough to do all of that. They proved it on Saturday against Florida.

Photo by Wesley Hitt