OK, I admit it. I drank the Kool-Aid. Heck, I practically bathed in it, and when the Samford Bulldogs took a 21-17 third-quarter lead over the Arkansas Razorbacks last Saturday, I was a little bit worried I might just drown in it.
Thankfully, Bret Bielema’s Hogs cinched up their belts, stuck their hand in the dirt and plowed up the ground at War Memorial Stadium for two touchdowns and a large chunk of their 333 total rushing yards to put the contest away.
Arkansas’ 31-21 victory over a FCS team didn’t impress anyone, but maybe it did firmly plant the Razorbacks and their fans’ feet on the ground in more ways than one.
Again, I admit to getting a bit high on the Hogs (2-0) after their season-opening defeat of Louisiana-Lafayette. After a season’s worth of comedy capers under John L. Smith’s indecision and lack-of-direction, I got giddy watching a well coached display of Bielema’s normal American football. Others did too. You have to admit, the Razorbacks looked solid in roughing up the Sun Belt Conference favorite Ragin’ Cajuns, who may or may not have been as good as advertised.
I think the Razorbacks were on a bit of a sugar high, too. They forgot some of the basic tenants of Bielema Ball in the contest after scoring two quick touchdowns on Samford (1-1), which might have been better than advertised.
For whatever reason, the Hogs lost focus Saturday after a decent start. The Razorbacks became lax in protecting the football, giving up two fumbles, which set up opportunistic touchdown scores by the Bulldogs. Hogs Tevin Mitchell and Alex Collins garnered two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties for losing control of their emotions. Fortunately, Samford wasn’t talented enough to cash those mistakes in for an early Christmas gift. That won’t be the case every week, especially in Southeastern Conference play.
The Razorbacks still have the makings of a solid football team during Bielema’s first year, one that can win enough games to go bowling. But, for that to happen the Hogs have to understand that they must play four quarters of smart football, be the opportunistic team rather than one willing to fritter the game away and improve week to week. This team has the potential to improve greatly as the weeks go by, but it can’t keep taking steps back because of self-inflicted mistakes.
Arkansas does have talent, but not enough to play less than its best and not be embarrassed on Saturday. I thought I saw a team with that type of attitude in the season opener. Somewhere between the first and second game, that mental sharpness and toughness eroded.
Let’s hope the Hogs learned their lesson against Samford and bring more focus to the field for Saturday’s 11:15 a.m. contest against Southern Miss (0-2) because after last season’s motorcycle crash in the ditch, it would be tough to stomach an under –achieving rollercoaster ride of a season.