Hogs face gauntlet of ranked SEC opponents

Arkansas Razorbacks / Facebook

There is no worse feeling than having something you felt was yours ripped from you hands.

You deal with emotions of anger, disappointment, regret and frustration, and the worst thing about the situation is until you move past those negative feelings it’s difficult if not impossible to recover and improve your situation.

No doubt, the Arkansas Razorbacks (3-1) have experienced some of those emotions after their 28-24 loss to Rutgers last Saturday. The Hogs seemed to have a road victory in the bag with a 24-7 lead halfway through the third quarter, but as quickly as the Razorbacks had scored two third-quarter touchdowns to take what appeared to be a commanding lead, the game turned on them.

Arkansas vs. Texas A&M

Game: Arkansas (3-1, 0-0 SEC) vs. Texas A&M (3-1, 0-1 SEC)
Date: Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013
Time: 6 p.m.
Location: Reynolds Razorback Stadium

The momentum shift was, well, momentous, and the Hogs got swallowed up in the Scarlet Knights’ undertow as Rutgers capitalized on Arkansas’ mistakes in the punting game and the Hogs’ misalignments and confusion in pass coverage.

Rutgers also smothered Arkansas’ offense, which managed to gain just 63 yards after it established its big lead. The Hogs’ heretofore-potent rushing attack, which had salted away three victories against admittedly dubious opponents in previous fourth quarters, was stonewalled.

After Sunday’s post-mortem film session, the Razorbacks must push all that aside and prepare for the beast that is Texas A&M and its celebutante quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Unfortunately for the Razorbacks, Manziel, the 2012 Heisman winner, lives up to his press clippings and then some. He’s one of if not the most dynamic and productive players in the game.

Here’s a comparison through four games: Manziel has produced 1,483 yards himself (1,228 passing, 255 rushing), while the entire Razorbacks offense has generated 1,590 yards (984 rushing, 606 passing) through the same amount of games.

Oh, and Manziel was suspended for a half in the Aggies’ opener and sat for all but A&M’s first drive of the second half last Saturday in the Aggies ‘ 42-13 defeat of SMU.

No doubt, that’s enough to get the Razorbacks’ attention focused on what’s in front of them instead of looking back or peeking ahead.

However, as fans, we have the luxury of not only facing front but also looking forward and back no matter how counterproductive that may be.

No doubt, we’ll be dissecting the corpse of the Rutgers loss at various times throughout the season. Many had pegged the game as a must-win for the Hogs to go bowling, and the way things stand today, that looks like an on-point assessment.

The Razorbacks have very little breathing room this season. Aside from Saturday’s 6 p.m. date with the No. 10 Aggies, the Hogs play at No. 20 Florida Oct. 5, host No. 12 South Carolina Oct. 12 and play at Alabama Oct. 19 before getting an open date that they could have frankly used last week.

That’s a meat-grinder of a schedule for any team in the nation, much less one that is making the transition that Arkansas is.

Even if Bobby Petrino had never crashed his motorcycle in a ditch, this would have been a rebuilding year for the Razorbacks. One could argue that this team would be better fitted for an offense like Petrino’s, but honestly I don’t see the speed, size and explosiveness needed at receiver to be outstanding in any offense.

The defense is similarly lacking in size and speed at linebacker, although it does appear the undersized Otha Peters and Martrell Spaight are making positive moves forward in the middle. Experience and size remains a challenge in the defensive backfield, but it’s hard to find any defensive backs capable of covering monsters like Rutgers’ Tyler Kroft (6-6, 240) or A&M’s Mike Evans (6-5, 225).

The Razorbacks defensive front is probably the team’s most SEC-ready unit, but for it to remain effective rushing the passer in the second half, it needs some rest that’s only provided by its offensive mates moving the football.

Sustaining drives all comes back to quarterback play. There is no way of telling what difference a healthy Brandon Allen, who missed the game with a bruised shoulder, would have made against Rutgers. Allen may have been able to make some plays that A.J. Derby couldn’t.

Derby didn’t make a critical mistake in the game. Those came in the punting and punt return coverage. Derby’s play was serviceable, but the Hogs’ offense has regressed since the loss of Allen as a playmaker, and it’s uncertain how much it can progress until his return.

There’s not much solace to be offered to Hogs fans at this time. It’s hard to see a victory on the horizon, but strange things and upsets happen every week in college football.

What I’m looking for at this point is improvement, and there is no better way to improve than to challenge yourself against the best, and over the next four games, the Hogs will be able to test themselves against some of the best the nation’s strongest conference has to offer.