Lots of ways to look at Hogs 3-2 start

Walt Beazley, UA Athletics

It’s amazing how differently the same data can be interpreted. One week a team allows just three points and wins by double digits, and its fan base is down in the mouth. Two weeks later, the same team gives up 45 points and loses by a dozen, and the same fan base is encouraged.

Such is an example of the ebb and flow of public perception concerning the Arkansas Razorbacks through five weeks of play. It would seem Hog fans feel better about their team following last Saturday’s 45-33 loss to Texas A&M than they did after the Razorbacks’ 24-3 victory over Southern Miss on Sept. 14.

No doubt, Arkansas made the contest with the Aggies and their stellar quarterback Johnny Manziel more interesting than many thought it would be going into the game. One could even convincingly argue that the game was closer than the final 12-point margin. A play here or there, and it’s conceivable the Razorbacks could have had an upset in their crosshairs.

On the flipside, it just as easily could be rebutted that Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin played it relatively safe in the second half and was content to nurse a double-digit lead in the steady rain and protect his all-star quarterback from potential harm. Manziel burned the Hogs in the first half, and given more chances in the second, he likely would have again.

You see, it’s all how you want to look at it.

That’s why I’d suggest fans shouldn’t make too much or too little out of the outcome on the A&M game. There really is no other team quite like the Aggies in all of college football. Against a team like Alabama, Manziel is a great equalizer, while against a squad like Arkansas, he’s a wonderful insurance policy that keeps a defense hogtied in a base set, allowing the Aggies to be effective and balanced offensively.

Arkansas (3-2, 0-1 SEC) at No. 18 Florida (3-1, 2-0 SEC)

When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5, 2013
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Fla.

I would agree the Razorbacks did show promise for the future against the Aggies. Sophomore quarterback Brandon Allen played well by anyone’s estimation even with the two interceptions. Returning to the lineup after missing the Rutgers game with a shoulder injury, Allen completed 17 of 36 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns.

Freshmen offensive linemen Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper played very well in their first starts. The backfield tandem of sophomore Jonathan Williams and freshman Alex Collis continued to produce at a fine clip.

There were also some bright spots on defense with freshmen like Darius Philon and Deatrich Wise making big-time plays.

Fans also learned a bit more about Arkansas’ coaching staff. After a somewhat one-sided approach to play calling through the Razorbacks’ first four games, many Hog fans feared head coach Bret Bielema and his offensive coordinator Jim Chaney would be reticent to put the ball in the air half as much as Arkansas did against the Aggies.

But Arkansas’ brain trust called a game that gave the Razorbacks a chance to win. Likewise Defensive coordinator Chris Ash gave the Hogs a chance, by playing base defense and not being drawn into a trap to blitz Manziel or give them too much man coverage for him to exploit. Yes, the Hogs gave up 45 points, but it could have been worse. Remember, the Aggies rang up 42 on Alabama two weeks ago, the same Crimson Tide squad that stonewalled Ole Miss, 25-0 Saturday.

Give the Arkansas’ coaching staff more talent, and Hog fans might truly see some excitement in Razorback Stadium.

All that being said, the Razorbacks face an entirely different challenge at No. 18 Florida on Saturday. Unlike the Aggies, the Gators are a defensive powerhouse. They’re ranked second in the nation in overall defense, allowing just 202.5 yards per game and just 12.8 points per game. Florida’s first in the nation against the run, allowing just 53.5 yards per game, and is sixth against the pass, allowing 149 yards per game.

The Gators aren’t an offensive juggernaut, but frankly with defensive numbers like those, they don’t have to be.

Coach Will Muschamp’s squad lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel for the season, but Tyler Murphy played well in his stead quarterbacking Florida to a 24-7 defeat of Kentucky.

It will be interesting to see if the Razorbacks can successfully move the ball and score against the Gators, especially in the Swamp. It’s another big test for Arkansas and Bielema in his first year coaching in the SEC, and another chance for Hog fans to see what this team is made of.

A First

When Bielema accepted the Razorbacks’ head coaching position last December, he said he wanted to bring something to Arkansas that the fans had never experienced before.

Bielema was referencing the fact that Arkansas had never won an SEC championship since beginning play in the league in 1992. However, Bielema could guide the Razorbacks to a lesser but still important first on Saturday against the Gators.

Should Arkansas upset Will Muschamp’s squad, it would be the Hogs’ first win over Florida in SEC play. The Razorbacks are 0-8 against the Gators since joining the league, including six regular-season meetings and two in the SEC Championship Game in 1995 and 2006.

Florida is the only team in the league Arkansas has not beaten in conference play, other than Missouri. Arkansas and Missouri have yet to meet as conference foes, although that will change next season when the Razorbacks and Tigers meet on their final regular-season game of the 2014 season.

The Razorbacks are 1-8 against the Florida in the all-time series, defeating the Gators in their lone meeting prior to Arkansas joining the SEC in the 1982 Bluebonnet Bowl. Led by such Razorback greats as Bill Ray Smith Jr., Gary Anderson, Tom Jones, Jesse Clark, Richard Richardson, Marcus Elliot and Steve Korte, the Hogs defeated the Gators, 28-24, in the last bowl game Lou Holtz coached at Arkansas.