Photo: Walt Beazley, ArkansasRazorbacks.com
As big as Arkansas’ 54-46 victory over Auburn was last week, the Razorbacks’ 3 p.m. contest with the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks is just as consequential.
Forget the fact that the Skyhawks play a division down from the Hogs as a FCS squad or that Ole Miss plastered UT-Martin, 76-3, in both team’s season opener. The Razorbacks need a victory on Saturday just as much as they did a week ago to remain in the running for a bowl bid.
The Hogs (3-4) still need three victories in their last five games to secure a bowl bid, and for that total, a victory over the Skyhawks (5-2) counts just as much as one over any of the Razorbacks remaining SEC opponents — Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State or Missouri.
With this Razorbacks squad nothing can be taken for granted. Many — including me — had all but marked down Arkansas victories against the likes of Toledo and Texas Tech, but the Razorbacks, who were expected to be a top 25 team by most, struggled with injuries, depth and a good dose of overconfidence and 1-2 in their first three nonconference games.
By winning two of their last three games, it appears the Razorbacks could have rediscovered the edge that allowed them to close last season in such a strong fashion, the habit of winning has not yet been engrained within Bret Bielema’s Razorback program. The roots are still shallow.
The Razorbacks do have some momentum after their four-overtime victory over Auburn in which the squad showed more guts and determination than perhaps at any one point since Bielema took over the program. However that momentum and edge remains tenuous at best. It’s not really a question of winning. The Razorbacks should do that. But what remains to be seen is if Arkansas will take last week’s victory on continue to build upon it or will they backslide.
The only way for the Razorbacks to retain that edge and sustain that momentum is to play with as much conviction and intensity as it did in the overtime periods last Saturday. It will be hard to do. The Skyhawks don’t command the respect that an SEC opponent does, but good teams set a standard of play and maintain it no matter whom the competition may be.
Bielema and his staff need for the Razorbacks to maintain that overtime urgency for the next five weeks. Complacency is Arkansas’ enemy, and one of the biggest questions going into this game with an overmatched opponent is can a team that has a tendency to pick its spots play with urgency for 60 minutes. The Razorbacks have played better since falling to Texas A&M in overtime, even in the loss at Alabama, but even still the Hogs tend to let up when it has a team down rather than going for the jugular.
The Razorbacks did show a great amount of fortitude in the overtime period and a bit of that killer instinct in the fourth overtime period. One hopes it will be on display this week against the Skyhawks. The Razorbacks need work themselves into an opportunistic state of mind, where they don’t let their opponents up once they have knocked them to the ground.
Drew Morgan showed some killer instinct when the junior receiver from Greenwood shook off a tackle on the first play of the fourth overtime and raced 25 yards for a touchdown.
Likewise quarterback Brandon Allen delivered like he never had before in the overtime periods, completing clutch pass after clutch pass to help the Razorbacks find victory where they had only suffered defeat over the last four seasons.
Defensively, the Razorbacks played well for most of the game, but when they saw their shot in the fourth overtime, the Hogs shut the door on the Tigers with two pass break-ups and a big run stop on their first play defensive play of OT.
Another benefit of playing the game with urgency and not letting up would be the possibility of resting some starters in the fourth quarter. The Razorbacks’ next four games are going to be huge challenges for the Hogs. The Razorbacks need to win Saturday’s game first, but then be very smart about how much key players like running back Alex Collins and linebacker Brooks Ellis play. Both need to be as fresh and injury-free as possible if the Razorbacks are to make a strong stretch run. If they or any other key Hogs could get a quarter’s worth of rest on Saturday, it might just pay dividends down the road.
Crip Hall Award
With Saturday’s contest being homecoming, the most outstanding senior player will receive the Crip Hall Award. Quarterback Brandon Allen has to be the odds on favorite to win the honor.
Allen along with center Mitch Smothers and guard Sebastian Tretola are the only other seniors to start on offense. Defensively, only safety Rohan Gains and tackle DeMarcus Hodge are starters, and it’s doubtful either will be able to outstat the starting quarterback.
2016 Football Schedule
Sept. 3 Louisiana Tech
Sept. 10 at TCU
Sept. 17 Texas State
Sept. 24 vs. Texas A&M (Dallas)
Oct. 1 Alcorn State (Little Rock)
Oct. 8 Alabama
Oct. 15 Ole Miss
Oct. 22 at Auburn
Nov. 5 Florida
Nov. 12 LSU
Nov. 19 at Mississippi State
Nov. 26 at Missouri
2016 Schedule Finalized
The Razorbacks will host four SEC games in Fayetteville for the first time ever next season as the Hogs attempt to negotiate a schedule filled with heavyweights.
As daunting as Arkansas’ schedule have been lately, the Razorbacks may play the toughest slate of opponents they have every faced with Texas Tech and Tennessee going off the schedule and TCU and Florida replacing them.
The Razorbacks open the season Sept. 3 with a home game against Louisiana Tech before traveling to Fort Worth to face TCU on Sept. 10. The Razorbacks host Texas State at home on Sept. 17 before heading back across the border to face Texas A&M in their annual game at Arlington on Sept. 24.
The Razorbacks make their annual trip to Little Rock where they host Alcorn State on Oct. 1 before returning home to host Alabama on Oct. 8 and Ole Miss on Oct. 15. The Razorbacks travel to Auburn on Oct. 22, and then enjoy what will likely be a much-needed open date on Oct. 29. The Razorbacks play to Florida on Nov. 5 and LSU on Nov. 12.
The Razorbacks then close out the regular season with trips to Mississippi State on Nov. 19 and to Missouri on Nov. 26.
It’s an outstanding schedule with a great slate of home games, but, wow, that’s a demanding schedule.
Open Hoops Practice
While expectations aren’t high for Mike Anderson’s undermanned Razorbacks basketball team, we are on the cusp of the season tipping off.
Saturday the Razorbacks will hold an open practice at 11 a.m. in Walton Arena. During Nolan Richardson’s tenure as basketball coach, open practices were almost and everyday occurrence. With the prevalence of social media, that’s no longer an option. So if you’re hoping to see a Hog workout, Saturday could be the last chance with the Red-White Game being held at 5 p.m. on Sunday. The Razorbacks will be signing autographs at 4 p.m. Sunday when the doors open.
The Razorbacks will play their exhibition games on Nov. 5 against Southwest Oklahoma State and Nov. 10 against Delta State before opening the season Nov. 13 against Southern University.