The fact that Auburn defeated Arkansas last Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium wasn’t a shock.
Going into the game, I had picked the Razorbacks to win, but I had a feeling the Hogs would have a hard time with the Tigers’ running game, and in turn that the Razorbacks would find the Tigers’ defensive front difficult to deal with.
Heck, it ran through my mind that Vegas’ 10-point spread might be too little if big plays snowballed on the Hogs in a similar fashion to their Texas A&M loss.
However, it never crossed my mind that Auburn would outright embarrass the Razorbacks.
The 56-3 loss is the worst I can remember for an Arkansas team believed to be in the same class as the opponent. I think it’s worse than the 51-7 drubbing Jimmy Johnson’s 1987 Miami Hurricanes administered to the Razorbacks in Little Rock during Ken Hatfield’s fourth season as Arkansas’ head coach.
Things were never really the same for Hatfield, an All-American punt returner for the Razorbacks 1964 national championship team, after that loss. Arkansas finished the season with nine wins that season, but the expectation that year was for Arkansas to win the Southwest Conference. Hatfield’s Hogs accomplished that the next two seasons, but the dissatisfaction among Arkansas fans and athletics director Frank Broyles never really changed following that Miami game. Some things are hard to forget.
When Hatfield saw an opportunity at Clemson in January of 1990 where he could take over as head coach and take his assistants with him, he made the leap leaving his alma mater behind.
Coincidentally, this is Bret Bielema’s fourth season at the helm of the Razorbacks’ program. It’s not 1987, and Jeff Long certainly isn’t Frank Broyles. However, Arkansas fans are similar today to the way they were in 1987. The Razorbacks are a source of pride to them. Hog fans do understand that the Razorbacks can’t win them all, and they also understand the difficulty of the playing in the SEC West. But like any fan base, they don’t like to be embarrassed, and there’s no way around it, last Saturday’s loss was embarrassing.
Was it a program shaking loss?
That’s a tough question. Bielema is entrenched as the head coach for the time being. His buy-out clause ensures no rash and, in my opinion, unwarranted move will be made. Bielema has proven to be a capable coach at Wisconsin and Arkansas. He’s the same coach today as he was prior to the loss. Fans need to remember that when looking to vent.
However, the honeymoon between Bielema and the fans is likely over. The Auburn loss won’t be forgotten, and it will likely be used as ammunition against him for the rest of his tenure at Arkansas.
We don’t know how Bielema will handle the loss within the program. Frankly, with four games to play, an immediate and complete overhaul on the field might only make things worse for a team with a 5-3 record overall.
With four games to play, the season is not over. Arkansas should still win enough to make a bowl game. The Hogs just need one more. There is a chance for the Razorbacks to rebound and win two, three, or even four more games in the regular season.
Yes, I agree that beating Florida or LSU seems a bit unlikely at this point, and road trips to Mississippi State and Missouri also look iffy in the haze of Saturday night’s loss. But a turnaround can happen.
I’m not going to pretend that I have answers for what ails the Razorbacks, particularly in the short term. Bielema and his staff are the ones that have to figure that out.
In the long run, though, Bielema and his staff need to seriously question just about everything within the program. Bielema has said the foundation of the program he is building was offensive and defensive lineman. The Razorbacks are getting worked over on both sides of the line of scrimmage on a routine basis eight games into the season. At some point youth and inexperience aren’t good excuses.
Bielema and his Razorbacks have four opportunities to make something positive happen with this season. I’m looking forward to seeing what they can do. But this Saturday’s open date has come at good time. Getting a little distance from the Razorbacks’ performance against Auburn will probably be good for the fans and the team.
Meanwhile, the Razorbacks basketball squad plays their first exhibition game of the season Friday against Central Missouri at Bud Walton Arena. That might help us cleanse our palate’s from last week’s distasteful loss.