First fourth of Hogs’ season has everyone on edge

The Arkansas-Texas A&M football game last Saturday was a thriller to everyone but Razorbacks fans.

To an impartial fan, ESPN couldn’t have televised a much more exciting game.

However, to Hog fans it was a reoccurring nightmare that’s hard to shake. The 50-43 overtime loss was the sixth straight to Texas A&M, which equals the Razorbacks’ longest losing streak to the Aggies.

It was the Hogs’ third overtime loss to the Aggies in four seasons.

And perhaps, the most disheartening fact of all is that it was the third time in five games that the Razorbacks have held a double-digit lead — Arkansas led 21-7 with 10:21 left in the second quarter — only to let the game get away from them.

It’s tough to stomach and tough to reconcile.

As has been said many times in recent years, the Razorbacks were a play or two away from winning the ballgame. That fact might even make the loss and the situation the Razorbacks are in seem even worse.

Where are the Hogs after a fourth of the season?

They stand 1-2 overall and 0-1 in the SEC with nine regular-season games to play.

Certainly, nothing is written in stone for the season, but the tea leaves don’t look good from the grandstands with the meat of the schedule staring the Razorbacks in the face after this Saturday’s 11 a.m. game with New Mexico State (2-2).

Arkansas will be on the road for three of its four games in October — at South Carolina on the 7th, at Alabama on the 14th, and at Ole Miss on the 28th. The Razorbacks play host to Auburn on Oct. 21. That’s a daunting schedule for any team in the SEC that’s not coached by Nick Saban.

With all due respect to New Mexico State, the Razorbacks should be 2-2 going into October. If they can manage the same record in October, that will be an accomplishment. If they can go 3-1 in October, I’d say the Razorbacks would be on a roll.

However, based on the Razorbacks slipshod play in their first three games, there is every chance the Hogs might go 1-3 or even 0-4 in October. Bret Bielema’s Hogs are playing too many loose ends to be a consistent winner up to this point in the season.

Arkansas’ offense made gains from their loss to TCU to their loss to Texas A&M. Certainly, pass protection remains an issue with Allen being sacked six times, and hurried and hit too often for anyone’s comfort, but Arkansas moved the ball somewhat consistently against the Aggies and put points on the scoreboard.

However, the Aggies victimized the Razorbacks’ defense and special teams with big plays.

After not giving up a play for more than 22 yards in their first two games, the Razorbacks struggled mightily against A&M.

The Aggies had scoring plays of 81 and 100 yards by receiver Christian Kirk and 23 and 44 yards by running back Keith Ford.

Aggies quarterback Kelly Mond had a 79-yard run that set up a field goal, and if the officials hadn’t have botched a call by whistling the play dead when Mond did not step out of bounds, he would have had a long touchdown run to his credit.

Kirk’s 100-yard kick-off return for a touchdown was a beautifully executed return with A&M blocker carving a seam for the splendidly swift Kirk.

In an effort to keep it out of Kirk’s hands on the next kickoff, a pooch kick resulted in the Aggies starting at midfield, trailing Arkansas 43-40. Arkansas’ defense didn’t allow a touchdown, but A&M’s second field goal sent the game to overtime.

Those two special teams breakdowns hurt the Hogs’ chances of winning. The Razorbacks use a lot of young players on special teams, as do many college teams. Special-team breakdowns early in the season are understandable, but no less costly.

The Aggies are an explosive team, but it’s no secret the Razorbacks must tighten up their play on defense and special teams if they are to have a chance at a winning record this season.

Credit must be given to Arkansas offensive coordinator Dan Enos for his creative game planning and play calling against the Aggies. Using freshman running back Chase Hayden as a Wildcat quarterback and 6-7, 260-pound quarterback Cole Kelly as a short-yardage runner was effective. The additions to the Hogs usual pro set threw off the Aggies.

Time will only tell if the additions will remain effective now that teams know to expect them, but it’s good to see an offensive coordinator maximize the talent he has on hand.

Statistically Austin Allen had his best game of the season, completing 12 of 25 passes for two touchdowns and a costly interception for 229 yards. The interception clenched the game for the Aggies when safety Armani Watts knifed in front of Allen’s pass intended for tight end Cheyenne O’Grady in the end zone during overtime.

Earlier in the game, Allen’s body language coming off the field after a failed drive drew social-media criticism from observers. Allen was obviously verbalizing his displeasure with the way things were going. Some called the display a lack of leadership, but what I’ll say is that the team responded with two drives for scores afterward.

Fans in the stands are too far away to interpret exactly what’s being said on the sidelines and fans on TV only see part of what is happening and hear none of what is being said.

I’ve viewed quarterbacks like New England’s Tom Brady and former NFL great Peyton Manning, when he was with Indianapolis and Denver, express similar displeasure with situations and play by their teammates. Football is not a stoic game.

I agree Allen’s mannerisms coupled with the fan base’s frustration and anger over losing opened up the opportunity for questions, however, that frustration and anger doesn’t justify blanket comments about Allen’s leadership abilities and character based on seeing only what the TV cameras showed.

I wonder if all who are criticizing Allen would want video footage of their own reactions from the stands or their living rooms on Saturday to be broadcast for the world to see?