Week-to-week improvement key to Hogs’ fortune, not any one game

Photo: ArkansasRazorbacks.com

Many Arkansas Razorbacks fans are pointing to next week’s game at South Carolina as THE GAME.

By THE GAME, I mean a make-or-break game for the Razorbacks’ football season. The conventional wisdom is that if the Razorbacks can go to South Carolina and win that game, there would seem to be a possibility of the Razorbacks’ salvaging the 2017 season.

It would keep the hope alive of winning six to seven games, which would basically be status quo for the program under fifth-year coach Bret Bielema.

Lose at South Carolina, and it’s hard to find four to five victories from that point on with the likes of Alabama, Auburn, Ole Miss, LSU, Mississippi State and Missouri remaining in conference play.

There probably is a lot of truth in that line of thinking, but there is one key fault with that reasoning. The Hogs have to defeat the New Mexico State Aggies at 11 a.m, Saturday at Donald W. Reynolds Razorbacks Stadium before that scenario can even be considered.

The Razorbacks are guaranteed nothing on Saturday.

That’s something that should be crystal clear to Hog fans with the Razorbacks underperforming dating back to the final two games of last season.

The Razorbacks aren’t playing well enough to consider any opponent or any game as inconsequential. The Razorbacks need every victory they can get. The Razorbacks looking forward to the game at South Carolina on Oct. 7 would be a recipe for disaster this Saturday against the Aggies.

Now, fans and the media have the luxury of looking ahead and making forecasts because our feelings, and thoughts and guesses and predictions have absolutely no bearing on any of the games.

However, instead of looking forward, why not concentrate on the game that’s staring us in the eye? Why not get excited about the New Mexico State game?

As Hog fans, it’s the game we have this week, and that makes it more important than the three previous games this season and the eight that are coming down the road.

At this juncture in the season with the Hogs sitting at 1-2, my desire is to see improvement from the Razorbacks week to week. While the offense still struggled in the 50-43 overtime loss to Texas A&M, overall it performed much better than it did in the 28-7 loss to TCU.

Some would argue that the offense played well enough to win, but that the big plays given up in the kicking game and by the defense negated what could have been a winning performance.

To me there is a strong case for that argument, just like the converse could be argued about the loss to TCU.

What I’d like to see against this brand of Aggies is across the board improvement from the Hogs. If that happens, the Razorback should not only win the game but they should also be better prepared for THE GAME the following week at South Carolina.

Bielema said Thursday night that there would be changes made to special teams this week. On one hand that sounds good, but on the other it worries me. Whenever players are plugged in to new roles, it opens the opportunity for more mistakes to happen, for something to be left undone, a critical coaching point not to be emphasized with a player taking on a new role.

What’s obvious or rudimentary or second-hand to a coach, might be a point that a player with a new role has never encountered, or even if he has, it might not be second nature, yet.

As we’ve seen the last two weeks, lapses in the kicking game on the field and from the sidelines can prove to be costly.

It might be a bit too strong to say that special teams play lost the last two games, but Arkansas’ special teams mistakes certainly made the day easier for A&M and TCU. I just hope greater issues aren’t created in trying to correct the other mistakes.

Coaching at Arkansas is somewhat comparable to being the Little Dutch Boy, who stuck his finger in the dike to stop a leak, but as a result two other leaks sprung open.

Houston Nutt struggled with that during his tenure from 1998-2007. Initially, I thought Bielema was more of a details person than Nutt, but some of the same coaching issues seem to have crept into his program as well the last two seasons.

It will be interesting to see if Bielema and his staff can shore up some the issues without other ones cropping up.

While it appeared the Razorbacks had improved defensively through the first two games, last Saturday looked like old times with A&M plundering Arkansas’ defense for big play after big play.

New Mexico State isn’t as athletic as A&M, but players being misaligned and taking poor tackling angles had as much or more to do with the mistakes as the Aggies’ speed or the Hogs’ lack of it.

If the Razorbacks can find a way to improve week to week and game to game, maybe by the end of the season, the Hogs will work themselves into a better football team, one Hog fans can ultimately have pride in.