Video still: ArkansasRazorbacks.com
Hapless, helpless, and hopeless. Those are three words no one wants to hear describe their football team, but as the midpoint of the college football season approaches for the Arkansas Razorbacks, that’s where it seems the Hogs find themselves.
The Hogs are 2-3 on the season and 0-2 in SEC play headed into Saturday’s 6:15 p.m. contest with the undefeated and top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (6-0, 3-0) The game will be televised by ESPN.
Saying the Razorbacks have not played well this season is an understatement. Arkansas has lost its last five games against Power 5 opponents. Things look like they are going to get worse for the Razorbacks before they get any better.
Arkansas hasn’t beaten Alabama since the Houston Nutt era in 2006. Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide came from behind to clip Nutt’s last Razorbacks squad in 2007 when an injured Darren McFadden was held out of the last minutes of the game as a precaution for a head injury. Arkansas has played Alabama close a few times since, but has generally been whipped convincingly by the Crimson Tide. Some of the losses have been embarrassing.
Saturday’s expected to be no different, perhaps worse than usual. The Crimson Tide opened up as a 34-point favorite, and while the line has dropped to 28, there is no consolation in being a four-touchdown underdog in SEC play. There is every chance the score could be worse.
Alabama beat Ole Miss, 66-3, and Vanderbilt, 59-0. Texas A&M gave the Crimson Tide a slight scare last week, falling, 27-19, but conventional wisdom is that Alabama may be even more likely to take their frustrations out on the Razorbacks after their play against the Aggies ticked off Saban.
Arkansas’ 48-22 loss to South Carolina was downright embarrassing to Hog fans. Arkansas couldn’t get a push from their offensive front in the running game, and their pass blocking bore no resemblance to protection for starting quarterback Austin Allen.
Allen has the dubious distinction of absorbing more hits than any other collegiate quarterback, according to ESPN.
Allen made a poor decision that led to a pick-6 by South Carolina and later he had the ball knocked from his grasp while rearing back to pass. South Carolina returned the fumble for a touchdown. All of that stemmed from his offensive linemen being unable to protect him.
During the course of the game, Allen injured his shoulder. He played on, but by the fourth quarter when the game was already out of hand, and Arkansas coach Bret Bielema said he was ruled unable to play in the fourth quarter.
Game footage showed that Allen adjusted his throwing slot during the game, likely because he could not lift his arm to throw from the regular overhand slot. Allen was basically winging it sidearm.
Allen has been listed as day-to-day on whether he will play or not much of the week, but the senior from Fayetteville said he would do his best to play earlier this week. Bielema said Allen would likely start on his radio show Thursday night and that an assessment of his play would be made at halftime.
So, Allen will start if he can at all. He’s that much of a competitor, but it might be better if he took this game off for additional healing of the body and mind.
Yes, mind. If there is post-traumatic stress disorder for quarterbacks, then Allen would be a sure-fire candidate. Even if he is cleared to play physically, some thought must be give to his mental state by the coaching staff.
Allen may not have faced concussion protocol, but he’s taken a beating this season, and the hit parade is only going to stop when Arkansas’ offensive line makes it stop by doing their job and protecting the quarterback.
However, if Allen is physically and mentally ready to go then he not only deserves to start, he should start. Arkansas’ chances of beating the Crimson Tide might be between slim and none, but Allen’s experience leading the team gives Arkansas a better chance no matter how slight it may be.
Cole Kelley will have his time to start at some point, but it doesn’t have to be against Alabama. The Crimson Tide has been known to force some of the best and most experienced quarterbacks to melt down. That really doesn’t need to be part of his experience if it doesn’t have to be.
If a victory at Alabama is out of the question, what should Razorbacks fans look for?
Improvement, would be one thing, but that will be hard to ascertain during the course of the game.
Competitive spirit is another thing I would like to see. Playing on emotion usually wears off pretty quickly, but enthusiasm can be sustained. It’s tough, though, when a team relentlessly pounds on you like Alabama does.
More than a few have commented that the Hogs seem flat and uninspired this season. That really needs to change.
As a follower of the Razorbacks, the thing I would most like to see is for the team to put up a fight. Considering how this season has gone that may be too much to expect this week.
Prediction: Alabama 56, Arkansas 20