With everyone wondering who will be the University of Arkansas’ next athletics director, two football games remain on the schedule.
Arkansas fired its athletics director Jeff Long, and most feel like it is only the precursor the dismissal of head football coach Bret Bielema. If the Razorbacks had not had a hard enough time playing winning football this season, Long’s midweek firing only seems to stack the deck further against the struggling team.
Arkansas (4-6, 1-5 SEC) still harbors hopes of a winning season and a bowl bid, despite suffering through one of the worst seasons in school history. However for that to come to fruition, the Hogs must defeat the Mississippi State Bulldogs (7-2, 3-3 SEC) at 11 a.m. Saturday at Reynolds Razorback Stadium in a CBS-televised game.
Then they have to bounce back on Black Friday and whip Missouri. But first things first. Dan Mullen’s Bulldogs visit Fayetteville still smarting from a close-but-no-cigar loss to No. 1 Alabama last week. The final score was 31-24, and it took everything a banged-up Crimson Tide squad had to walk away from the game undefeated.
The Hogs are a 14-point underdog in their own stadium to the Bulldogs, who feature a sturdy defense and a nifty offense quarterbacked by the multitalented Nick Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald is just the type of quarterback that has flummoxed the Hogs’ defense this season and much of the previous four of Bielema’s tenure. Fitzgerald’s ability to run and pass will force the Hogs to play the Bulldogs straight up, and Arkansas’ front seven has been incapable of achieving a stalemate in SEC play this season much less imposing their will.
Arkansas has generally managed to remain within striking distance for a half this season, but their effort wanes in the second half. This trait can be traced back to the final two games of last season.
Senior quarterback Austin Allen is expected to start Saturday, but he was inaccurate last week in a loss at LSU after missing four games with a shoulder injury, suffered against South Carolina.
Cole Kelley, who started in lieu of Allen, in the previous four games, is off the squad indefinitely after being arrested on alcohol-related charges.
The hope for Hog fans is that the Razorbacks might rally around their coaches, whose jobs are in jeopardy, or even around themselves to fight for victory and a shot against Missouri for a .500 season.
That’s a nice fantasy, but the Bulldogs are playing too well to expect an upset.
Prediction: Mississippi State 38, Arkansas 17
Hogs tangle with Fresno State in a battle of the unbeatens
If you’re planning on attending the Razorbacks’ basketball game at 7 p.m. Friday in Bud Walton Arena, be ready for some action.
Both the Hogs and the Bulldogs of Fresno State average more than 90 points a game and both are undefeated at 2-0. Something has to give. The contest just might go to the team in the best condition in what is shaping up to be a hardwood track meet.
The game can be streamed on the SEC Network-Plus.
“Fresno State is a very dangerous basketball team,” Arkansas coach Mike Anderson said Wednesday. “They are guard-oriented, and they shoot 50 percent from the field. So this is a challenge. Our team has a nice rhythm going. It’s an opportunity for us to get better and to test ourselves against a very good basketball team.”
It’s no surprise the Razorbacks opened the season at 2-0, but they not only won, but ran away with blowout victories over Samford, 95-56, and Bucknell, 101-73.
Fresno State were as impressive in their first two games, defeating California-Santa Cruz, 96-65, and California North Northridge, 89-73.
“This is going to be an up tempo game,” Anderson said. “They like to get up and down the floor, too. We have to rebound the basketball. They got 22 offensive rebounds in two games. They go to the boards. They have balance, and they have guys that come off the bench. They are very much like us.
“We’re going to get their best shot. It’s their first game on the road. It’s going to be an interesting game to watch and exciting game to play in.”
As expected Arkansas senior guards Jaylen Barford and Daryl Macon are leading the way from a scoring standpoint. Barford is averaging 21.5 points after scoring a career high of 27 against Bucknell, while Macon is averaging 18.5 ppg.
“They are showing some maturity and trust,” Anderson said. “They are getting used to playing with each other and their teammates. They are playing and working together for the good of the team, and their play stands out even more by doing so.”
Anderson has also been pleased with the play for freshman forward Daniel Gafford of El Dorado, who is averaging 12.5 points and 3.5 rebounds in an average of 16.5 minutes a game.
“He’s got a great ceiling,” Anderson said. “I think you can see that. You can’t teach 6-11 or that kind of athletic ability. He’s got a great motor. He’s relentless. Sometimes that gets him in trouble. We have to calm him down and get that out of him, or he’s going to get a lot of over-the-back fouls and touch fouls.
“But the only way you learn is to keep on playing, get more minutes and work those things out. He can wreak havoc on the defensive end because of his length and athletic ability.”
Anderson sees more playing time in Gafford’s future as he adapts to the the college game.
“He fouled out in just 15 minutes in the opener,” Anderson said. “That could have been 20 to 23 minutes if he had not fouled out.”