For the first time in what sees like a long time, the light the Arkansas Razorbacks see at the end of the tunnel isn’t an oncoming train.
Really, it’s only been three weeks, but playing squads as talented and physical as Auburn, Texas A&M, and Alabama in succession is tough, particularly on the heels of losing to Colorado State and North Texas.
There is no way to sugar-coat a 1-5 start or a 65-31 loss to Alabama. Both are awful. It’s miserable for the players, coaches, and fans, but as the Razorbacks move into the second half of the season, there does seem to be some breathing room.
As bad as the loss was, and make no mistake it was bad, the Razorbacks did move the football better last Saturday against a quality opponent — yes, Alabama’s second-team defense is a quality opponent — than they have all season.
That thought gives us all a chance to catch our breath in anticipation of Saturday’s 6:30 p.m. kickoff for the Ole Miss game at War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. The SEC Network will televise the game.
My thoughts since first taking more than a glance at this year’s schedule is that the Razorbacks’ season would hinge on how mentally and physically sound Arkansas would be coming out of the most recent three-game stretch.
While there is no way one on the outside can ever accurately gage a college team’s mental and physical health going into a game, it appears the Razorbacks are relatively healthy physically as they prep for Ole Miss. The offense, at least, should be energized after showing improvement the past three weeks. The unit is slowly finding its way and discovering what it does best.
Defensively, this Arkansas unit is better than what the Razorbacks have put on the field the past two seasons. The question coming out of the Alabama game is whether this group is shellshocked after being dissected for a stunning 65 points.
It’s hard to say. Alabama has the talent and skill to make strong defenses look inept. On plays here and there the Razorbacks’ front seven, made some plays, even winning on the line of scrimmage a few times. We’ll have to wait to see what type of toll being bludgeoned by Bama took.
There is the theory of the “Alabama Hangover.” It’s the idea that Alabama is so physical that they beat a team two weeks in a row. Essentially, playing the Crimson Tide leaves a team so beat up physically and drained mentally that they are incapable of executing well the following Saturday.
I don’t totally dismiss the theory, but I think it has more to do with the character of team in question than it does Alabama’s supremacy. Is the team mentally tough enough to forget what happened against the Crimson Tide and move forward or will it wallow in its misery?
I think the Razorbacks did do some wallowing after giving away the game to Colorado State. I think that loss had the Hogs down, and they continued to play poorly and lost to a solid North Texas squad.
How different would Arkansas’ circumstances appear if they had not given away the Colorado State game, and had showed up to play against North Texas? A 3-3 record right now would look a lot different, and the situation would be more promising.
Since the loss to North Texas, though, it seems the Razorbacks have improved despite the circumstances, and that is to the credit of Arkansas head coach Chad Morris and his staff.
The Razorbacks are improving, but the next step is actually to win. Ole Miss will not make that easy.
The Rebels are 4-2 and have specialized in outscoring opponents that are not physically dominant, rolling up 70 or more points twice, and at least 38 points in every game they have won. The two losses were 62-7 to Alabama and 45-16 to LSU.
The Rebels are perhaps the third best offensive team in the SEC behind No. 1 Alabama and No. 2 Georgia.
Quarterback Jordan Ta’mu is averaging 318.5 yards passing a game and has tossed 13 touchdowns and just four interceptions. He has one of the tallest, most explosive, and most receiving corps in the nation, featuring A.J. Brown (586 yards 4 TDs), D.K. Metcalf (520 yards and 5 TDs), and DaMarkus Lodge (386 yards and 1 touchdown).
The Rebels are 6.5-point favorites easy in the week, which means oddsmakers see Ole Miss as almost 10 points better than the Razorbacks.
Arkansas will have to play their best game of the season to even be in the ballgame, but Ole Miss is not a physically dominating team. That gives the Razorbacks a chance. I’m expecting a scoring shootout Saturday evening in War Memorial Stadium.
At one time, War Memorial Stadium was one of the toughest venues in college football on opponents. The stands are close to the field and the bowled structure captures the fans’ voices and drops it right on top of the playing field.
Arkansas could use some of that old-time fan flavor as part of their recipe to upend the Rebels this Saturday night.