Razorbacks have much to prove against Vanderbilt

Chad Morris’ Arkansas Razorbacks got off the schneid last week with a 23-0 blanking of Tulsa, ending an embarrassing six-game losing streak.

This week his Hogs will look to start a new streak — a winning streak — by defeating Vanderbilt (3-5,0-4 SEC). A victory for the Razorbacks (2-6, 0-4 SEC) would also end a seven-game SEC losing streak that started just over a year ago following Arkansas’ 38-37 victory over Ole Miss, the Hogs’ last SEC win.

Some would have you believe that Saturday’s 11 a.m., SEC Network-televised game isn’t that important in the grand scheme of Morris’ rebuilding process at Arkansas. Their thought is that Arkansas moving from a two-win to a three-win team really isn’t that significant one way or the other.

Next up for the Razorbacks

Opponent: vs. Vanderbilt
When: 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 27
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
TV: SEC Network

Remaining schedule

Nov. 10 – LSU
Nov. 17 – at Mississippi State
Nov. 23 – at Missouri

It’s the idea that this is a throwaway season for Arkansas. Since the Razorbacks likely won’t win six games and earn a bowl bid, they would have you believe the Hogs’ final four games have no meaning. It’s the idea that this season is already a waste so why worry about it.

Nothing could be further from the truth. My take is that anyone espousing that type of thinking doesn’t understand winning and what having a winning attitude truly means.

Every game matters. Every one of them. Morris, himself, has constantly said that everything matters in his program since the day he stepped on campus, and that includes the final four games this season.

Saturday’s game should be the single-most important football matter to everyone within the Razorback program and also for everyone that cheers for them.

Wins are always precious. They have to be valued above everything but integrity within a football program or that program will not produce nearly enough of them to make anyone proud.

Some have already written off this season. Some wrote it off when the Hogs blew a double-digit lead in the second game of the season against Colorado State. For others it might have been the blow-out loss to North Texas the following week. No doubt that game was a low point.

Arkansas’ 1992 loss to The Citadel that cost then head coach Jack Crowe his job might have been more stunning at the time, but I’m not sure Arkansas’ program has suffered a lower point than getting beat up by the Mean Green in Reynolds Razorback Stadium earlier this year.

Thankfully though, Morris and his Razorbacks didn’t throw in the towel with that loss. Two weeks later the Razorbacks fought their guts out against Texas A&M and gave the Aggies all they wanted in 24-17 loss, despite suffering several self-inflicted wounds.

In-game injuries to quarterback Ty Storey and top running backs Rakeem Boyd and Devwah Whaley kept the Razorbacks from holding off Ole Miss in the fourth quarter in a 37-33 loss two weeks ago.

Both were heartbreaking losses, but Morris kept his Razorbacks’ minds focused, and they routed an admittedly bad Tulsa team without Storey, Whaley, and starting left tackle Colton Jackson, who missed the game because of back spasms. The Razorbacks are looking to build off that success this weekend.

Now the opportunity against Vanderbilt comes, and it is a huge one for Morris and his Hogs, despite what some may think.

With all due respect to Vanderbilt, which proved its mettle in close losses to No. 3 Notre Dame, No. 9 Florida, and No. 12 Kentucky, Saturday’s game is the Razorbacks’ best opportunity on paper to post a win in their final four games. Vandy is just a 1-point favorite in the game; however, Coach Derek Mason’s Commodores are the epitome of a team that has played better than its record.

A victory Saturday even if it is the last one the Razorbacks get this season would mean much for Morris in a variety of ways.

While fans didn’t hold Bret Bielema’s 0-13 SEC start against him because of the situation Bobby Petrino left him, it weighed heavily on him when fans were ready to ditch him during his fifth season.

A victory Saturday would at least allow Morris to equal Bielema’s first-season win total and make certain the Razorbacks aren’t blanked again in SEC play. It would be Morris’ first SEC victory, which might not end up being special to Morris, but it is a hurdle he needs to get over this season.

Perhaps most importantly, a victory Saturday will give the Razorbacks and their fans hope going down the stretch.

A two-game winning streak going into next week’s open date shows progress and keeps hope alive for a shot at No. 5 LSU at Razorback Stadium on Nov. 10. Yes, it might be false hope, but weirder things have happened in college football and in Arkansas’ series with LSU.

No matter the outcome of Saturday’s game, the Razorbacks will get their shot at LSU, but a victory over Vanderbilt Saturday would make the run up to that game that much more palatable to Arkansas fans.

A victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday would show a great deal of progress from the early growing pains of Morris’ tenure as coach because to beat the Commodores, the Razorbacks will have to play fundamentally sound football. That’s something that escaped Arkansas much of the season.

To some a victory over Vanderbilt might not seem like much, but it would be the biggest and most positive accomplishment Morris’s Hogs will have made on the football field this season.

Anyone who doesn’t think that is important for Arkansas’ struggling football program should think again.