Razorback fans with any tenure know that Bobby Petrino is an excellent coach.
For some Hog fans his four-year stint at Arkansas — particularly in 2010 and 2011 when the Razorbacks combined for a 22-5 mark — are their glory days for the program.
Even for an old head like me that has been following the team in some form or fashion since my childhood in the mid-1970s, those years rank among the most accomplished.
Those Razorback teams were talented, but I would argue several more talented Hog teams teams didn’t accomplish as much. Some of that was because the league was top heavy with Alabama and LSU carrying the heaviest sticks in the West and the East being a bit down, but much of it was Petrino’s exacting nature as a coach and his ability to guide an offense to greatness.
Arkansas played solid defense at the time, but was middle of the pack in the SEC. However, Petrino could make most any game interesting by out-scheming the opponent and guiding his players to out-execute the other guys.
I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on Missouri State, but I’ve seen enough material on video and paper to know that they are capable of giving No. 10 Arkansas’ defense some problems for a while on Saturday. Petrino has a number of talented players who transferred in from FBS programs to work with, and no doubt he’ll demand a maximum effort from them.
Next up for the No. 10 Razorbacks
Opponent: Missouri State Bears
When: 6 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 17
Where: Razorback Stadium, Fayetteville
Sept. 24 – Texas A&M at Arlington
Oct. 1 – Alabama
Oct. 8 – at Mississippi State
Oct. 15 – at BYU
Oct. 29 – at Auburn
Nov. 5 – Liberty
Nov. 12 – LSU
Nov. 19 – Ole Miss
Nov. 25 – at Missouri
However, Arkansas’ depth, talent, and execution should take the game over at some point. The Razorbacks are 28-point favorites, and whether the Hogs cover or not, they should win handily on Saturday. Don’t expect an Appalachian State- or Marshall-like surprise. Arkansas head coach Sam Pittman and his staff are too thorough to allow something like that to happen this week, particularly with what is looming down the pike.
Yes, I know the old adage of taking one game at a time. Players and coaches must do that, but fans and the media certainly don’t have that kind of responsibility.
We have the privilege to look ahead, and what’s coming is a murder’s row of opponents. On one hand, it’s a daunting challenge for Pittman’s program. A cynical person might predict a short stay in the Top 10 for the Razorbacks just like last year when the Hogs popped into national prominence for a week before absorbing a 37-0 whipping on the road at Georgia.
Arkansas doesn’t get a shot at the Bulldogs this year, but the Razorbacks do play No. 24 Texas A&M at Arlington, Texas on Sept. 24, No. 2 Alabama at Fayetteville on Oct. 1, Mississippi State at Starkville, Miss. on Oct. 8, and No. 12 BYU at Provo on Oct. 15 before getting an open date on Oct. 22.
That’s a brutal four-game stretch with three games on the road and the only home game being against Alabama, the program that has dominated college football for the last decade and a half.
Mike Leach’s Mississippi State squad is the only one of those teams that’s unranked, but they should be. Even with a schedule that contains LSU and A&M prior to their date with the Hogs, there is a good chance the Bulldogs will be ranked when the Hogs make it to Starkville.
I wonder if the Razorbacks still will be?
The next week is a road trip to Provo where the altitude has been known to make opponents wilt almost as much as the talent BYU deploys.
If Arkansas is undefeated upon their return from Provo, the Hogs should be in the Top 5.
So while the road ahead is challenging, it’s also exciting.
Looking at those four games in a chunk, it’s hard to imagine the Razorbacks winning them all, but as Pittman explained recently when addressing the schedule, if you take them one at a time, the schedule is still incredibly demanding, but maybe not as impossible as it seems when considering all the games at once.
Playing the anticipation game can be fun as a fan — considering the possibilities and scaring yourself with the possible consequences.
For now, Missouri State is on tap, and Hog fans should render all the enjoyment they can out of it before the Hogs tear into the meat of their schedule.
It sounds as if Saturday could be running back Dominque Johnson’s return to action after having knee surgery in January. He closed out last season as the starter, but missed the first two games this season. Raheim “Rocket” Sanders will start again this week. Pittman said he’s earned it. The sophomore from Rockledge, Fla. is leading the SEC in rushing, averaging 136.5 ypg. As Johnson earns more carries, Rocket’s average is likely to come down some, but having Johnson to help pound away at defenses should keep both backs fresh later into the game and possibly open the door for longer runs by both.
Arkansas backup quarterback and receiver Malik Hornsby has enjoyed some playing time in the first two games, but if the Razorbacks can get a handle on Missouri State in the first half, the second half might give the Hogs a chance to work Hornsby under center. That’s no guarantee. Just speculation on a possibility.
LET IT FLY
Arkansas’ receivers have already proven to be more effective this year than what some thought they might be in the spring. Jadon Haselwood, Matt Landers, and Warren Thompson have all proven effective and averaging just over 40 yards receiving a game. Tight end Trey Knox had a great first game against Cincinnati, but has struggled with a sore ankle since. Pittman said in his teleconference Wednesday that highly touted freshmen receivers Quincey McAdo, Isaiah Sategna, and Sam Mbake could see some playing time. That could mean the Hogs might be looking to throw more this week. Razorback quarterback KJ Jefferson has been accurate so far this season, completing 76.6 percent of his passes. He’s completed 36 of 47 passes for 385 yards, 4 touchdowns and no interceptions.