My buddy PM and I were assessing the Razorback's chances against USC during a conversation Saturday afternoon. He said that they were going to get killed. I thought that the defense would play well and that the offense would most likely stink as has been the case the last 2 seasons.
Conversations like these are one of the reasons he and I enjoy sports. Turns out we were both correct. While USC hung 50 points on our heroes, the defense pretty much acquitted itself in a game in which the offense (supposedly kick-started by the elevation of Gus Malzahn from the high school ranks to offensive coordinator) sputtered when it wasn't flat out giving the ball away. Reggie Herring's boys kept the Hogs in the game until the 3rd quarter when the usually sure handed Marcus Monk flubbed an otherwise catchable ball which would up in the hands of a Trojan defender. USC scored 4 plays later for a 23-7 lead. Ball game. Arkansas's defense simply wore down due to lack of depth (linebacker Sam Olajubutu played more than 70 plays) and no rest due to the offense's ineptitude. You can't have that against a good team and expect to win. You can't have that against a Southern Cal and expect not to get your head handed to you.
I consider myself to be an enthusiastic and knowledgeable sports fan. Robert Frost said something along the lines of "I never feel more like an American than when I am at a ballgame." I wouldn't go that far. I happen to feel pretty damn American when I am in the voting booth. But it is a near thing, I will grant you. I think I have missed only 1 or 2 Razorback games in War Memorial in the last 15 years. I like to go to the ballgame. I like being out with my friends in the old neighborhood. If I live to be 100, one of my happiest memories will be seeing the wide-eyed look of wonder and delight on the face of an 8 year old at his first Razorback game. Like the commercial says, you just can't put a price tag on experiences like those.
Having said all of that, I confess to being an agnostic when it comes to all things Razorback. I mean, I root for them, especially when they are playing Ole Miss or LSU. Or Southern Cal for that matter. But I don't live and die with them as do others. Go to http://www.woopig.net to spend some time with those that do. Suffice it to say, it is very ugly right now in Hogland.
Here, for what it is worth, are the thoughts of an agnostic sports fan on the situation as it currently obtains in Fayetteville.
Any team becomes the reflection of its coach, especially when it confronts adversity. And it has long been my thought that the Razorbacks under Houston Nutt don't react well to adversity. I would imagine that it is hard, as a player, to keep your composure when you notice your head coach sweating like a whore in church as he bites his fingernails to the quick. The Razorbacks under Nutt have always hit the panic button for the most part instead of calmly sticking to the plan or going to "Plan B."
Further, before they settled on Matt Jones 5 years ago, they had a quarterback controversy. Last year, the first year post-Jones, they had another one which was partially settled by the emergence of Casey Dick, only to be revived with the hiring of Gus Malzahn and the subsequent arrival of high school superstar Mitch Mustain. While Nutt can't do the first damn thing about what the fans say on the radio or on the Internet, he can quit sending mixed signals about what is going on up there.
Is this Houston Nutt's "make or break" year? Could be. Getting whacked on national TV is never good for business. If they don't win at least 8 games the seat will start to get very warm. But will the next hire achieve appreciably better results? Hard to say. Arkansas is not a very big state. The available pool of SEC caliber players around here is neither deep nor wide. It is hard to envision Arkansas ever being "2 deep" at every position like the semi-pro team they played last night. It may well be that the best the Razorbacks can ever hope for is to contend for the conference every 3-4 years. The talk of a national title, while not sheer folly, is hardly realistic.
Here's my prediction: Unless the hit the panic button, they can win 8 games this year which put them in a decent bowl. Forget last night. The defensive line and the linebackers are pretty damn good. The defensive backs are actually covering guys instead of just trying to knock 'em out which is a marked change for the better.
I though the hiring of Gus Malzahn was one of those "panic button" moments that we have come to expect. Will he become David Cutcliffe or will he be Gerry Faust? Hard to tell from last night's game. His hiring strikes me as on of those "panic button" moments I spoke of earlier. Besides, Alex Woods, the quarterbacks coach, has NFL experience. What's gonna happen when he and Malzahn disagree on who should start? Who does Nutt defer to? The coordinator or the guy who coached on Sunday? It will be interesting.
Still, if they can run as well as last year and throw the ball at all they can win 8 games. Whether that will be enough for the wild boys on the message boards remains to be seen.
I can live with that but I'm agnostic on all things Razorback. The problem for Houston is that there are far more guys like the guys on the boards than there are of me.