So close seems so far from this perspective. Still, I may have been pessimistic heading into last week's game, but there's no reason to keep that up the rest of the season. Fans weren't the only ones seeing those offensive deficiencies under the spotlight. And though I don't cotton to the idea of glory through suffering, elite athletes can often get a little boost from humility. The only offense more fearsome than Ryan Mallett and his receivers is that same offense with something to prove.
Bobby Petrino doesn't get paid to make analogies, so I'll forgive him for setting the Hogs up to get a smooth stone to the head from the national-championship-defending David. Clearly, he felt last year's lost was about confidence, and he was probably right, but how do you account for this year's loss? The Tide couldn't have found a more hostile environment short of the Arctic, and Arkansas's early lead would have proved insurmountable to most teams. Only this so-called Goliath sprang a leak in the second half. Again.
Four or five more third-down conversions could have choked out Alabama, bought us enough time to cling to that lead. Instead, the Hogs were 2 of 10 for the day, again losing the possession battle by a good eight minutes and hanging a strong but limited defense out to dry. Mallett threw a couple costly interceptions, yes, but the running backs and o-line couldn't put together a rushing attack, and even our beloved receivers dropped some musts.
New offensive line coach Chris Klenakis has by now had ample time to adjust his approach to SEC defensive lines, and this lack of improvement in our running game will lie at his feet if something doesn't change in the coming weeks. We were three feet better than last year, rushing for a whopping 64 rather than 63 yards. Petrino continues to insist on balance in his play calling, and the value he places on the ground game can surely manifest itself in personnel decisions.
The timetable for this team has been foreshortened by what many perceive as the imminent departure of our star quarterback. That's not fair to either Mallett or his teammates. Most will dump the burden of this loss on Mallett's shoulders, right where their hopes once rested. The unseemly and apocryphal tales of his off-field antics will blossom and ferment. The "headcase" narrative isn't going away. Yes, he made three bad decisions on Saturday. But don't let that obscure the good works of this fallen messiah. He's got eight more opportunities to redeem himself, and odds are he'll rise again.
Running the table isn't out of the question, even with a few glaring deficiencies, though our SEC Championship hopes are probably dead. If Alabama was going to lose a game against a western rival, they would have done so last weekend. Still, any team that wins out in what many agree is the toughest division in college football will play themselves into the running for a BCS bid. That may be small comfort in a long shot, but seasons don't always turn on a single game, and coming within one quarter of killing an actual giant speaks to the evolving quality of the program.
The Razorbacks get a week on ice to think about what they have or haven't done. Fans and players alike will need the rest and recuperation, both mentally and physically. My intuition tells me Texas A&M will face a team that's better for its failures and dead set on burying them for good.