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Concerns real and imagined for Hogs in week three

On the running game, defensive pressure and the disappearance of Greg Childs.



A couple of short weeks ago in this space, I cited the unnatural calm that has taken hold of Arkansas Razorback fans* in the Petrino era.

Panic has not taken a sudden foothold, but after vigorously dispatching two softballs by an aggregate 103-10 tally, the Hogs have several alleged "concerns" if you derive even a sliver of credibility from talk radio callers or message board posters.

Oh, that running game. The Wingo kid dances around! Dennis Johnson's hurt or in the doghouse! Joe Adams is gonna get kilt if he lines up as a tailback!

Greg Childs has done a D.B. Cooper.

No sacks against New Mexico — and an injury of unknown extent to Jake Bequette — means our pass rush is malfunctioning.

And that disturbing minus two in the turnover department against the Lobos, as well as several penalties of the inexcusable variety, means we are going to get torched in Tuscaloosa on Sept. 24. Because, after all, Nick Saban preys on the foe's missteps.

What wailing and gnashing there is should be expected from the masochist wing of the fanbase. The microscope is tuned much more acutely now that Arkansas has tasted BCS; ergo, any blemish right now could fester into an abscess later if not treated. Even after the Hogs' 10-3 campaign, it was nigh impossible to reflect on the season without giving lip service to Mallett's ill-advised throws against the Tide, the fateful replay reviews on the Plains and the "scoop and score" in New Orleans that regrettably never came to pass.

During games, I am as bankrupt of perspective on these issues as anyone. One tends to get so emotionally invested (or maybe so drunk) while watching the proceedings that the albatross of oppressive worry sticks around for a day or so after the game. This is, incidentally, why I pen this column on Monday so I can feign level-headedness.

In assessing these common gripes, I would say two are very real issues as we wrap up our de facto exhibition schedule against Troy on Saturday.

Childs' vanishing act is bothersome because there were moments Saturday that he appeared frustrated at best, disillusioned at worst. Whether lingering effects of the patella injury are dampening his production is conjecture. My observation, rather, is that Cobi Hamilton's emergence (three 100-yard games and seven touchdowns in the seven games since Childs' injury) has simply mitigated the need for Childs to be targeted 10-12 times per game. The staff is trying to ease Childs back into action but it may be his psyche rather than his knee that is in greater jeopardy.

As Willy Robinson noted post-game, the lack of sacks was due to New Mexico slogging its way into manageable down-and-distance situations and thereby discouraging a lot of heavy blitzing. This merits attention because it's exactly how Alabama suppresses its opponents.

On the other hand, the running game quibbles are misplaced. There will be no workhorse back this year, but with two ambulatory quarterbacks and four able runners in tow, rushing production should generally be as it was a year ago.

Troy represents another incrementally better opponent. Being the "class of the Sun Belt" could be considered damnation by faint praise, I suppose, but Larry Blakeney is a competent coach who is unafraid to have his team show more wrinkles than the Hogs' first two victims did.

What will Petrino and Garrick McGee put on display, then? (Other than McGee's unnerving mustache, I mean.) Recent history apprises us of Petrino's choke-hold on the playbook, which will loosen when circumstances dictate more creativity. That's understandable, even commendable, but even when we ambushed high-quality opponents last year with bravado the dividend was sometimes marginal. The wheel route from Ryan Mallett to Wingo last year against Alabama certainly was gorgeous but ensuing momentum was fleeting. Shooting the moon on the opening play of the Sugar Bowl was bold, but when Adams let the potential 80-yarder glance off his fingers, it had a deflating effect we didn't truly shake until the third quarter.

There should be no risky business Saturday but this must be a game where Childs reclaims his place as a reliable possession receiver, and the defense must cause more disruption. Again, absent those happening, the results likely will not be any less lopsided; nonetheless, a few modest but perceptible upticks going into the most important game of the season would temper some of that nagging cynicism.

* Columnist's Note: I flatly refuse to employ the phrase "Hog Nation" or any of its variants in print or in conversation.

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