I scarcely realized it at the time, but by the time the first, boring-ass Saturday of the 2012 college football season was a done deal, two things occurred that should've been forecast long ago (if only Pearls could be as prescient as the great prognosticators of our time, such as Nostradamus or Vic Schedler).
One was that Arkansas would have all manner of hiccups in a 49-24 victory over Jacksonville State. The Hogs coughed up the football three times and made a number of alarming misreads defensively, but also generally did whatever they wanted to whenever they were inclined to do it. Frankly, this was nothing more than naked continuity of a trend cultivated during Bobby Petrino's stint as head coach: Arkansas has been listless against lesser competition for years now, cruelly teasing teams like Eastern Michigan, Troy and Ole Miss into fits of false hope of an upset. Indeed, none of Arkansas's 10 losses from 2009 to 2011 were to an underdog.
The second was that Arkansas's slovenly moments were pitched against a backdrop of Alabama flat-out murdering a massively over-hyped Michigan team in Arlington. Because the Tide had the showcase game of the weekend and treated it accordingly, the 41-14 rout — in which Wolverines' quarterback Denard Robinson ceded whatever Heisman Trophy designs he might've had within the first five minutes — gave Hog fans that creeping, irrational fear again: "Oh, lawd, what's the Tide gonna do to us in two weeks?"
Well, to be as cheeky as possible, we simply don't know. What we can assume is that Alabama will adopt a more pressure-oriented defensive approach than the one they employed against Michigan, because the Tide respect Tyler Wilson's arm, not his legs. The Tide predictably permitted Robinson a pocket to throw from Saturday night, and he justly demonstrated that even after three years helming the Wolverine offense, he is still one of the nation's least accurate throwers.
We can also assume that in preparing for the Razorbacks' next opponent, Louisiana-Monroe, John L. Smith will show his team a lot of film from last year's 38-28 win over the Warhawks' Sun Belt rival Troy. That was the prelude game for Alabama last year, and save for the end result, was as discouraging a 60 minutes as Arkansas has played in the past few seasons. The Hogs began that game with a couple of beautifully scripted drives, then flatlined on both sides of the ball the rest of the night. There were turnovers, special teams gaffes and whiffed tackles. While Arkansas never truly lost command of the game, the Hogs did feed pundits plenty of cause for cynicism going into Tuscaloosa, which was ultimately proven to be justified.
Two years ago, in fact, Arkansas muddled through its last match-up with the Warhawks, winning 31-7 and looking remarkably disengaged on offense (bizarre, considering that Ryan Mallett chucked it for 400 yards total that night). Louisiana-Monroe is coming off another characteristically miserable season, once again trudging north for a quick payday/de facto "home game" to keep its Division I status preserved. The Warhawks' quarterback, Kolton Browning, made his collegiate debut in Little Rock two years ago and it was an inauspicious one (7-17 for only 74 yards, with one interception and a garbage-time TD pass in the fourth quarter), but he is probably one of the better signal-callers in the lower reaches of the Football Bowl Subdivision, capable of scrambling out of duress and throwing relatively well on the run.
Arkansas should, therefore, try to throw a little more pizzazz into this match-up, knowing what it faces the following weekend in Fayetteville. While it's understandable that no one wants to reveal too much on either side of the ball with such a high-gravity game pending, Smith can be stylish and flashy without being overly risky.
As an example, Knile Davis had a nice opening half in his return to action, but after losing a few yards after halftime Saturday he was put on the pine for the rest of the night with the Hogs leading comfortably enough. Davis had not yet emerged as the top tailback when the Warhawks visited two years ago, so on that night he had a pedestrian five-carry, 19-yard output. He will likely get a lot of touches early this Saturday, as the Warhawks' lean and unimposing front is ripe training ground for the Hogs' line. Getting the ground game going is especially critical this week because the lack of a rushing attack has doomed Arkansas against Alabama the last three years, in particular.
So, at the risk of being redundant and obvious, the Hogs need to be more efficient all over. We've seen hard evidence that an uninspired effort against the undercard leaves us markedly unprepared for the heavyweight.