If we're going to call football a game of inches, we're going to have to allow players and fans to be upset about officials spotting the opposition a couple feet. Tired bromides like "a good team survives" and appeals to the "human element" just don't cut it. Chalking up bitterness to poor sportsmanship ignores the discipline, effort and focus required by the game. Calling resentful fans "whiners" ignores the role that deep emotional and communal investment plays in rendering amateur sport a valuable social institution.
No conspiracy short of the same old Cosmic Kick in the Pants aligned itself against the interests of Razorback fans and players last Saturday. To insist on active bias among league officials betrays a paranoia that honestly overestimates the logistical competency of the powers-that-be. That is, until it comes time to cover up mistakes.
The league office's bold-faced denial of plainly visible evidence is disingenuous at best and insulting at worst — just shy of a spit in the face. Officials can acknowledge their mistakes without rewriting history. Rank insistence on the infallibility of the replay system only sows mistrust among fans, coaches and players alike. There's demanding respect, and there's earning it.
Wise-assed analysts trot out the same old nonsense every time controversy erupts. They deal with blame by turning on the victims, taking them to task for making excuses. No one thing cost us the game, but you can't say the blown calls had no effect on the outcome. That's glibness masquerading as wisdom. The field of play is awash in butterflies and hurricanes. We don't need human error flapping its wings or flipping the switch on a couple of industrial fans.
Going into the circumstances we could control just doesn't seem tasteful to me. Box-score blowhards will work their jaws about defensive performance, but I'll only note that Willy Robinson's squad struggled to communicate under the road-game din, almost never had the benefit of good field position, cannot be held responsible for 28 of those 65 points, and were set to have a rough time with Cam Newton regardless. John L. Smith benefited from no real precedent for the poor performance of our special teams. And the way our offense rallied behind Tyler Wilson brings tears to my eyes. I haven't been as proud of a team effort all season.
Now, what are fans and players to do? As a coach I knew liked to say: Rub some dirt on it. That's small comfort in a folk-remedy aimed at obscuring futility. The old bastard meant there's nothing to be done. We have another game coming up.
And what a game. Ole Miss arrives in Fayetteville stymied by injury. The loss of Kendrell Lockett deprived them of their only trump card on defense. However, the defensive line remains strong. Against Alabama, they held the tandem of Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson to a hundred combined yards. The Rebels had seven tackles for a loss and sacked Greg McElroy four times. Still, they rank behind Arkansas in total defense — even after last weekend's debacle — and their passing defense ranks just ahead of Auburn.
The Jeremiah Masoli experiment was long ago declared a failure, though there's nothing in the numbers to support that conclusion. Mississippi's another team that lives by the ground game. They rank just behind Auburn in rushing offense and actually rank ahead of Arkansas in scoring offense. Masoli's slippery, and as a result the Rebels lead the league in sacks allowed. But their offensive line is a sieve compared to Auburn's dominating front: The Rebels have a lot of plays blow up behind the line of scrimmage and rank 10th in the league in tackles for a loss. Our defensive ends will smother them for most of the game, and I expect the hybrid linebackers will have a big day.
At deadline (Monday, Oct. 18), it's still not clear whether Ryan Mallett will be back for this game. Concussions are a serious business, and there's still speculation that his left shoulder could use a week on ice. The Rebel secondary has one pick all season, so Wilson would likely fare well and maybe even shine again in a spot start. The rest of the team will be eager to prove their mettle, and that should bring this already emotional game to a fever pitch. One thing is certain: No matter how hard the fans took last week's loss, the players took it worse. Time for the home crowd to show up and call those Hogs like they mean it.