Everyone loves a shootout, but what a waste of bullets. That game was ugly: the kind of ugly that was probably lots of fun to watch for folks who weren't at all invested in the outcome. Razorback fans will likely focus on a particular failure from Saturday night, but there was plenty to go around.
A quick catalog of blame:
The Athletic Department, for failing to arrange a schedule that benefits the players and coaches. Battle-tested clearly won out over well-rested, especially this early in the season. Everybody, coaches and players and fans alike, could have used more live snaps to get a better sense of self going into conference play. Now, we're looking at the toughest schedule in the country with no off-week in sight.
Bobby Petrino , for failing to establish a running game. Granted, Georgia defensive coordinator Willie Martinez seemed content to make the Hogs win it in the air, but balancing our attack early might have opened the game up for us. The offensive line and backfield deserve their share of the blame as well. Last year we couldn't pass-block. This year we couldn't open up a hole in a wet paper bag.
Special Teams , for failing to win the field position battle. With a defense this soft, we have to make teams work for it.
Jerry Franklin, for losing his cool. Judging from the first quarter, we still would have had a ping-pong match on our hands, but his tantrum kept us from holding serve going into the half.
Ryan Mallett, for losing his head when it counted. He was a mess on the final series of the third and throughout the fourth quarter. Yes, he set some records with the help of Petrino and his brilliant wide receiver corp, but Mallett will only become a great quarterback when he proves he can maintain situational focus. An arm alone will only take us so far. That's the difference between John Elway and Jay Cutler.
And Willy Robinson. Christ almighty, Willy Robinson ... .
When Bobby Petrino was hired, he sought out and signed on one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. You can't blame Ellis Johnson for abandoning us to go back home to South Carolina, but the rushed nature of his replacement casts a pall over Willy Robinson's tenure. Robinson has a wealth of experience at the highest levels of the sport. However, a quick glance at the last 15 years gives one the impression that he's something of a journeyman. Whereas a more consistent track record would grant him some leeway, Hog fans are going to be breathing down his neck this year.
Robinson is right to say that Saturday night was an embarrassment, but he's wrong if he really believes that we just have to be a “little better.” We gave up over 200 more yards in offense than did South Carolina the Saturday before. Joe Cox averaged 14.4 yards per reception and threw for five easy touchdowns, overshadowing the record-breaking performance of our own QB.
Clearly we don't have the physical presence to overpower many SEC teams. We have to be smarter than the competition, which with a team this young puts the onus on our DC. Nothing our defense did on Saturday night convinced me he's up to the challenge.
A.J. Green was largely responsible for Georgia's success. He completely upset our scheme and opened up the middle of the field to those killer crossing patterns. The Crimson Tide lack a deep threat like him, but Greg McElroy will keep our secondary busy enough. He's been remarkably efficient for a first-year player in such a high-stakes role, probably as a result of the strength of Alabama's running game. Trent Richardson and Mark Ingram are as explosive as they come this year, and the Tide boasts a very experienced offensive line. If that isn't enough, Julio Jones is still waiting for his breakout performance of 2009.
Mallet's poise will be an issue versus the Alabama pass rush. Rolando McClain and Dont'a Hightower are two of the most vicious linebackers in the country, so Mallett's going to spend some time on his back and quite a bit out of the pocket. Javier Arenas will be limiting his options at corner, and those linebackers will be picking up the slack in the middle. Still, our major challenge will be establishing any kind of running game.
Alabama hasn't played anyone worthy of their talents yet. Even the Virginia Tech score was skewed by jitters and simple mistakes. I expect us to put up more of a fight than they've seen thus far, but the scales fell off my eyes for good last weekend. We'll be lucky to escape with our dignity.