Our stars don't seem so much aligned as all crossed up. The elements toyed with the Hogs on Saturday, stretching out an already anxious second half. Injuries seemed contagious, as three of our best pulled up lame, one right after the other. The loss of Mallett, Adams and Childs would have crippled most teams. Luckily, depth is something Bobby Petrino can control. It's even the least of our worries.
Despite their success, the Hogs continue to be their own worst enemy on offense. Right after the third quarter, I was preparing to write a whole column about how much Bobby Petrino misses his brother's eyes in the booth and how the loss of them accounts for our failure to make effective adjustments in the second half. Then, Knile Davis happened.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Yes, Arkansas drove down the field to open the third quarter, a drive ending with a 46-yard Zach Hocker field goal. We also punted three times in the same quarter.
(BTW: Zach Hocker is the most pleasant surprise of the season. One of Petrino's greatest weapons at Louisville was Arthur Carmody: 73 FGA, 60 FGM, 433 Pts. Hocker may be growing into that kind of role.)
Several failed drives in the game were the result of flags. Arkansas leads the conference in penalties by a wide-ish margin. The three nearest teams have already played eight games and have also suffered fewer procedural gaffes. We average around eight a game, and until the Auburn game our season penalty yards and season rushing yards were nigh indistinguishable. You want to know why we can't convert third down? Because we can't help flinching.
To make things worse, our defense is suddenly giving up those big plays again. I'm never mentioning the Auburn game again if I can help it, and the D did a lot of things right on Saturday: broke up several passes, spent a lot of time in the backfield, and forced a big fumble. But they also kept the Rebels within striking distance of our hobbled offense. I've been bemoaning the amount of time they spend on the field, but Willy Robinson's squad gave up all those points during the Longest. Half. Ever. Huffing and puffing played no obvious role. And the word may be out on Darius Winston, but that's all the more reason not to line up our most inexperienced cornerback on Markeith Summers.
You'll have to excuse my negativity. It's served me well so far. Only this week Knile Davis came to the rescue. He turned in the best performance out of the backfield since Dennis Johnson hung a century on Florida last season. Rolling boulder Van Stumon may have been the difference, mowing down defenders out of the two back set, but Davis himself ran the ball with the authority of a star, and he may have earned the lion's share of carries from here on out.
Vanderbilt's a suitable Homecoming opponent, and they will be until Robbie Caldwell can prove he can, ahem, insert more than folksy wisdom into the Razorback alumni's big day. So far, his only victory worth mentioning this season was over Ole Miss, but then you just saw how seriously I take that kind of success. Vanderbilt is expressly mediocre, floating between the middle and back of the conference in every statistical category. Just a few weeks ago they were manhandled by a basketball school from the Big East.
That said, seems like half our offense is day-to-day. Tyler Wilson may well start the game, or at least get a lot of snaps. And our two most unmatchable receivers might still be licking their wounds next to Mallett. If Vandy is most competent in any category, it's passing defense, outranking both Mississippi and Auburn while still not being very good. Mostly they get by because Casey Howard is a vacuum in the secondary, having snagged five interceptions this year. Anyone want to take bets on how close we can make it in the second half?
Follow Derek Jenkins throughout the week and during games on Twitter @aboynamedsooie.