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Thumped again


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Seems like a bad prescription for beating the all-pro assemblage of talent that dons Alabama garb year in, year out, but the Arkansas Razorbacks started their third quarterback in three years against the Crimson Tide, and the end result was predictable. This 41-9 beating unquestionably could have been worse: the Tide stormed out to a 17-0 lead a few minutes in, racing 75 yards for a touchdown on the opening play from scrimmage and then taking advantage of short fields thereafter.

Everybody's new favorite lumbering signal-caller, Cole Kelley, was anything but the problem. In fact, but for a misread in the final minutes, he would have been the first Arkansas quarterback to make it through a game against Alabama without an interception in — get this — 19 years. The big guy got chased around a lot, obviously, and he went down a few times, but he also showed a penchant for hanging in a shrinking pocket and delivering the ball with appreciable accuracy. He completed 23 of 42 passes, with a few that were wide of the mark, but another handful that possibly should've been caught.

Kelley's problem is the same as that of his similarly framed predecessor, Ryan Mallett. He's trying to hum some slant routes so hard that it makes life tough for a bunch of receivers who lack experience altogether, much less under the constant blanket that Alabama's array of high-level defensive backs provide. A little more touch should come with repetition, but the positive thing about Kelley — and this is not to degrade Austin Allen — is that he was generally unflappable in his first collegiate start, on the most hostile turf possible, and that bodes well for his future.

Of course, it remains anyone's guess as to who will be overseeing Kelley's development. The offensive line continues to betray the Hogs against all competition, great and small, and some shuffling this week didn't pay any extraordinary dividends. No Razorback tailback has come close to reaching the 100-yard mark against the Tide since Darren McFadden did it against Nick Saban's first, rebuilding squad back in 2007, and the rushing results were flat-out ugly again Saturday night at Bryant-Denny: 29 carries for 27 total yards, which is skewed downward by lost yardage on sacks. With that said, when your leading rusher has 18 yards (Devwah Whaley's output on five carries) and the guy who has run the hardest all year, Dave Williams, gets all of three opportunities, the running game again constitutes a disappointment, irrespective of the competition.

If the offense is struggling to find an identity and stability, the defense is just doing everything it can to avoid embarrassing itself, which is a tragic objective in and of itself. The safeties were wildly out of position much of the night, but most plainly illustrated on the opening play from scrimmage, when Damien Harris bolted 75 yards through a crease that more closely resembled a pasture. By the way, along with Arkansas chucking picks every year against the Tide, even in some of their long-forgotten leaner years, another trend that has run throughout these games is that at least one Alabama tailback will unleash a half-mile run where basically no Razorback gets so much as a skin cell on his jersey. Shaud Williams did it multiple times. Ray Hudson. Glen Coffee. Mark Ingram. Trent Richardson. Eddie Lacy.

Alabama tailbacks make a living off Arkansas defenders' bad instincts and flinches. Alabama defensive backs make a living off Hog quarterbacks' overthrows and underthrows and off-target heaves. Alabama linebackers smother Razorback tailbacks if the linemen don't turn them onto their backside first. These are staples of this alleged rivalry, and Bret Bielema spoke a couple of years ago at a springtime meeting of Razorback supporters at how proud he was to have recruited, and landed, players that had offers from Alabama.

For Bielema to be targeting the types of players that Alabama is targeting is, in principle, the kind of thing that should pay dividends on the field. And therein lies the aggravation that Hog fans are now strongly voicing toward the embattled coach: The roster that is in Fayetteville right now is not one bereft of talent. No, it's not comparable to Bama's in terms of sheer depth, but those deficiencies can be negated through effective gameplanning and smart personnel moves. Halfway through what is shaping up to be a forgettable 2017 season, such acuity has not been witnessed.

Losing the likes of Ryan Pulley and Jared Cornelius certainly has harmed the team, but their presence would not change the ugly 2-4, 0-3 record that hangs onto the Hogs, albatross-style, at the moment. They return home to face Auburn, a team that simply kicked, punched and walloped them to the tune of a 56-3 loss last fall that may have signaled the dark times that have followed. Arkansas entered that game 5-2, and are 4-8 since, with every loss being progressively more discouraging. The Tigers were upended by LSU in a surprise at Baton Rouge last weekend, failing to score another touchdown after taking an early 17-0 lead, so they're teetering enough that the Hogs might be able to reconnoiter and breathe life back into a dying season.


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