I'll be the first to admit that my expectations for this season underestimated the difficulty of turning around a program in the all-powerful SEC — which must be somewhat akin to changing directions on an ocean liner, except there's perhaps more to it than simply turning a wheel. But we shouldn't let our previously sunny outlooks color our interpretations of that change in direction. We should grin and bear it. A friend from up north once told me that we remind him of Philadelphia Eagles fans, and I'm beginning to see his point. Instead of enduring the growing pains with the rest of the state, several Razorback fans — including the usually quite cogent Jim Harris of Arkansas Sports °360 — have retreated into outright fogeyism.
I know our running game looks pretty grim. Pounding the middle seems so second nature to Hog teams that we'd almost rather see it done ineffectually than not at all. One thing our former coach lost sight of during his last few seasons was that pounding the middle was really about controlling the game, making the big plays that happen when you're not pounding the middle count for even more by using them to keep the ball away from the other offense. No amount of third and long draw plays can make up for solid execution in all other areas. Game management can't even enter the picture until we can convert, and the last two games we haven't been able to effectively move the ball. Our running game is the least of our worries.
If we think we've sold our souls because we're wearing a different uniform, then I'm not sure how pure our souls were to begin with. Yes, Notre Dame, Penn State, and Alabama haven't changed their unis in years, but the same instincts that guided those decisions have often left those programs floundering, pickled in their own bullshit “traditions.” Sure, it gets them on ESPN and consistently overrated, and it brings tears to the eyes of sentimental idiots the nation over, but shaking free of Paterno at Penn State and embracing the twenty-first century at Notre Dame are the answers to their woes, not Touchdown Jesus or the next great linebacker. As for the Crimson Tide: Alabama ain't Alabama for any other reason than their domination of recruiting territory.
Our major problem isn't our ground game or our uniforms. It's our defense.
In 2006, Bobby Petrino's last year at Louisville, the Cardinals averaged 49.5 points per game. If Petrino's offense had been firing on all cylinders, the Texas and Alabama fiascos would have still been toss-ups. Our offense will come with time (though we sure could use Lee Ziemba right now). Our defense is an outright emergency. Admittedly, it's spending way too much time on the field, but more than anything our defense needs size. We're getting beat on pure tonnage. The Herring strategy has finally caught up with us. Putting linebackers on the line, d-backs in the linebacker slot and filling the secondary with track stars has left us underweight and over-stretched in the SEC, where anyone shy of 350 pounds is average. We're a few years from being able to expect that size on D, but I'm only willing to give Willy Robinson until next season to make up for it with sound fundamentals and an effective game plan.
As is his wont, Houston Nutt did us no favors by eking out a victory over No. 12 Florida last week. We're likely headed into an ass-whooping this Saturday, but we, players and fans alike, have got to keep our eyes on the prize. Nutt will manage a ridiculous win every season from here on out, but he'll never win 10 games again. I feel the same way about that victory as I do about Les Miles' Tigers winning the championship last year: For us, that just means another bad coach in a good situation for a good long while. If his team's going to beat us, it won't be because we were out-coached. PS: Watching Bama pummel Georgia might've made you feel a little better. No-show Moreno don't look so hot now, huh?