To a certain extent, we got jobbed. The players weren't allowed to decide the game for themselves. Having to withstand a chorus of valid complaints about the officiating on Saturday only sharpens the pangs. Arkansas fans don't need this kind of help to feel paranoid about their place in the scheme of things. College football fans in general, all eager to see the number one team in the country toppled at last, saw the same game we did. Even Terrell Owens got in on the act, with an eloquent (and succinct!) tweet on gameday that summed up most folks' reaction to the affair:
“Refs r str8 CHEATING n this florida/arkansas game!! A phantom P.I. call on #26, personal foul on #96 & no OPI call on UF's #11!”
Our schedule trades Florida for Vandy next season, so revenge may not be nigh. I'd posit that we'd meet up with Florida to set it all right in the SEC championship next year if I thought they had a prayer of making it that far. They're losing basically everybody, and their offense already stinks. But I'm over this by now, which is to say I'm not as emotionally invested as I was when I chatted online with a friend who happens to be a Gator fan on Saturday night.
(That was a mistake. I ended up comparing him to a USC fan, and I almost said even worse things.)
Speaking of shoddy officiating, we're playing Ole Miss this week. Last year, an iffy offensive pass interference call kept us out of the redzone with under a minute left to play and robbed us of a very cathartic victory. I'm sure all is forgotten by now.
We've got our own trap game on our hands. That is, though the Rebels looked mighty from a distance, the endcap on what commentators viewed as a daunting midseason gauntlet for the Razorbacks, they've looked more and more beatable the closer we've gotten to the game. Houston Nutt is busily confirming his reputation as a quarterback killer. Without Michael Oher, Jevan Snead can't set up camp in the pocket.
He's gone from Heisman contender to fighting for his job.
And his figurehead offensive coordinator, Kent Austin, can't stop hearing cracks about his work in Canadian League Football.
Meanwhile, the Ole Miss defense isn't nearly as imposing without Peria Jerry. Quality opponents have beaten them on the ground and in the air.
However, the SEC's such a mess this season that drawing conclusions about future events from any given game is dangerous. They'll play us under the best possible conditions: at home the week after they rolled over a cupcake and we lost a back-breaking game. A win this week could redeem their season. A loss could bury it.
South Carolina and Alabama both beat the Rebels on the defensive end of the ball, and while Willy Robinson and our defensive growth should be a point of pride among Hog fans, Dexter McCluster is built to exploit our weaknesses. He's not a grinder who we can wear down; he's a pure playmaker.
When we get a chance to hit him, we have to hit him hard. But there's a strong likelihood, given our youth, that we're going to miss him more than once.
That means our offense has to show up in Oxford. Our passing game was ugly against Florida's fierce defense. Mallett was off for most of the day, and the receivers did him no favors by dropping his few catchable passes. Our third down conversion efficiency against Florida (2-13) falls on their shoulders. We beat Auburn by moving the ball. A few more conversions against Florida (who, it should be noted, was minus one Brandon Spikes) and we win that game, too. Mallett can't dance around in the pocket like the shakiest gun in the SEC West. He has to set his feet and let his arm do the job.
You have to feel better about our running game. Dennis Johnson has displayed Felix-like vision, and Michael Smith should be back this week to complement his nimble physicality with speed. And with Broderick Green less questionable at this point, we should have every piece in place to really open up the field. Well, every piece save one. You can be sure we'll be going for it on fourth down anywhere between Ole Miss' 40 and 10 yard line.
The performance against Florida says a lot about the content of this team's character. Pride can be such a hard thing to come by honest. The way the Hogs have had to earn it means they're unlikely to let it get in the way of their focus.
They're still capable of losing, but who would now say they aren't ready to win?