Fayetteville, Ark. – On paper the Arkansas Razorbacks did what they were supposed to do on Saturday night, beat Jacksonville State soundly in their 2012 college football opener. The final score was 49-24. The reality is sloppy play allowed a FCS program to go up on the Hogs 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Night time and daytime dreams for Razorback Nation during the 2012 season should be all first downs, break away runs, big sacks, and long bombs to the end zone for another Arkansas Razorback touchdown. Instead the Razorbacks opener looked more like a carbon copy of last year’s game against University of Troy; except in that game Arkansas jumped out to a 24 point lead in the second quarter before sleep walking through the rest of the game.
This is where the Razorback fan meets the road with a college football realists… making exceptions or seeing the game for what it really was?
Saturday night a lot of rustiness was expected or should have been expected by Arkansas fans. Three defensive starters missed the majority of fall camp (LB Alonzo Highsmith, LB Tank Wright, and SAF Eric Bennett), last year’s receiving core has been depleted, and running back Knile Davis has not played in a college football game or received much live-action practice in over a year.
To the discerning eye it showed in every way.
The longest run from the line of scrimmage for the Razorbacks was 13 yards. Davis finished the game with 18 carries while Dennis Johnson and Ronnie Wingo tied for the second most with five attempts each. Redshirt freshman Brandon Allen had a cross field run that netted 27 yards but this is about the running game.
Offensive coordinator Paul Petrino obviously wanted to get the offensive line into a rhythm with their preseason Heisman Trophy candidate in Knile Davis. Davis ran hard showing quick bursts of speed but missed several cuts, he was rusty.
Due to the lack of carries by the backups no one got into a rhythm. The offense ran a total of 30 running plays juxtaposed to the passing games 34 attempts with Tyler Wilson and Allen combining for five rushing attempts.
The offensive line pass protected well. Seems every other down or a great deal of the game JSU was blitzing Arkansas’ quarterbacks. The result of the Gamecocks defensive efforts was one official sack.
On defense part time safety and part time outside linebacker Ross Rasner stole the show for the Hogs. He had a team high 11 tackles including a forced fumble picked up by Highsmith and a pass breakup.
Wright and Highsmith missed some tackles but ended up second and third respectively in total tackles for the Hogs (eight and seven).
The Hogs defense clamped down on the JSU running attack limiting the option-running team to 95 total yards. The only problem is the Gamecocks started throwing the ball.
Quarterbacks Marques Ivory (160) and Coty Blanchard (67) combined for 227 yards passing. Not a bad defensive game on average for any college football team but this, again, was against a FCS opponent.
To Arkansas’ credit or to be held against them, running back Washaun Ealey was knocked out of the game after four rushing attempts.
Ealey was a highly recruited tailback out of high school who signed with the Georgia Bulldogs in 2009. After two years in Athens he transferred to JSU. Ealey was supposed to challenge the Hogs defense but never really got the chance.
In Arkansas’ game against Troy in week three of the college football season they held the Trojans to 84 rushing yards but allowed 373 passing yards.
Are Arkansas fans seeing a repeat of last year’s defense or are we about to hit the panic button two games too early?
Arkansas fans may have a reason to be scared. The comparison for Razorback Nation is Alabama. Bama lost a tremendous amount of talent off their national championship team. This is supposed to be the year the Razorbacks finally beat Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide.
The creeping fear comes from Cowboys Stadium Saturday night. Even though ranked No. 2 in the AP Poll, the Tide was supposed to be down this year from the loss of talent to the NFL. Michigan, generously, was ranked No. 8 by preseason pollsters.
Alabama jumped out to a dominating 31-0 lead allowing a Denard Robinson rushing touchdown with 2:53 left before halftime. The final score was 41-14 with most of Alabama’s starters sitting on the sidelines in the second half.
Michigan was held to 69 rushing yards on 29 attempts. Big Blue’s passing game was held to 200 yards throwing, one touchdown, and threw two interceptions.
The prevailing questions going forward: is Bama that good, is Michigan that bad, is Arkansas over evaluated, or somewhere in the middle?
The answer is, somewhere in the middle.
Michigan did look that bad and their starting running back was suspended for the game, aiding in Alabama’s cause. Robinson has never been known for his passing ability allowing the Tide to stuff the run and hope Robinson tries to throw the ball. NFL scouts take note.
The same philosophy should have been true for the Hogs except they allowed some pass plays, especially along the left side of the defense. These mistakes can be corrected in practice.
The Arkansas offense in 2012 was always going to center on Tyler Wilson’s ability to throw the ball to win games. The running attack in the “Petrino” offense is a secondary measure to take time off the clock and mix up the defense when possible.
Davis still has time to show his All-SEC abilities.
The saying a team plays how they practice fits perfectly after Arkansas’ first game. Truth be told, some hand shakes on the field between the Arkansas players introducing themselves to one another would not have been surprising since many of the key components on both sides of the ball have rarely been on the same practice field together for the first month of the season.
Another saying that should give Razorback Nation comfort is college football teams improve the most between games one and two.
The Razorbacks next opponent is Louisiana Monroe on Saturday Sept. 8, another team on the Hogs schedule that has an open date before facing Arkansas.
The Warhawks finished the 2011 season 4-8 with losses to Florida State, TCU, Iowa, and Arkansas State.
After ULM plays the Hogs they face Auburn and Baylor, a murder’s row for lower tier Division-I teams.
JSU gave Arkansas their best shot when the Razorbacks were still confused and feeling their way around the field together yet the Hogs dominated many aspects of the game. ULM will give Arkansas their best shot in Little Rock on Saturday night as well.
The Arkansas coaching staff and players know what they need to improve upon and should make the correct adjustments in practice. The honest truth is each coach is auditioning for a job next season either on the Arkansas coaching staff or with another team. Their future jobs depend on the play of this Arkansas squad this season.
Adjustments will be made, and errors will be corrected. Arkansas has the luxury of not opening up their play book or defensive schemes in the first two games heading into the Alabama game Sept. 15. Bama had to show their hand a little against Michigan.
Arkansas should be prepared for a dogfight on Sept. 15. Razorback Nation should know that they will be ready.