Some citizens of Hog nation might see the sky as falling after consecutive losses, the latest a 52-51 setback in Oxford.
Coach Sam Pittman rightly went for the win after the Hogs scored on the final play of regulation, KJ Jefferson to rising star Warren Thompson; a missed first-half field goal away from that connection being the game winner and cemented in Arkansas lore.
But I’ve always been a big picture guy, and while that hasn’t necessarily translated well in the immediate aftermath of heartbreaking losses that seem to plague the Arkansas Razorbacks of recent history, it serves me well now.
Yeah, Barry Odom masterfully masked defensive deficiencies which perhaps are being exposed somewhat now, as the great Hog herald Jim Harris explains here. Football is a numbers game, and Pittman’s program still lags there, through no fault of his own.
The offense, though…even the sourest of Chicken Littles among the Razorback fan base would have to acknowledge that when it’s on and clicking, the Kendal Briles system is impressive. And that’s coming from an old school ground-and-pound, dare-em-to-stop-us, 5-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust disciple.
(Part of me wishes we had let KJ stay in the pocket with the option to bulldoze his way to the end zone if necessary on that final 2-point conversion. Hog QBs have done it in Oxford before…)
Big picture, I doubt there’s a Razorbacker alive who in August wouldn’t have taken 4-2 headed into Auburn with a realistic shot to take 8-2 into Tuscaloosa on Nov. 20. And a realistic shot, it is. Not easy, mind you, but realistic. The Hogs remained steady as 3.5-point favorites as of Tuesday headed into the Homecoming matchup on the Hill, but the Tigers are 4-2 as well and just out of the top 25 coming off a close-for-a-bit, 34-10 home loss to Georgia.
An “on” Bo Nix could give us some problems. This isn’t a vintage Tiger D, though; look for a middlin’-to-high scoring game on Saturday. And with last year’s robbery on the Plains in mind, I’d expect the Hogs to come out with some of the overall bite they showed in propelling themselves onto the national stage with beatdowns of Texas and A&M.
The 11 a.m. kick isn’t ideal (though getting CBS exposure again is nice), but Georgia fans proved two weeks ago that an early start doesn’t have to be a crowd killer. Hog fans need to represent this week. The 2021 season has been all about massive, big-picture opportunity for these rebuilding but gritty Hogs; considering our recent history, free shots, if you will. This week isn’t a free shot.
This is one the Hogs need to win at home, and Auburn — despite a new staff devoid of karma-killing Arkansas connections — is due some payback.