My, how things change.
The signs had floated since Week 1. Ignoring them was easier and more fun. Even before the loss of All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon for the season and Myles Slusher for two-and-a-half games, the Arkansas pass defense had issues. Lots of bodies, few established. Even in the middle of the defense, Arkansas’ front five (or six) had difficulties, but those, it was fun to argue, could be overlooked because the Razorbacks led the nation in sacks.
Now, though, after Saturday night’s 23-21 loss to Texas A&M, pretending problems don’t exist is foolish. Actually, pretending the problems aren’t downright serious could be harmful. Arkansas’ defense took steps forward in some ways. The passing defense was clearly better with the return of Myles Slusher and the front got to quarterback Max Johnson with regularity. Tackling, however, remained an issue, even at linebacker where Drew Sanders and Bumper Pool missed a few. As former defensive tackle Bijhon Jackson tweeted last week against Missouri State: Arkansas’ defense is Swiss cheese. Just against the Aggies, it was in a different, slightly less harmful way.
The offense wasn’t much better Saturday. For the first three drives after KJ Jefferson fumbled at three yards from the end zone – when a touchdown could have given the Razorbacks a two-touchdown lead – the unit moved the ball a grand total of 19 yards. Texas A&M took advantage of both sides’ inefficiencies, going ahead 23-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
Looking Ahead to Arkansas vs Alabama
Simply put: Arkansas isn’t the dark horse College Football Playoff contender many had hoped. Not yet, anyway. Arkansas was the better team on Saturday. But as Jefferson said after the game, that’s college football. The question now becomes what an established such contender, Alabama, will do against the Hogs in Fayetteville in Week 5.
Alabama pasted Vanderbilt, 55-3, and again eyeballs another CFP run. The Crimson Tide haven’t played a team like Arkansas yet, though. Utah State, Louisiana-Monroe, the Commodores and Texas. None of them are the Razorbacks. Even with all the obstacles and all the aforementioned issues the Razorbacks have to overcome, Arkansas remains one of the best teams in FBS. We just got a little ahead of ourselves about how elite they were.
Plus, don’t you think Sam Pittman will have his team ready? They were against Texas A&M. A 14-0 lead didn’t happen by magic. A weird play sapped some confidence, the Aggies adjusted and Arkansas adjusted back. The Hogs simply ran out of time, something for which Pittman blamed himself in the post-game press conference. Undoubtedly poor clock management, but acting like Arkansas was guaranteed to win the game had Pittman not chosen to call timeouts late and bleed the clock before Cam Little’s missed field goal is absent-minded.
The reality is Arkansas is getting there. Alabama is there, and has been for a while. The Crimson Tide will enter Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium as the favorites, 16.5 points worth of favoritism, and rightfully so. Heck, things might be helped even by Arkansas’ loss. Nick Saban won’t overlook the Razorbacks, but the eyes of the college football nation won’t be squarely on Fayetteville this week like they would have been had the Hogs beaten Texas A&M. Maybe ‘Bama forgets about Arkansas. Even at 16.5 points, tell me Arkansas doesn’t have the wherewithal to make things dangerous and play spoiler. Odds are, you can’t. Outside of Georgia last year, Pittman’s teams have laid no eggs.
Saturday wasn’t one, either.
Why Arkansas Football Lost to Texas A&M
No, Barry Odom’s defense wasn’t bad against the Aggies. A&M had its own miracles offensively. Max Johnson threw ducks that found the right hands. Devon Achane broke tackles.
No, you can’t blame Jefferson for giving it his all near the goal line. He should not have jumped that far from the end zone, but the man has carried Arkansas on his shoulders and his thighs for two years. It was a mistake.
No, you can’t throw Kendal Briles under the bus for a handful of play calls you didn’t like. Pittman said it best after the game.
“I didn’t like the ones when we tried to run stretch and lost a yard or two. I didn’t like the passes we overthrew. I didn’t like when we ran inside-zone and got a yard. I didn’t like them either.”
No, you can’t blame Cam Little for pushing a kick slightly right. The sophomore is the best at the position Arkansas has had in a generation and the Hogs would have at least three fewer wins over the last year-plus without him. Shoot, turns out, the field goal might have been ruled good had the height of the goal posts been collegiately-sized instead of NFL-sized.
The Razorbacks played a mediocre game Saturday against a team filled with five-star recruits and lost by two points because of a miracle. Arkansas outgained the Aggies. They won the quarterback battle. They won the battle in both trenches. About the only places Texas A&M was the superior team was in tackling and with Devon Achane. That’s it. Alabama could flip that on its head in Week 5. But we’ve seen it already. Arkansas lost a game they should have won. Why can’t they win one they should lose?
Arkansas will learn and Arkansas will grow. Bet your bottom dollar Arkansas will give Alabama everything it wants and more on Saturday, too, 14-game losing streak be damned, and lots of it will have to do with what happened Saturday.
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