Arkansas Expats promises that their fan base is better than our comment threads would suggest. The rubber hog hat begs to differ.
This is a difficult question, actually. Of course, in a non-concussion world, we'd definitely want Mallett. Sure he's had some rough moments on the road, and he didn't exactly set the world on fire in that fourth quarter against Alabama. But let's be real: the guy is a special talent and routinely piles up crazy stats (he also takes a great mug shot).
Until throwing a pair of fourth quarter interceptions, Tyler Wilson performed spectacularly in an emergency role against Auburn and definitely gave Hog fans some reason to look forward to the post-Mallett era that will surely begin next season. But Tyler had looked pretty shaky in his periodic on-field appearances before last Saturday. And how would he respond to knowing that he's the starter?
But the concussion does obviously complicate things. News reports indicate that Mallett has participated fully in practice this week, has shown no ill effects of Saturday's concussion and expects to start on Saturday. Still, we can't shake a certain worry that Ryan is coming back too soon. Assuming he does play on Sunday, this probably isn't the last concussion he's going to suffer, and you have to be concerned about the toll of repeated hits to the head.
Add it all up, and we'd rather Mallett sit out this week just for the sake of his long-term health. Though this is far from certain, obviously, we think Wilson would perform adequately against Ole Miss and that the Hogs have enough weapons around him to compensate for the loss of Mallett.
2. Who is the best defensive player on your team that no one talks about? What makes him so special? Offensive?
For largely understandable reasons, it doesn't seem like many (any?) Razorback defensive players receive a lot of pub. During the offseason, Anthony Leon moved from safety to linebacker, where his speed enabled him to make some big plays early on. He seems to have quieted down a little lately, but he's someone to keep an eye on. Defensive end Jake Bequette has made a number of huge plays this year, including a game-turning sack of Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray in the waning minutes of the Hogs' victory in Athens.
Until the Auburn game, the defense had been considered something of a pleasant surprise. For instance, after allowing seemingly endless long bombs last year, our comprehensive database of football stats shows that Arkansas is second in the SEC in pass defense (163.2 yards) and has allowed only five touchdown passes in six games, the lowest number in the conference.
A number of Arkansas' offensive players, on the other hand, have received plenty of pub. If we had to pick an underrated player (or three), we'd nominate wide receivers Jarius Wright and Cobi Hamilton, and running back Knile Davis. Wright is probably the least well-known of the Hogs' trio of dynamite junior wide receivers. But he leads the team with an average of 18.5 yards per catch, and he hauled in six receptions for a total of 131 yards against Alabama.
Hamilton, a sophomore, had a great game against Texas A&M, catching five passes for a total of 98 yards, and has shown some signs that he can step into a much more prominent role whenever Greg Childs, Joe Adams or Wright leaves.
It's truly a strange world when the Hogs are known for their aerial assault and not their ground game, but Arkansas' running attack has more or less been in a season-long slumber. However, it has shown some signs of life in the past two games, and Davis looks like he could be ready to become the Hogs' primary back. He ran for 91 yards on 14 carries against Auburn and for 82 yards on 10 carries against the Aggies. Knile may not make us forget Darren McFadden or Felix Jones (or Fred Talley) anytime soon, but hopefully he can help Arkansas display a more diversified offense the rest of the way.
3. The Arkansas defense had been pretty solid so far this year. Then came Auburn. To what do you attribute the defensive letdown that allowed 65 points to a team that only passed for 140 yards?
Hmm. Where to start? For one thing, it's probably safe to say that our previous confidence in the defense being fixed was a little premature: as mentioned above, they had played quite well up until last weekend, but (understatement alert) collapsed on an epic scale against the Cameron Newtons. For one thing, the D just straight up played bad - normally solid players like DE Jake Bequette (zero tackles) and CB Ramon Broadway (frequently burned) were not up to their usual par, but it's also important to remember they were playing a guy who apparently is some superhuman alien being who's come to earth to rampage through the SEC. That's a bad combo.
But, the hidden story behind that embarrassing final score is the special teams breakdown. They didn't do the D any favors - Auburn started two drives inside the red zone after a blocked punt and long kickoff runback, and started a couple more inside Arkansas territory after other kickoff returns. The defense certainly didn't play great, but when you examine the stats it's clear that the real damage started with the special teams, particularly the coverage unit. It's hard enough to stop Newton under the best of circumstances, but it's even tougher when he's starting only a few long strides away from your end zone.
4. Talk (in three paragraphs or less) about why you're pleased (if you are) to have Bobby Petrino on the sidelines instead of Houston Nutt.
Ah yes, that topic. Let us first start by saying that Houston Nutt did a lot of good things while he coached the Razorbacks. He built the program up to SEC respectability, recruited some great players and had some good seasons. The lunatic fringe that sometimes rears its head in your comments section hardly represents the majority of Hog fans...whether they like him or dislike him, most people in Arkansas are able to talk about Nutt with at least some degree of reasonable perspective and appreciate what he did.
Having said that, we're very glad that things worked out the way they did. 10 years is a long time, and after awhile Houston's wacky ways can get a little exhausting. Being a fan of a Houston Nutt team - as you may be realizing - is something of a roller coaster ride: dizzying highs followed by horrible lows, often with no rhyme or reason to any of it. His teams can lose to the worst (ahem - Jax State) and beat the best (Florida 2008)...anything is possible, but after awhile it's nice to have some sanity and organization.
As a specific example, Petrino and his staff have long had a plan in place should the starting QB get knocked out during a game. They give the backup 30% (sometimes more in particular drills) of the reps during every practice, and keep a running list of plays he's most comfortable with should he need to step in. Bobby is very detail-oriented that way. So, when Ryan Mallett went out with a concussion last Saturday, Tyler Wilson exhibited no signs of panic when he came into the game. He was poised, prepared and immediately went fully bombs away to great success. In contrast, when Matt Jones got knocked out of a game in 2005 we might as well have started punting on 1st down...the Hogs were that unprepared to deal with it.
So there you go - three paragraphs and we didn't start foaming at the mouth once.
5. What's your prediction on the game? Final score? How does it end up that way?
This game definitely has us worried. First off, in the crazy upside-down universe that is Houston Nutt's coaching career, you just know that after losing to Jacksonville State, his team is going to pull off some kind of upset at some point this season. It would make heartbreaking sense that he does that against his former team.
Furthermore, the Hogs over the years have shown a depressing inability to shake off a heartbreaking or controversial loss. You may recall that last year Arkansas got steamrolled by Ole Miss one week after losing to Florida in a nail-biter of a game that was marred by some, ahem, questionable officiating. We're concerned about how the Hogs will respond after last week's controversial loss to Auburn.
Having said all that, after losing to Houston Dale the previous two years, the Hogs should have all the motivation in the world to finally beat their old coach. We foresee a somewhat sluggish Hogs victory, one that may induce a heart attack or two. 34-28 Arkansas sounds about right.