The team seemed lost there for a few games but appears to have gotten it back together and realized they feature an incredible quarterback and some other significant talent. Can you talk a little bit about the regression and progression this team has made?
September was just a deplorable month for Arkansas football. The first team since Pittsburgh in 1984 to lose four September games following a Top 10 preseason ranking. While the Hogs are certainly not as good as most everyone thought they were before the season, it was a spectacularly unlucky convergence of factors that took things from bad to worse, and then from worse to blackout drunk for an 11:00 am kickoff. The loss to ULM is almost certainly avoided if Tyler Wilson is able to play the second half of that game. And don't look now, but Rutgers is undefeated and a Top 15 football team. That game is the one that hurts me the most. Alabama and Texas A&M were going to be losses with or without the extenuating circumstances of this season, and the loss to Louisiana-Monroe really felt like it was just predetermined to end that way, but Rutgers was a team the Razorbacks should have beaten that they didn't because of the tailspin the team was in. Play that one again and I would expect Arkansas to prevail.
I'm not sure that victories over Auburn and Kentucky, however decisive, can signal a complete turnaround, but a victory over Ole Miss would certainly indicate as much. If that happens, I think the biggest difference maker would have to be Paul Petrino's decision to go back to the pressbox after spending the first several games of the season on the sideline. The difference in play calling was immediate and profound.
I'm guessing John L. Smith won't be coaching the Razorbacks next season. So who do you want? More than that, what do you want them to do differently than Petrino?
Personally, I'd back a Wells Fargo truck up to Chris Petersen's house, and upon being told no, send in a second truck, and then a third. I think Petersen is the closest thing to Bobby Petrino in tenacity and philosophy, without the baggage, at least as far as I can tell. He is familiar with recruiting to a remote locale, is adept at "doing more with less", and is an innovative offensive mind with a knack for putting players (on both sides of the football) into the NFL, regardless of their star rating coming out of high school.
Aside from having the self-control to not destroy his personal life and the football team he runs along with it, there isn't one major thing I would want the next coach to do differently than Bobby Petrino. I LOVE the way Bobby Petrino coaches football.
You've lost a couple of high profile defenders to injury. Who has stepped up in their place? Where is the defense most susceptible?
This season has seen the secondary and the linebackers in a weekly battle to see who can suck the most. Injuries have certainly played a role, as the Hogs have lost defensive end Tenarious Wright and linebacker Antonio Highsmith for the season, and are just this week getting back the services of cornerback Tevin Mitchel from the horrific injury he suffered in Week Two. Freshmen linebackers A.J. Turner and Otha Peters have started to find their legs some in the past two outings. Cornerback Will Hines looked very shaky early in the season, but has also made strides since the Auburn game.
The Razorbacks are still very young and very thin, however, so if Ole Miss can get the ball to the second level, just about any play has a chance to go the distance. My nightmare scenario involves Donte Moncrief enjoying big play after big play at the expense of the Razorback secondary.
Would you say it's safe to place a lot of blame on your offensive line? I look at your skill players and am impressed on paper. What's the missing element to this offense?
I think the offensive line certainly deserves a significant amount of the blame, but it's not quite so simple as to pin it all on them. The Razorbacks lost both starting fullback Kiero Small and backup Kody Walker by the end of the second week of the season, and have been operating with third-team Morgan Linton ever since. That put major strain on both pass protection and the offense's ability move the football on the ground, which made it even more susceptible to blitzing defenders. Fortunately, the light has started to come on for Linton, and with it, the offense has at long last started showing signs of picking up where it left off last season.
Getting tight end Chris Gragg back for this week is also a tremendous boon to the offense. Gragg was injured during the Rutgers game and has missed that last three games, and is still the second-leading receiver on the team. He is Tyler Wilson's favorite target over the middle of the field, and provides a critical outlet for Wilson when he is under pressure.
What's your prediction on the game? Give a score and how you think it gets there.
Arkansas 38, Ole Miss 31. Arkansas seizes control with a couple of early scores, perhaps one on a long play and one created by a turnover. Since finding some semblance of a running game with Dennis Johnson and Jonathan Williams, the Hogs are more adept at playing with a lead than they were earlier in the season. Ole Miss will have some success through the air, but a pass rush that has been much improved over the past two weeks will get the Razorbacks off the field on third down on just enough drives to keep the Razorback safe.