Why aren’t Arkansas’ receivers doing much receiving?
Was Brandon Allen too inaccurate for the receivers?
Why is Arkansas’ pass defense still so soft?
Why did the Razorbacks drift away from running the ball as the game went along? (Excluding sacks – 1st quarter: 10 rushing attempts. 2nd quarter: 8. 3rd quarter: 6. 4th quarter: 2.)
Why do Arkansas’ screens so often take so long to develop and result in failure?
Why don’t more punt returners call fair catch and bounce the ball off a nearby opponent for a quick 15 yards?
With all the blue and green on Allen’s jersey by the end of the game, which Van Gogh painting did it most closely resemble?
These are all valid things to ask after the game. But the most troubling thing I saw happened just after halftime.
Florida was beginning their drive to open the half when ESPN2 cut to sideline reporter Kaylee Hartung, who reported (in one of the rare instances a sideline reporter has ever dispensed useful information to an audience) that Bret Bielema told her, “my team has lost its confidence.”
To be fair, Bielema didn’t say that on camera, so we don’t completely know the full context of the statement. But regardless of said context, it should be a significant concern.
Even if it was just in reference to the single game, Arkansas was only down by 10 points at halftime. It’s true that nothing went right for the Hogs in the second quarter, but there was still a lot of football to be played. The Gators’ offense only scored 10 points in the first half, and if the Razorbacks had been able to stop Florida on the second half’s opening drive, Arkansas could have given themselves chances to get back in the game.
But Florida then went 75 yards in seven plays for the touchdown, and the Hogs were sloppy the rest of the way. The ensuing possession started with Korliss Marshall stepping out of bounds at the three-yard-line. The Hogs picked up a first down, but a couple of dropped passes later and out came the punt return team. The Hogs did scrape together a field goal drive courtesy of a shanked punt and a pass interference penalty from Florida. But the 30 yard pass to Alex Collins to get into the red zone was a beauty.
Now that the game is over, it’s imperative that Bielema and the coaches work to maintain the team’s confidence going forward. The Razorbacks still have a legitimate chance to reach bowl eligibility. It’s a big challenge, but winning three of the final six games, beginning with hosting South Carolina at home this week, is possible.
An upset over South Carolina would go a long way in setting Arkansas up for a run at bowl eligibility in November. The Gamecocks have been effective this year but haven’t been dominant. They don’t have Florida’s defense, nor do they have A&M’s offense. But they are good. If, and it’s a big if, the Razorbacks can play as well against them as they did against Texas A&M, Arkansas could give themselves a shot. But if they don’t stay positive and put in a good week of practice, it’s hard to see them upsetting anybody.
Confidence was the big worry through the off-season. We knew this middle portion of the schedule would be tough. And for a young team coming off an absolute disaster last year, how well would they be able to handle what is now three straight losses? Has Bielema and his staff been able to strengthen the team’s resolve to be able to overcome these obstacles or are they too fragile from suffering last year’s traumatic experience? Are they mature and experienced enough to think about the season in terms of, “These were really good teams. We have nothing to be ashamed of. Let’s keep working and win some games coming up”? Or is the will to fight dwindling?
It doesn’t seem like an overstatement to say this team is at a crossroads. The regular season is halfway over and they’re 3-3, which is close to what most people expected, just as most people expected that the season’s success would be determined by what happens in November. This midseason gauntlet is about improving, learning from mistakes, and if the team can manage an upset during this stretch, that’s gravy. But that doesn’t make it any easier to suffer through it.
Maintaining the team’s optimism is the biggest challenge Bielema and his staff face this season. Coaches and players will likely say all the right things after their closed practices this week, but when the team goes out in front of their home crowd on Saturday morning, we’ll know.