Jim Harris: Razorbacks Won’t Be Embarrassed by Alabama If They Bring Fight


Razorbacks Won't Be Embarrassed by Alabama If They Bring Fight

Like many Arkansas fans I encountered around Fayetteville on Saturday night and into Sunday, I tried to imagine which other NCAA Division 1 football programs could play as poorly as the Razorbacks did Saturday, especially defensively, in a 52-7 loss to South Carolina.

Yes, the offense was awful after the first series and ran just 37 plays for the game, a mere 13 in the second half. But, with the exception of a 6-yard drive after a momentum-crushing interception of Arkansas’ Brandon Allen, South Carolina started its average drive 73 yards from the goal line and still managed eight touchdowns and a field goal in 10 possessions. The Gamecocks scored TDs on their last five drives. They were going in for another touchdown when Connor Shaw made what was likely his only mistake of the day, botching a basic handoff at the Hogs’ 12. Arkansas’ only stop on its own came thanks one of Sam Irwin-Hill’s four terrific punts  deep into the Gamecocks’ end and a third-down sack by redshirt freshman end Deatrich Wise at the USC 4.

Arkansas might have managed another stop just before halftime, but the Hog coaching staff made one of Arkansas several blunders on a bad day by trying to fake a punt near midfield, when its offense had done absolutely nothing in the previous four possessions.

It was Murphy’s Law in full display for Arkansas from the moment Allen blindly tossed his fifth interception of the season to a cornerback sitting on a hitch route. In his last four appearances, he’s had at least one pick, and in the last three they’ve been gut-punchers, and Arkansas’ reaction to those miscues has progressively gotten worse.

It’s hard to imagine No. 1 Alabama, which has much more talent than South Carolina, beating Arkansas any worse than what we saw last weekend. It’s not in Alabama’s nature to just squash a foe unmercifully.

Now, as for last week, one could figure a Football Championship Subdivision-level Wofford or Furman might get steamrolled by the Gamecocks with as many as eight scores in 10 possessions.

Is that the level of talent now populating the Arkansas defense, the type of players who end up in the FCS level?

Surely not. Maybe Chris Smith and Trey Flowers couldn’t start for the likes of Florida, LSU or Alabama, but they are ends that could play throughout most of the FBS level. Byran Jones played a lot as a freshman defensive tackle and has never looked out of place, though this year seems to be a regression for the senior. Robert Thomas was having a strong senior year at tackle until going out with a broken leg last week. The youngsters we’ve seen make plays lately in the line — Deatrich Wise, Darius Philon, Brandon Lewis, JaMichael Winston — look promising in an SEC way and their presence bodes well as Bret Bielema rebuilts.

Senior linebacker Jarrett Lake, who never started until this year, seems to be the steadiest player on the second level, but Martrell Spaight and Otha Peters display big-time quality in moments.

It’s not like Arkansas’ defense is lining up the “Walking Dead.”

It’s also not like the Hogs can put 11 solid defenders on the field at one time, either. We knew that before this season kicked off. We knew this coaching staff would have to hide some liabilities, play mostly a bend-but-not-break style with the type of secondary talent on hand, and encourage this bunch to fight every snap.

In the SEC, the liabilities can’t be hidden very long. You can get away with conservative defense and a near shell-like pass defense scheme in some leagues, but the great speed and skill around the SEC will expose lesser players.

The one thing you can bring every snap is fight, and that was what became glaringly absent last week. It’s not “quitting” — if Arkansas’ defense had flat-out quit, South Carolina wouldn’t have needed 9 ½ minutes to cover the distance on one second-half possession, and the Gamecocks wouldn’t have been forced into five fourth-and-short situations, all of which they converted, nonetheless.

Even sardonic South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier couldn’t help wryly commented, “I do feel badly for Arkansas. That’s no fun getting your butt beat at home, homecoming and all that.”

We’re not sure what it is about Fayetteville and Reynolds Razorback Stadium these days, but Arkansas has laid some audacious eggs there recently. There were accusations of outright quit last year, in the interim season, when Alabama came in and plundered the Hogs 52-0. Looking back, that game had a few similarities to last weekend: one play (a botched snap on a punt) seemed to turn out the lights on Arkansas, which allowed  24 points in the first half and 28 in the second, while the offense dropped the ball all over the place to eliminate any scoring chances.

Remember Nick Saban protesting a fumble call ruled in Arkansas’ favor, and reviewed and turned Alabama’s way late in the game, when it was already 52-0?

No, Saban won’t try to run up the score — opponents often do that to themselves, making offensive mistakes as Arkansas has been wont to do lately that turn into defensive points for Tide stars such as safety Vinny Sunseri — but Saban doesn’t want to give up one either.

Arkansas’ players, no matter how they match up in talent to Alabama, have no excuse not wanting to fight and play every play against the two-time defending champion. Sure, Jim Carrey’s character in “Dumb and Dumber” likely had a better chance getting a date with Lauren Holly than the Hogs have at winning in Tuscaloosa tomorrow, but no competitive athlete wants to take the field having given up before the game starts. You compete. You fight.

These Razorbacks at least should show for 60 minutes that they believe they belong on a college football field and in the same conference with Alabama’s players, no matter where the deficit stands. Even a FCS team, given the chance to take on the Crimson Tide, would do that. Even if the final score is 38-3, these Hogs don’t have to feel embarrassed if they know they fought on every play.

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