Jim’s Notebook: Takeaways From a Rare Razorback Blowout


THE CHALLENGE: Before some Hog followers and out-of-state enemies keep ripping Arkansas Coach Bret Bielema for challenging the first-down spot for Nicholls State early in the third quarter with a 63-0 lead, I’ll remind everyone that the much-worshipped Nick Saban at Alabama called for a challenge two years ago in Fayetteville against Arkansas with his Crimson Tide already up 52-0.

Arkansas was on another of its marches between the 30s that dreary day, but by darn ol’ Nicky wasn’t going to let Arkansas score if he could get a challenge to go his way, which he did. It was on a fumble after a pass to Knile Davis, who had been ruled down by contact with the ground. Replay showed the ball coming loose earlier, one of eight fumbles that day for the Hogs. The officials wouldn’t have ruled it Alabama’s way, though, until Saban brought it to their attention for another look.

The game, if we can call it that, was well over. It was 52-0. The embarrassment was completely hanging over the Hogs by then. The Hogs had nice ol’ John L. Smith at the helm then, not Bielema with all his bluster about being a better coach in the Big Ten than was Saban, so no animosity there, we’d think. Did JLS really deserve that treatment from a foe?

So Saturday, being the competitor that he is, Bielema wasn’t going to cede a first down to Nicholls unless the Colonels actually earned it. Seemed like a Nick Saban move to me, and when Saban does it, it’s good.

Some have taken exception to it, however. They’ve let me know it. After all, it was already 63-0 and what’s one rare first down for little, overwhelmed Nicholls? The Colonels ended up scoring on that drive, it turns out. Yes, there were starters in for Arkansas on defense; the top-line linebackers didn’t play that 10-yard scoring pass at the goal line very well, and no doubt they’ll see similar routes in the red zone this Saturday at Texas Tech.

PILING IT ON? Now, I didn’t agree with Arkansas rushing six players aggressively at the Nicholls punter to try for a block with the margin already 42-0. Perhaps a little before then, like at 21-0 or whatever and maybe it’s a reasonable move. Instead, the Hogs roughed up the Colonels’ punter pretty good but didn’t get a block and were flagged for 15 yards. All totally unnecessary.

Still others wonder why Bielema went back to Brandon Allen and the first-team offense to open the second half, up 56-0, after turning the last series of the first half over to backup quarterback Austin Allen, a redshirt freshman, for his first college snaps.

On one hand, Brandon Allen had only had 14 plays for the entire first half, passing four times and completing three. Arkansas ran 20 total plays in the first two quarters for eight touchdowns, with Brandon Allen in control on seven of them. Does one more series and perhaps another instant touchdown really help Allen’s progress toward the Texas Tech game? Or was it worth the risk that some ticked-off Nicholls defender might decide to take out Allen’s knee for the heck of it?

One of the strangest moves Houston Nutt ever made at Arkansas was, in year two, sticking Clint Stoerner back in a Razorback blowout at Little Rock over Louisiana-Monroe after the visitors had abused true freshman backup Gary Brashears and cut a 34-0 lead to 28 points — in the fourth quarter. Stoerner soon was sacked by an angry bunch from Monroe and separated his shoulder, the week before a trip for the West division-favorite Hogs to Alabama. Arkansas with a banged-up Stoerner lost closely there and badly at Kentucky on successive weeks and the SEC hopes were gone.

A blowout game like Saturday with untold numbers of scholarship and walk-on players dressed, instead of the usual 70 taken on the road, leads to a lot of personnel decisions for Bielema to make. One I wondered about Saturday was keeping a redshirt on third-string quarterback Rafe Peavey, a true freshman. Granted, Arkansas is unlikely to face anyone else on the schedule as woeful as Nicholls and is unlikely to have any more opportunities to give any of the third-line some snaps, unless they move up due to injuries.

But Peavey is sitting out, and Arkansas is bringing in highly touted Ty Storey from Charleston in next year’s freshman class. Brandon Allen will be a senior and Austin Allen a sophomore in the class of 2015. There’s some stockpiling, for sure, and a lot of waiting for some quarterbacks. Plus, there are top targets for 2016-17 in Arkansas’ recruiting sights.

NEWCOMERS: The best thing about a 73-7 whipping of a Southland Conference team is that it offered opportunities for needed game experience for a number of Hogs who will have a big hand in the program’s steady improvement over the next few seasons. At one point, Arkansas had safety Josh Liddell and corners Henri Tolliver and Cornelius Floyd together, all true freshmen and defending well.

Some fans have wondered, and this is pretty much the verbatim quote I’ve seen, “If these freshmen are that good, why haven’t they beaten out the returning starters?” They are that good, but there’s a huge difference between your very first semester on campus and trying to play college football against the likes of Auburn, and what it feels like after having three or four years in the program, not to mention the years of off-season strength work.

Now, on the other hand, Frank Ragnow, the true freshman center out of Minnesota, is simply a freak in terms of pre-college body-building, apparently. Where even the second-year line starters, left tackle Dan Skipper and guard Denver Kirkland, are certainly physical specimens of SEC quality, neither have the chest and shoulders that Ragnow has seemingly been able to develop up north these past few years. Good genes, we suppose. He is going to be something. It would be worth watching Ragnow, Kirkland at right guard and juco transfer Sergio Tretola at the left guard when they are in together and destroying the defensive front, if you can take your eyes off the ball for a few seconds. It looked stunningly impressive against undermanned Nicholls; we’ll see in the next few weeks how easy it comes.


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